On their first play from scrimmage at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations football festival, the Cardinal Newman Cardinals fumbled the ball and turned it over at their own 19-yard line.
Ditto for the next time the Cardinals touched the ball – they fumbled and lost possession at their own 20.
And on the second play of their next series of downs, Cardinals lost the ball by way of an interception.
That’s what kind of day it was for the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference champions from Hamilton. The Cardinals hung tough until the very end but their mistakes were numerous and costly during a 21-11 loss to the Don Bosco Eagles at Etobicoke’s Centennial Stadium on Friday (Nov. 29).
The game was part of OFSAA’s four days of championships for regional high school football league winners – 18 teams — from across the province. The matchups were determined by random draw.
A large contingent of fans from Cardinal Newman attended the finale as did one extremely well-known supporter for Don Bosco. Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who last year was the head coach of the Eagles, cheered in the stands wearing his green and gold Don Bosco jacket.
In total, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association champions coughed the ball up twice on interceptions, three times on fumbles and twice while attempting to gain the necessary yardage on third down. There was also a high snap over quarterback Matt Metcalfe’s head for a big loss when he was standing in shotgun formation.
“It was there for the taking,” Newman coach Anthony Macaluso said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot early. Too many turnovers to start the game.”
Those turnovers never completely disappeared, however.
The Toronto District Catholic Athletic Association champions clung to a 14-11 lead late in the fourth quarter when Newman gambled and lost. With three minutes, 43 seconds remaining at mid field, the Cardinals opted not to punt on third down with five yards to go. They came up short. Five plays later Don Bosco’s Steve Mpenga scored on a 12-yard touchdown run with 76 seconds on the clock.
It was Mpenga’s second rushing touchdown of the game.
“It was an incredibly hard game which could have gone either way,” Eagles coach John Royiwsky said. “Hamilton is a Catholic football powerhouse. We knew it would be a challenge. The players played their hearts out. It’s a great feeling to win.”
Taking advantage of Newman’s second fumble, the Eagles opened the scoring on Mpgenga’s 11-yard run to the end zone. Sergio Meza added the convert.
The Cardinals then got on the board when Mitchell Thiele and Brandon Eddie combined for a tackle in the end zone and the resulting safety touch.
Newman’s lone touchdown came on a one-yard plunge by Metcalfe with 1:41 left in the first half. David Benedetti tacked on the convert.
The Eagles grabbed the lead to stay with 39 seconds left in the third quarter when running back Neko Hamilton gathered in a screen pass from quarterback Aaron Scott, bounced off a couple of defenders near the sideline and scored a 40-yard touchdown. Meza then booted his second of three conversions.
A conceded safety touch accounted for Newman’s final two points with 4:33 left.
“We were a bit out of synch,” Metcalfe said of the fumbles on the exchange from centre. “Maybe we weren’t as focused as we should have been. We played great all year. It’s just unfortunate we made the mistakes in the wrong game. We could have got them if we had played to our potential. We feel we’re the better team.”
Newman defensive end Daniel Fascione said the Eagles had some big, talented players, including 6-foot-4, 301-pound left offensive tackle, Tristian Edwards. “He was strong and very hard to get around him,” Fascione said. “But I gave it my best go.
“Bosco is a good team, but I believe if we had our A game today we would have beat them. Hopefully, we can make something special happen next year.”
Newman played without the services of multi-talented Marcus DiLoreto, who was disqualified during the GHAC championship last week against the Assumption Crusaders of Burlington. By rule, DiLoreto was automatically suspended for one game. He’s the team’s kicker and starter at both slotback and safety.
Said Macaluso: “(DiLoreto) was a big loss for us. He had to sit out a game. It sucked that it was the OFSAA game.”
It was the first OFSAA festival title for Don Bosco. Last year, the Eagles lost to Huron Heights in an OFSAA final. Four of the last five years, Cardinal Newman has advanced to the GHAC championship. This year, they won for the first time to qualify for OFSAA.
“I’m proud of the boys for getting here,” Macaluso said. “But the thing that stings the most is knowing we probably could have won this game.”
Bosco took 17 penalties for 127 yards, compared to Newman’s six penalties for 35 yards.
Newman had more first downs – 15-11 – but Don Bosco recorded 218 yards of net offence compared to Newman’s 189.
Mitchell Atlee rushed for 59 yards on 10 carries, while his Cardinals running mate, Justin Connolly, gained 46 yards on eight carries. Connolly also caught five passes for 56 yards. Metcalfe was 8-for-17 through the air and Scott connected on 5-of-8 passes.
Hamilton was the game’s leading rusher – 71 yards on nine carries.