Spartans approaching season finale like playoff game

Sudbury Spartans running back Jared Loyer takes a knee and listens to head coach Junior Labrosse during practice at James Jerome Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Share Adjust Comment Print

Matt Furino believes the Sudbury Spartans were better than the score showed in a 49-7 loss to the defending-champion GTA All-Stars in Toronto last weekend.

And the veteran defensive back wants his teammates to prove that on Saturday, when the Ottawa Sooners visit James Jerome Sports Complex to close out the Northern Football Conference regular season.

Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

“Against GTA, we gave up some plays on special teams that really hurt us and we had a couple of bad turnovers that really hurt us in the beginning,” Furino said. “Other than that, we had a pretty good game on defence and offence was able to move the ball, but with the turnovers and some back luck, it just didn’t go our way.”

To help his team bounce back against Ottawa, the only squad to beat GTA this season, Furino and other members of the leadership group looked to set a good example in practice this week.

“Guys like myself, we just have to come out and have a good week and show them that anything can happen in football, we can come back from a bad loss, we can have a big win in front of the home crowd, so we have to stay focused like we have been trying to do all year. We have had a good year and we have to get back to that.”

Sudbury enters the contest with a 5-2 record, good for first on the NFC West Division, while Ottawa is 4-3 and sits third in the East.

If the Spartans and Sarnia Imperials, who have identical records, both win on Saturday, the locals must maintain their advantage in points against (currently 24), to hold on to top spot in the division and earn a first-round playoff matchup with Oakville (2-5). Should Sudbury lose this weekend’s contest, they’ll host the Sooners again in the quarter-finals.

While Spartans head coach Junior Labrosse doesn’t want his players dwelling on those numbers during game action, he knows they’ll be aware of what’s at stake.

“Both teams have something to play for, especially ours,” Labrosse said. “We have a lot on the line this Saturday.

“You have to take care of business first and if they score, you can’t be all oh my god, it’s cutting down. That’s not my emphasis, not at all. The emphasis is this is a playoff game. Give me 100 per cent and the rest of it will take care of itself. You can’t start doing the math as a coach and you don’t want the players doing that, but you want the players to know how vital it is to win.”

The Spartans have not won a division title since returning from a four-year leave in 2011, though they have finished in second place. While Sudbury has hosted playoff games, the team has yet to exit the quarter-finals.

“Nobody wants to get a top-notch opponent in the first round,” said Labrosse, who took over as head coach in 2014. “That’s why finishing first is crucial. In the past, we have had Montreal in the first round, we had Ottawa last year in the first round, but we have never finished in a situation where a lower-seeded team has to come to us, so the guys want that and they also want that second playoff game, also at home.”

Regardless of the point differential, Furino added, there’s also something to be said for entering the post-season on a roll.

“A lot of guys here, including myself, have never been out of the first round of the playoffs,” Furino said. “Having that momentum going into the first week at home, that will be huge to get that first playoff win, for sure.”

He expects the Sooners, in keeping with tradition, to bring a strong running game to Sudbury.

“We have to make sure our linebackers are focused on staying home and making sure to contain, because they’re probably going to run 90 per cent of the time,” Furino said. “We have to focus on playing eight inside the box and making sure we can stop them.”

The Spartans will have a few changes to their own offensive attack, after losing both running back Josh Cuomo and receiver Nick Rideout to injuries last week. Cuomo’s absence will be offset, at least in part, by the continued presence of Matt Glass and the return of Jared Loyer, who had a solid rookie season with Sudbury in 2018.

Quarterback Hunter Holub is likely to miss another game due to injury, though coaches have been pleased with the work done in his absence by freshman Adam Rocha.

While determining who gets the starting spots on Saturday, Labrosse has recalled how individual players performed during the loss to GTA.

“You learn more out of a loss than you do out of a win,” Labrosse said. “You find out very quickly who has that no-quit attitude, who played right to the last minute, didn’t mind the score, played all out every play. That’s a big thing for the coaching staff.”

The Sudbury-Ottawa tilt is the second half of a doubleheader, following the Sudbury Junior Spartans’ playoff opener against Orangeville at 4 p.m.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

Comments