Barrie's St. Joan of Arc and Innisfil's Nantyr Shores will battle for Georgian Bay football title Thursday
In an effort to ward off the cool weather, a member of the Nantyr Shores Tritons senior boys football team receives some help keeping warm on the sidelines during last week’s Simcoe County Athletic Association (SCAA) championship game at J.C. Massie Field in Barrie. The Tritons defeated the Bear Creek Kodiaks, 38-0, to win the SCAA title. The Innisfil school will now face the Catholic School Athletics of Simcoe County (CSASC) champion St. Joan of Arc Knights on Thursday in Barrie for the Georgian Bay Secondary School Association (GBSSA) championship. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO
It’s the usual suspect against the relative newcomer.
But which one is the underdog?
On Thursday, the senior football final will pit the St. Joan of Arc Knights, entering their sixth-straight Georgian Bay Secondary School Association (GBSSA) championship game, against the Nantyr Shores Tritons, a school that hasn’t been to this stage in close to 15 years.
For what it’s worth, both teams feel like they’re the ones that must prove themselves.
“I’d say we’re underdogs in the sense that JOA has been there, done that, and this is somewhat new for this group,” said Nantyr Shores coach Clark Larmon. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. We just have to go out and play our game, our style, and at the end of the day, if that’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough.
“If we play our game the way we know we can, then it should be good enough.”
After having seen a few of the Tritons games, including their 38-0 romp over the Bear Creek Kodiaks in the public board’s Simcoe County Athletic Association (SCAA) final, St. Joan of Arc believes it’s the minnow coming in.
“We’re the underdogs now,” said Knights head coach Nick Nicoletta. “Watching them, they’re very skilled. Steven Noble and their running back (Jordan Austin) are fantastic athletes.
“They have a couple of slotbacks that are great at catching and running the ball in space, so we’ll have to contain them as well.”
For St. Joan of Arc, a veteran program cast into a league of relative beginners in the Catholic School Athletics of Simcoe County (CSASC), measuring sticks have been hard to find.
“We tried to prepare at the beginning of the season, when we went down to a jamboree that included teams like St. Roch and A.N. Myer, top-20 ranked teams from (Canada Football Chat),” Nicoletta said. “The kids really took up that challenge, and we weren’t outclassed or anything, so the kids were encouraged by that.
“We also had a game against St. Joe’s from St. Thomas and we had some adversity there, and that helped us build some confidence as well.”
Dealing with tough situations is something Nicoletta believes will be inevitable against Nantyr Shores’s formidable offence.
“They’re very strong and athletic,” Nicoletta said. “It’s probably one of the best teams I’ve seen since coaching in the league.
“There are going to be big plays that we’re not accustomed to,” added Nicoletta, complimenting Larmon and his staff. “We have to maintain our composure, so that when we do get to the end of the game, hopefully, we have a chance to win.”
While St. Joan of Arc has gotten out to watch a couple of the Tritons games, Nantyr’s coaching staff wasn’t able to do the same.
But that doesn’t worry them.
“We’re focused on our own stuff right now,” Larmon said. “We don’t know much about JOA, and that’s fine by us. We’re going to basically live and die by running our own offence.
“Coach (Mike) Tutty’s defence has been amazing for us as well.”
Larmon’s hope is that his defenders can adjust to the Knights quickly enough before they wind up in trouble.
“The first quarter will be a feeling-out phase, and you don’t want to be down two touchdowns after the first quarter while you’re figuring them out, so you have to do it quickly,” Larmon said. “We have to figure out how they’re motioning, what kinds of sets they’re going to bring, and make adjustments accordingly.
“Those guys have played enough football that they can do that.”
One of the more intriguing matchups on Thursday will be St. Joan of Arc’s front four going up against the Nantyr Shores offensive line.
If the Knights can break through with regularity to stop the run game, things could get interesting.
“Our D-line is the strength of our team, and hopefully we can get some pressure on their quarterback and get them into second and long, which I think is going to be a key,” Nicoletta said. “Their running game is so strong and their o-line is so dominant that, in order for us to have any chance, we have to have good play from our defensive line.”
While Nantyr Shores has a number of impressive athletes carrying the ball, it isn’t afraid to air things out either, although often this season, it hasn’t really come to that.
“Sometimes, teams will focus on taking away our running game, but our throwing game, which I’d say is under-utilized, (has) a number of receivers that can catch and run with the ball after the catch,” Larmon said. “I’m not really concerned about what they’ll try to take away from us, I’m more concerned about what we’ll do with the opportunity.”
St. Joan of Arc has some playmakers of its own, and if it can establish the run early, it might be able to spread out the excellent Tritons defence enough to put up some points.
“Offensively, I think we have to be balanced against Nantyr,” Nicoletta said. “If we can do that, we’ll have some sort of a chance.
“We need to contain their run game that (was) so dominant against Bear Creek,” Nicoletta added. “If we can get them in second and long, hopefully, we can have a chance of winning.”
While St. Joan of Arc has won four of the last five GBSSA titles, Nantyr Shores has no senior championships to its name.
Their only football title was a junior one, earned in 2014 by many of these same players.
“When we won our championship when most of them were in Grade 10, our theme was family,” Larmon said. “My father had just passed away, so I didn’t make the semifinal game. They assured me that they’d win to get us there.
“After we won, we all huddled up and I let them know what it meant to me,” Larmon added. “This group of athletes and kids doesn’t come around very often. We’re either going to win or lose together, and that’s important.
“We’d certainly like to leave it on a high note, but either way, this is a phenomenal group and we’re proud of them, regardless.”
The contest will be played at J.C. Massie Field in Barrie beginning at 2 p.m., Thursday.