It was a football season where every little thing mattered for Northern.
The Red Knights’ senior team were focused on losing an albatross around their necks that dated back to their freshmen years — that being losing to Richview Saints three years in a row in the TDSSAA finals.
Though the beginning of the season was rife with doubt, the first month provided the backdrop to get the team to gel and lead them beyond their goal of beating Richview, beyond the city championship and right into the arms of a Metro Bowl appearance on Nov. 26, the team’s first since 2003.
Six of the Red Knights captains – Justin Chalmers, Ricardo Chisolm, Devynn Cromwell, Malcom James, Ryley Ness and Demetri Panagiotopoulos — shared their thoughts over the phone, happy to have spent the last four years toiling in the trenches to overcome Richview, Etobicoke and Chaminade on their way to face Thunder Bay’s St. Ignatius in the provincial championship.
Ultimately they lost to St. Ignatius 17-10 but the game — and getting to it — was memorable for the players in several ways.
One senior captain, Cromwell, who scored a 104-yard touchdown reception from Hamilton Jordan in Metro Bowl, felt the season had a rough start, right from their opening game against Lorne Park of Mississauga.
“Our season went okay, but then we really picked it up towards the end,” he said. “And that’s when it mattered the most.”
Unfortunately, the squad lost their starting running back, Chisolm, after the first game with a separated shoulder, but Raphael Morena, Paul Kelly, and Colin MacLauchlan all chipped in to fill the void until his return for the playoffs.
And due to all this, there were critics in Red, Yellow and Blue land, as linebacker Ryley Ness noted. But those critics were hushed by the team’s coming together.
“I’ve never seen a team gel more in a span of a month,” he said. “A lot of us believed that if we beat Richview, we would win citys.
“There was a big wake-up because people at the school wouldn’t believe we’d beat Richview.”
Northern overcame their first obstacle in the quarter-finals. After finishing the regular season at 4-2, they faced their rivals in the first round. They not only won but defensively shut down the Saints, 21-0.
Then, they faced the undefeated Etobicoke Rams in the semis.
“They kind of came in thinking they were going to roll over us, but honest to god, I think Northern had the best defence in the league,” defensive end Demetri Panagiotopoulos said.
Northern won that one 27-17.
The city finals were next, where the team faced Chaminade Gryphons. Morale was low at first after their opponents had a pick-six, but the Red Knights managed to muster together a comeback and made good on a two-point conversion in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter to force overtime. A field goal in that appendage quarter and the team won 18-15.
Finally, the Metro Bowl at TD Stadium in Ottawa — home of the CFL’s RedBlacks. It started with the aforementioned touchdown by Cromwell, who hustled from end-to-end.
“The Metro Bowl was a very different experience,” Malcolm James summed it up. “I felt a lot of pressure on me to lead the team and set an example. It was an experience.”
Still, with Cromwell’s reception, there was plenty of work to still be done.
Came down to last play
“In the second half they got two touchdowns and field goal, which broke us,” Panagiotopoulos said. “With 45-seconds left, we started a drive from our own half, and we drove all the way down the field.”
It all came down to that last play. With no time left on the clock, quarterback Grayson Domingues found Liam Walsh in the end zone. But the pass was underthrown, and Walsh had to step back out from the end zone and catch the ball on the one-yard line.
The Falcons defence was on him, and with no time left, he lateraled the ball. That’s when the fumble happened, and Ricardo Chisholm had to jump on the defender who picked up the ball.
“So much adrenaline because we were able to get there in the first place,” Chisholm said. “When Ignatius got off the field, on the previous drive, I thought it was all over.”
Defensive lineman Justin Chalmers shared his thoughts on the end result.
“I’d rather lose by a yard than a bunch of points,” Chalmers said. “It was disappointing when he was pushed back on the play.
“The problem with losing the final game, as we talked about, is you have too much time to think about every play after the fact.”
Most of the senior captains will be leaving at the end of the year, graduating and moving on to the post-secondary phases of their academic careers. Cromwell is still determining his next steps, but he may return for another year of football before deciding life after high school.
Still, the feeling is one of accomplishment with this group of young men.
“After losing three years in a row, in the finals, and finally lifting the trophy, I don’t think there’s a better way for it to end,” Panagiotopoulos said.
“What our team went through, I’d say we did our best the whole season. I feel like, yeah, we came up short, but we won the city championship and the Metro Bowl was the icing on the cake,” Cromwell added.
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