Three down football can make it tough to establish the running game. That would be news to Liam Cousineau and the Sudbury Jr. Gladiators.
The talented St. Charles College running back recorded TD runs of 59, 34, 60 and 82 yards, finishing the contest with more than 300 yards rushing as the Jr. Gladiators bounced the Toronto Jr. Argonauts 51-25 in OFC (Ontario Football Conference) quarter-final action Saturday afternoon at the James Jerome Sports Complex.
"My linemen were giving me some amazing blocks, and especially my receivers, down field, that's how I was able to break loose in the open field," said Cousineau. "From there, I could outrun the defense."
In fact, Sudbury found multiple ways to make life difficult for the Argonaut defense, starting early as quarterback Adam Rocha capped off a 102 yard march with a major from two yards out, adding a two point conversion on the very next play.
Cousineau helped set the tone, carrying four times for 63 yards on that initial sequence, and then rambling 59 yards midway through the opening quarter in giving the Gladiators a 14-0 lead.
The lead was extended to 22-0 later in the period, as Rocha called his own number from one yard out and then connected with Rob Zulich for another two point convert. Michael Oliva got the visitors on the board with a 22 yard field goal, but Sudbury kicker Tyler Bell got some of that back with a 45 yard punt for a single, not long after an interception from Ryan McDougall.
The back and forth pattern continued through until halftime as Toronto sandwiched a pair of TDs from Pedro Chavez around the second of Cousineau's touchdowns, with Chris Scherzinger adding yet another two point conversion for the homeside.
The Jr. Gladiators caught a break and then helped themselves, just before half time. With Michael Turner bolting down the sideline for a sure-fire score, one of his teammates was flagged for a block from the rear, just before Turner reached the end zone.
Still, the Argos had two more cracks from the two yard line, both stymied by the Gladiator defense, before time ran out on the half. That boost, with their team already ahead 31-17, was all that the Gladiators needed, pulling away through the final thirty minutes of play.
"We had a very positive vibe, everyone was ready to play the second half, and I feel that we came back stronger in the second half," said Cousineau. Case in point was his 60 yard gallop to the end zone at the 0:49 mark of the third quarter, extending the Sudbury advantage to 37-17.
Rocha and Cousineau would close out the scoring for the Gladiators, while Daniel Chiarelli (6 yard run) and Alexander Karaiskakis (two point convert pass from QB Daniel Kim) capped things off for Toronto.
As for the offensive hero of the day, Cousineau maintained he tried to keep things simple once he busted through the line. "It seems to me that most runners want to focus on the defenders around them and make sure that they get past them, but I just need to look for the open green field and try and run my hardest to make it to the end zone," he said.
The victory was a historic one, the first ever playoff win for the Sudbury Jr Gladiators' program, and one which combined a number of big plays from the Sudbury defense. The likes of James Bronicheski, Ravyn Mendonca, Chris Scherzinger, Deon McGregor and Evan Gedye provided a constant threat to a very athletic handful of top players with the Toronto side.
Gedye, in particular, has been a most pleasant revelation, joining the Jr Gladiators for the first time this summer after being introduced to football just last fall as a junior at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School.
"When I was younger, I always loved contact, which is why I kind of got away from hockey, a little, for the contact of football," said Gedye. "I love hitting guys and getting fired up." That said, he has quickly picked up the subtle nuances that not all former hockey players grasp when they move from the ice to the turf.
"I focus on the wrap, you've got to get your arms around the guy," said Gedye. "If you don't, if you just try and smash them with your shoulder (like a hockey body check, for instance), they will always bounce off you. So I try and wrap and pull with just strength."
Not particularly tall, Gedye has rotated between different waves of the defensive front seven, finding a couple of roles that he can fill comfortably.
"I find that I am a bit better at linebacker," he said. "But in this league, I don't have that elite speed to get around, so at defensive tackle, I can still smash guys."
With the win, coach J.J. McKnight and company will take to the road next weekend, likely to face the Peterborough Wolverines, in what promises to be an incrementally more difficult semi-final matchup.