Wild lose ground in playoff huntSaturday, July 07, 2012 by: Matt Sookram
Justin Rancourt #4, hands the ball off to running back Jordan Sutcliffe, who is finding behind the offensive line, trying to avoid a tackle from an oncoming Gladiator. Photo by Matt Sookram.
The final home game of the year started with a bang and ended with a whimper. The Nipissing Wild played host to the Sudbury Gladiators, on Saturday afternoon at Rollie Fisher field.
The bang was Jeremy Poeta’s 120-yard kick return for a touchdown to begin the ball game.
The whimper was the final score ending in a 35-7 victory for the Gladiators.
The Wild are still in a playoff position as they sit fourth, just ahead of the winless Toronto Jr. Argos. But if the season ended today, they would have to play the first playoff game against this Gladiators team in Sudbury.
The only other playoff scenario that is likely to happen is if the Wild leapfrog the Clarington Knights for third place and take on the Huronia Stallions in the first round. Of course this wouldn’t really be an ideal situation as Huronia trounced the Wild 34-21 two weeks ago.
There’s no way around the fact that the Wild are going to have to be better when the playoff start. There’s also the chance they don’t even make the playoffs if they can’t find a victory in the next two games.
Next week they will find themselves in the Big Smoke, taking on the Jr. Argos. The only team the Nipissing Wild has ever beaten (one win this year, one win last year). The Wild can’t take anything for granted in that game and will have to play smart football, not only in that game but also in the following weeks contest against the Hamilton Panthers.
They absolutely cannot afford to have those games end up like this weeks game.
Again, the Poeta kick return was a thing of magic. The ball bounced around in the Wilds own end before Poeta picked it up, dashed out to the twenty-yard line, evaded a few tackles, tripped, stumbled and still ran the entire length of the field for the score.
It was downhill from that point as Gladiators quarterback Daniel Poirier quickly found his own magic. When he couldn’t find an open target he would carry the ball himself. While it took him a few drives to figure out the Wild defense, it didn’t deter him from his game plan.
On just the fourth drive, Poirier orchestrated two big runs, followed by a 40-yard dash into the end zone by running back Zacharie Roque, tying the game at 7 with three minutes to go in the first.
The next blow came on the very next offensive series for the Gladiators. A 50-yard bomb from Poirier to Robert Staszak put the Gladiators up 14-7 in the blink of an eye.
The score moved to 21-7 on another pass to Staszak, this time from the five-yard line.
After such an uplifting and highly energetic start from Poeta and the defense, the whole team came crashing back to Earth, down by 14 at the half.
It didn’t get much better as the Wild gave up a fourth touchdown right out of the gate to begin the third quarter. The drive made the Wild defense look silly. A 30 yard catch followed by 6 straight running plays for first downs is all it took for the Gladiators to march down the field and make it 28-7 on the board.
“Our mental mistakes cost us,” says head coach Matt Gordon.
“We had two drives where every player on defense had a mental mistake. It might not necessarily have shown to someone on the sidelines, but we had audibles for automatic calls that we missed. We had broken coverage’s on touchdown that we missed, and that wasn’t typical of our defense…I told the guys they have to expect better out of themselves.”
They are a team that is starting to look like it has been beaten, and are getting frustrated of losing. A team that needs a spark and some motivation as the season winds down.
All athletes go through that phase where nothing is working no matter how hard your trying. But the players and the coaches have to realize that they are still a young team. They have been giving it all they’ve got the entire season. They have suffered injuries and have been forced to play guys on both sides of the ball, which is very uncommon and extremely difficult for the players.
With the game out of reach, Wild quarterback Justin Rancourt threw three passes that were played out exactly how they had been drawn on the chalkboard.
This is the future of the team, and he has been forced into his role sooner than expected. Rancourt is showing signs of maturity and recognition on the field. He is growing as a quarterback and his skills are developing, but it will still take time until he can be considered elite.
The Wild need to find a way to stay positive and know that anything can happen in the playoffs. In the season’s final two weeks, they will need to bare down and play their best football of the season. With players like Spencer Brooks and Zach Wilkinson expected to be back next week, the Wild are hoping they can scratch and claw their way to their first ever playoff birth.