By Larry Moko
An impressive second-half rally fell just short for Cardinal Newman’s senior high school football team at the Independence Bowl Monday.
The Cardinals, who trailed 21-0 at the intermission, battled back and were driving for the potential tying or go-ahead points when time expired. That enabled St. Michael’s College Kerry Blues of Toronto to hang on for a 21-18 victory at Tim Hortons Field.
The Independence Bowl is part of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations three-day, nine-game, football festival in Hamilton. On Tuesday night, the other entry from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league – the St. Thomas More Knights – will face Welland’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Golden Horseshoe Bowl.
“We needed one more play … we just didn’t have it,” Newman coach Anthony Macaluso said. “Our offence started coming along. It was too little, too late.”
During Newman’s last-gasp drive, quarterback Daniel Eldridge connected with receivers Marcello DaSilva and Logan McKerracher for pass plays totalling 27 yards. But that left the Cardinals near midfield and just outside field-goal range when the final whistle sounded.
“We all still thought we had a shot right to the end,” said Cardinals receiver Nate Cusimano. “We kept pushing. It was just a matter of the time.”
The Kerry Blues opened the scoring on a long bomb from quarterback Robbie Kemp-Welch to Jaiden Mortley. The play covered 92 yards.
Another big gainer through the air – a 66-yard pass over the middle from Kemp-Welch to Johnathan Peshko -- set up a five-yard touchdown run by Keon Edwards. Said Macaluso: “They beat us on two deep throws. We can’t let that happen.”
The Kerry Blues then went up by three touchdowns when Colin Cattell gathered in a two-yard scoring toss.
“That’s an outstanding team,” Cusimano said of the traditionally strong Toronto Independent school, whose last Bowl appearance was 2008. “Their offence is really good. In the first half, we couldn’t stop them. Our defence did a great job in the second half.”
Newman got on the scoreboard for the first time on an eight-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass from Eldridge to Logan McKerracher.
The Cardinals crept closer when Eldridge completed six passes during a 75-yard touchdown drive – two to Tyler Bridgman, one to Ryan Ogilivie, one to McKerracher and a pair to Cusimano. Calvin Kelly’s one-yard run and Max Sherwood’s convert narrowed the score to 21-16 with 66 seconds left.
The final two points for Newman was the result of a safety touch with 26 seconds remaining. It was the second safety that St. Mike’s conceded in the contest.
Macaluso said a key turnaround in the game happened early. After the CN brother combination of Calvin and Brayden Kelly shared the ball-carrying duties all the way down the field, Calvin fumbled on a carry just before crossing the goal line. St. Mike’s recovered the ball in the end zone and, three plays later, Mortley scored.
“That was a huge 14-point swing,” the Newman coach said. “You’ve got to be able to execute. We didn’t do it enough, especially when we needed it.
“We weren’t able to finish drives. That was our problem.”
St. Mike’s hurt its own cause by taking six unnecessary roughness penalties. They also yielded two large chunks of yardage for player disqualifications in the final minute.
Calvin Kelly and his younger brother Brayden (his first game up from junior) collected a combined 200 yards along the ground.
“They are different types of runners,” Macaluso said. “They’ll be in the same backfield next year. There’s good things ahead for us.”
Eldridge completed 20 of 33 passes for 216 yards.
Newman’s loss was its third in OFSAA Bowl competition. The Cardinals also fell to A. N. Myer of Niagara Falls (16-14) in 2015 and 21-11 to Toronto Don Bosco in 2013.