By Larry Moko
St. Thomas More’s senior football team has experienced the thrill of winning a championship many times before, but this one was really special.
The Knights of St. Thomas More won their fifth consecutive OFSAA Bowl Series championship Wednesday – a convincing 27-0 decision over Windsor’s Herman Green Griffins at Ron Joyce Stadium.
Billed the Golden Horseshoe Bowl, the contest was one of nine over three days at McMaster involving the best high school teams in the province.
“We have a huge returning fifth-year class,” said Knights safety Ethan Monaghan, one of 17 players on the team in their final year of eligibility. “It meant the world for us to go out with a bang.”
The More veterans are proud of their four consecutive Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league championships plus the national status they built and maintained over the last three years.
“We’re the only class to actually get No. 1 in Canada three times,” he said. “It’s been a total ride.
“We always say “Finish’. That’s our motto. We have finished it now.”
When asked how More has been so successful in recent years, Monaghan said: “Just discipline and hard work. You’ve got to want it.”
He also praised the More coaching staff led by Claudio Silvestri, Joe Burke and Rob Fuciarelli.
“Hands down they are the best coaches in the country. They know how to run a program. They know how to make it a family. Our big thing is ‘53 Strong’ and family.”
The Knights, 12-0, shut out the previously undefeated Windsor squad and, offensively, did all their scoring in the first half.
A pair of field goals by Anthony Venerri – 25 and 20 yards on the first two drives – gave More a 6-0 lead. And after moving the ball effectively along the ground with carries by Jawaun Smith, Knights quarterback Evan Hillock surprised Herman with a deep pass to Janiel Gordon that went for a 49-yard touchdown.
Defensive halfback Joey Fuciarelli then returned an interception 28 yards for a TD before Gordon hauled in a second scoring strike, this time from six yards.
All three converts were by Venerri.
Fola Adeniyi recovered an on-side kickoff to set up More’s final touchdown and he intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter. Defensive back Jaylen Smith of the Knights, who also picked off a pass, was selected Player of the Game.
Twenty-year More head coach Claudio Silvestri said his players prepare well for every game and this year’s Golden Horseshoe Bowl was no exception.
“They are incredibly focused and dialed in week in and week out,” he said. “We’ve had targets on our back all year, but we’ve been able to respond every week.”
More’s opponent came in with a 10-0 record and had seven previous OFSAA Bowl Series victories. Said Silvestri: “They have a legendary program and a legendary coach (Harry Lumley). We knew they would be physical and talented.”
The 17 fifth-year players for More are Monaghan, Hillock, Gordon, Fuciarelli, Adeniyi, Kobi Ofuokwu, Robert Kern, Ryan Newick, Josh Munoz, Josiah Clarke, Nathan Paulin, Michael McLymont, Josh Coles, Jared Stewart, Zachary Burmaster, Brayden Hendry-Schaefer and Jonathan Merchan.
“We lose a lot of leadership and experience next year,” Silvestri said. “But our junior program keeps pumping out great teams and great players.”
Hillock, Monaghan and linebacker Ofuokwu have already committed to play for the University of Guelph Gryphons. There they will join three other More graduates – Kristian Stewart, Yusef Al-Khaldi and Spencer Kennedy.
Overall, More has seven OFSAA Bowl titles dating back to 2006 and ’07.