By Larry Moko
Christmas came early for the Bishop Tonnos Titans high school football team.
The Titans finished the regular schedule with a 5-1 record and secured home-field advantage for the playoffs when they scored a convincing 22-0 victory over the visiting St. Thomas More Knights Friday.
It was also a joyous afternoon for BT because it marked the first time since the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic playoffs of 2013 that Tonnos had defeated More at the senior level.
“In a pre-game talk I said to the kids that I wanted them to win today to see their faces, not because we’ve battled this team for years and haven’t been able to come out on top,” Titans’ coach Mark Marini said. “Just like Christmas morning, the best part is watching the kids’ faces.”
More, which ended up with a 4-2 record, turned the ball over to Tonnos six times in the first half. And the Titans took advantage of those opportunities to put points on the board and gain better field position.
Five plays after the Knights were stopped on a third down try in their own end, Elliot Blake opened the scoring on a one-yard touchdown run.
Then, after Tonnos’s Kaleb Horvat-Rankin recovered a fumble, Francesco Romano booted a 17-yard field goal to up the lead to 9-0.
That was followed by a Blake interception, two failed punt attempts and a fumble recovery by defensive back/slotback Jackson Taylor.
“That’s just our good play,” Taylor said of the numerous More turnovers. “We practice tackling drills. We’re always going for the ball.”
On his fumble recovery, Taylor also made the solo hit which popped the ball free. “I had the tackle secured,” he said, “so I wanted to get the ball right after that.”
Tonnos added field goals of 14 and 21 yards by Romano to take a 15-0 lead into the second half.
The lone score of the third quarter came on the opening kickoff when Luca Tassone returned it 85 yards down the sideline and into the end zone.
“Any time you beat a program like that (More) it takes a huge effort from the coaching staff and the players,” Marini said. “There’s a mystique around that team, so we focused on mentally preparing for them. I think it worked.”
More coach Claudio Silvestri said the Titans played a fantastic game and deserve credit for creating the turnovers. “They came to play and we didn’t show up today,” Silvestri said. “Their players were hungry and physical. We were the exact opposite.
“We did not do well on offence, defence or special teams. We’ve got to get back to basics – tackling, blocking and playing physical football.”
Against More, Taylor caught five passes for 82 yards – including a grab with one arm. Along the ground, Shields and Blake rushed for a combined total of 175 yards.
Receiver Joshua Malott led the More offence with three receptions for 37 yards.
“This was very special,” Taylor said of the victory. “It’s nice to have home-field advantage and put BT on the map. More has been a powerhouse for some time (they’re five-time defending champions).”
Taylor and a group of his Tonnos teammates – Tassone, Blake, Romano, quarterback Ryan Begadon and running back Isaiah Shields – played for Team Ontario last summer at the U18 flag football national championships in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
“Our core players have played a lot of football together,” Marini said. “They’ve grown up playing in the same leagues. It builds trust and camaraderie. They are friends not just teammates.”
The contest also featured the debut of the Titans’ all-white uniforms.
Second-place Tonnos will play a Tier 1 semifinal playoff on Nov. 4 against the third-place Bishop Ryan Celtics while the first-place St. John Henry Newman Cardinals play host to the fourth-place Knights in the other semi.
Tier 2 semifinals commence on Nov. 7 when the Cathedral Gaels face the sixth-place Crusaders at St. Mary. The winner then takes on the fifth-place St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves in the final on Nov. 11 at McMaster University.