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Cardinals defeat defending champs in playoff action

By Larry Moko

The St. John Henry Newman Cardinals joyously gathered in the end zone after their high school playoff football victory and listened to a few words from their head coach.

“I said to them, ‘you did what a lot of great teams before you couldn’t do,” coach Lino Battilana said.

That significant accomplishment was to defeat the five-time defending champion St. Thomas More Knights. First-place Newman advanced to the Nov. 11 championship game at McMaster University by topping fourth-place More, 35-7, in a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic semifinal Friday.

It marked the first Newman win over More since a 22-13 regular-season result in 2016.

In the other Tier 1 semifinal, the second-place Bishop Tonnos Titans defeated the third-place Bishop Ryan Celtics, 19-5.

“It’s been a long time,” Battilana said, referring to the Newman drought against More. “This has always been a bit of a cross that we’ve had to bear. We’ve lost to STM in a lot of championships in recent years. So this was a good thing to get off our back.”

The history meant so much to 15 former Cardinal players that they attended the game and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the current Newman players on the sideline.

Newman edged Bishop Tonnos 15-9 in the 2013 championship – the last time it was not a Newman-STM final.

“It’s been a great run” Knights coach Claudio Silvestri said. “We tip our hats to Newman. They were outstanding today. They played well in all areas. We congratulate them.”

The outcome was a reversal of their regular-season meeting last month when More trounced Newman, 40-5.

“We emphasized that we needed to hang on to the ball,” the Newman coach said. “The last time we played More we turned the ball over a lot.”

The Newman defence actually pitched a shutout in the rematch because the lone More touchdown resulted from a special team’s play. On a Newman punt attempt, the snap sailed over the head of Leo Kantartzis. He then lost a foot race with More rusher Jeremy Lemieux who scooped the ball on the run and scored.

“Our defence played incredibly well,” Battilana said.

The Newman defence pinned their opponents deep on several occasions, resulting in More conceding a pair of safety touches.

Offensively, Newman running back Noah Clarke led the way with three touchdown runs – covering two, 11 and four yards.

The Cardinals, who led 27-7 at the half, also connected for a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Lucas Barresi to receiver Shane Wismer. That was set up by Aidan Jordan’s interception and 35-yard return.

Kantartzis booted a pair of kickoff singles plus four converts and a 54-yard punt single.

“We came out strong and worked together as a team,” veteran Newman linebacker Mark Sbrissa said. “We trained for this all year and it paid off.”

Sbrissa said his only previous victory over More was at the junior level.

“Mark is a great leader for us on the defensive side,” Battilana said. “He knows where everybody is going to be and coaches them up. He walks the talk and motivates kids.”

More’s offence managed to move the ball deep into Newman’s territory but an interception by Alex DiFrancesco on the final play of the half ended the threat.

The Cardinals also blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt in the second half.






Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham

Photo by Gerry Graham
Photo by Gerry Graham