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NCAFA Minor Football
Mews Orleans Dukes lose midget championship in a heartbreaker
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Dukes slotback Matthieu Grandmaitre finds some open running room durimg the NCAFA midget championship on Friday. Fred Sherwin/Photo


The Mews Orleans Dukes came within one minue and 14 seconds of winning the NCAFA midget championship on Friday before the football gods and Canterbury Mustang running back Cassius Henry ripped it out of their hands.

After playing a near perfect game, the Dukes were up 11-8 with just over a minute to go. All Orleans kicker Andrew Mullings had to do was punt the ball out of bounds and let the defence finish the job.

Unfortunately, Mullings mishit the ball just enough to keep it in bounds. As the ball came down at the Mustangs 50-yard line it bounced forward about 15 yards. Henry tried to field the ball, but mishandled it for a second which allowed the Dukes coverage unit to get downfield. Rather than converge on Henry, they went for the ball which allowed the Mustangs' running back to escape the initial coverage.

After running from sideline to sideline, Henry turned upfield at his own 40-yard-line and used a combination of God-given talent, terrific blocks and missed tackles to take the ball to the house and give his team their only lead of the game.

The Dukes added to their woes when they were called for roughing the kicker on the extra point attempt which meant the Mustangs could kick the ball off from the Dukes' 50-yard line and pin them deep in their end of the field, eliminating any chance of a last minute comeback.

As things played out, the Dukes had to start from their own nine yard line. After picking up the initial first down, the drive ground to a halt on an unsuccessful hook and ladder play and a quarterback sack.

It was an absolutely heartbreaking loss for a team that did everything they needed to do to win the game except keep Henry from making the big play.

The speedy powerback scored the game's opening touchdown on a 62 yard romp that seved as a wake up call for the Dukes' defensive unit. If they weren't completely focused on the task at hand before the play they were afterwards, and except for another long run late in the first half they kept Henry pretty much in check until the fatal punt return.

Trailing 6-0, the Dukes responded with a touchdown drive of their own that was capped by a seven yard run by Charly Marseille. Mullings made no mistake on the extra point attempt and then hammered the ensuing kickoff through the end zone for a single point to give the Dukes an 8-6 lead.

The Mustangs would narrow the Dukes' lead to 8-7 midway through the second quarter when they scored a single on a missed field goal attempt from 20 yards out.

Canterbury would be end up knocking on the door again in the final moments of the second quarter, picking up a first down inside the five yard line with less than 30 seconds on the clock. After being held out of the end zone on the first two plays, the Mustangs decided to go for the touchdown one more time rather than settle for a field goal.

Cassius Henry got the call, but the Dukes front seven were waiting for him and stuffed the play to preserve their 8-6 lead.

Orleans extended their advantage to 11-8 in the third quarter on a 32 yard field goal by Mullings.

The Mustangs responded with their most impressive drive of the game moving the ball 75 yards in 11 plays and chewing more than 12 minutes off the clock in the process. But just as they did on the Mustangs' late drive in the first half, the Dukes bent but didn't break. Canterbury got down as far as the 15-yard line before the Dukes came up with a pair of sacks on back-to-back plays to take them out of field goal range.

Everything seemed to be unfolding just as the Dukes faithful had hoped. They even got an unexpected break with about three minutes left in the game when the Mustangs were called for roughing the punter, giving the Dukes a fresh set of downs. Unfortunately, Orleans couldn't do anything with them and they were forced to punt the ball again which began the chain of events leading up to Henry's game winning punt return.

The Dukes were originally supposed to punt the ball from their 40 yard line, but for some inexplicable reason they took too much time to get the punt off and were slapped with a delay of game penalty which in the final three minutes of the gane is a major penalty. So instead of punting from his 40, Mullings had to kick the ball from the 25. The rest, as they say, is history.

After the game, Dukes head coach Brian Cazabon tried to put the devastating loss into words.

"That's the most heartbreaking loss I've ever been a part of. We played the game we had to play. Our defence bent but didn't break. We held the top scoring team in the league to just seven points. We just got beat by one play. You have to give that kid credit. It was a great run. We had a couple of chances to stop him, but we just couldn't bring him down," said Cazabon.

(Posted 7:30 p.m., Oct. 31)

 

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