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NCAFA Football
Peewee Panthers advance to A-Cup final with win over Warriors
By Fred Sherwin
OrleansOnline,ca

Cumberland Panthers running back Fabrice Mukendi ran for 234 yards against the Bell Warriors on Saturday, but his only touchdown came on a screen pass from Josh Ruby. Lynn Gibault/Photo

The Cumberland Panthers peewee team is heading to the National Capital Amateur Football Association A-Cup championship game after downing the Bell Warriors 38-26 at Millennium Park on Saturday.

The Panthers were once again led by running back Fabrice Mukendi who ran for 234 yards on 18 carries and scored his team’s second touchdown. His running mate, Jonathan Aoude, ran for 83 yards on nine carries and scored a pair of touchdowns, one on the ground and one through the air on a pass from replacement quarterback Josh Ruby who also had a strong game.

The slotback turned quarterback did an admirable job under centre subbing, for the team’s regular pivot, Christian Veilleux, who suffered a broken collar bone in a game against the North Gloucester Giants on Oct. 8 and is out for the season. Ruby completed three passes for 45 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes to Aoude and Mukendi, and he ran the ball five times for 40-yards, two of which were for majors.

In Saturday’s semi-final matchup between the two antagonoists who part in last year’s peewee championship, it was the Warriors who struck first, scoring on a 68-yard bomb down the far sideline on their opening play of the game that followed a Panther fumble on the 31-yard line.

The Panthers responded to the Warriors quick score with a big play of their own. After Mukendi returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Warriors’ 38-yard line, Ruby threw a touchdown pass to Aoude who was left all alone in the end zone. A two-point convert gave the Panthers an 8-6 lead.

Cumberland's second touchdown came with 44.4 seconds left in the opening quarter on a 38-yard run by Aoude. Mukendi's second two-point convert run of the game extended the Panthers' lead to 16-6.

After the ensuing kick-off, the Warriors manufactured a 60-yard drive, capped by a 15-yard touchdown run by their workhorse Trey O'Brien. A missed wo-point convert attempt left the score at 16-12 in favour of the home team.

The visitors would eventually take the lead when they managed to manufacture a 10 play, 69-yard drive to start the second half that melted nearly five minutes off the clock.

Down 18-16, the Panthers responded with a six-play, 58-yard drive on the next offensive series, culminating in a 25-yard touchdown run by Mukendi to retake the lead 22-18.

When Bell got the ball back, they managed to move it into Panthers territory before O'Brien had it stripped from his arms by Cumberland's Nicholas Dignard. After the turnover, the Panthers stuck to the ground, moving the ball 79-yards in six plays, the last three of which was a 17-yard run by Ruby.

Mukendi's third two-point convert of the game would improve the Panthers' lead to 36-18.

The Warriors would respond with another touchdown drive on their next series, but it wouldn't be enough as the Panthers simply ran out the clock on the final series of the game.

The Panthers must now await the winner of this weekend's other A-Cup semi-final between the North Goucester Giants and the Bel-Air Lions scheduled to kick-off at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Panthers head coach Jeff Koradi is quietly hoping for the more highy favoured Giants to win the game which would set up a rematch with the only team that beat the Panthers this season.

"I hope it's them. I hope it's them," Koradi responded when asked about a potential rematch in the next weekend's A-Cup final. "It's going to be a great game."

There's no arguing that its been a challenging season for the defending champions with injuries to several key plays including Veilleux, wide receiver Zane Teichroeb (broken collar bone) and centre Alex Gingras Desjardins (broken ankle). But the team has responded with three straight wins, which is a testament to the players still standing.

"You have to give credit to our kids," says Koradi. "We're banged up. We're bruised up. We have kids out for the rest of the year, but we have other kids who step up and show up and get the job done."

One of those kids is Josh Ruby who had decided to sit out the NCAFA season after a long and grueling varsity season campaign earlier in the year, but stepped up to fill in at quarterback after Veilleux went down in Week 7.

"Josh is Josh. Ther's no surprise with Josh Ruby," says Koradi. "He's been with us for seven years now and he's just a tremendous kid and a really good player."

Ruby is going to have to bring his A-game if the Panthers end up meeting the Giants in the A-Cup final. Nearly half the Giants defence played with Ruby on the Panthers' bantam varsity team that made it to the OVFL semifinals the past two seasons.

The core of the Panthers' offence, including Ruby, Mukendi, Aooude and wide receiver Maxime Déry, also played on the bantam varsity team. All of which adds up to potentially classic A-Cup final.

(Posted 11 a.m., Oct. 30)

 

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