Panthers win provincial JV crown in dramatic fashion
By Fred Sherwin
a championshp finish for the ages, the Cumberland Panthers
are the inaugural junior varsity champions of the fledgling
Ontario Provincial Football League after defeating the
Essex Ravens in dramtic fashion on Sunday.
Panthers receiver Xavier Gervais hauls in
the championship winning touchdown against
the Essex Ravens on Sunday. Fred Sherwin/Photo
24-20 with 42 seconds left in the game, Cumberland quarterback
Ryan Licandro led his team down the field on a championship
winning drive that culminated in a touchdown pass to Xavier
Gervais with 4.6 seconds left on the clock.
Panthers seemed all but out of the game four minutes earlier
when they decided to go for a touchdown trailing by four
points rather than kick a field goal. Licandaro's pass
went in and out of the hands of Kyle Markell, negating
a sure touchdown and leaving the Cairine Wilson Secondary
School student devastated on the sideline.
winning drive was set up by a magnificent tackle in the
backfield by Chris Bitchotka that took the Ravens out
of potential field goal range, forcing them to punt the
ball instead.with 1:07 left on the clock.
the Panthers got the ball back on their own 20-yard line,
Licandro made a 39-yard toss to a Wesley Bailey who made
a nearly impossible catch, leaping up between two Essex
defenders to grab the pigskin on the Ravens' 51-yard line
with 52.1 seconds left.
passes to Gervais and Jonathan Aoude would move the ball
down to the 25-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Licandro
found Kevin Victome over the middle on third and five
to give the Panthers another first down on the Ravens'
19-yard line with 11.8 seconds left.
the touchdown winning throw, Licandro cooly stepped up
into the pocket and tossed the ball over two Essex defenders
and into the hands of Xavier Gervais, who was running
a crossing pattern at the back of the end zone.
then added a two-point convert on a pass from Licandro
to Aoude, which sealed the win for the Panthers.
the game an emotional Gervais described the game winning
weren't expecting it," Gervais sais after being mobbed
by his teammates. "They weren't expecting the ball
to come to me. I just got open and Ryan threw a perfect
OPFL championship is the St. Matthew High School student's
second major provincial win in less than a year. He guided
the Tigers to an Ontario Federation of School Athletic
Association bowl game win last November.
also had to deal with a sever ankle sprain suffered prior
to their Week 7 match up against the Ottawa Sooners which
kept him from fulfilling his kicking duties, but not from
helping out his team in other ways as a back-up quarterback
and part-time receiver.
never would have thought (it would come down to me). Never
would have thought it. I can't even talk right now.It's
crazy," said Gervais. "we have the best coaches
in the league and the best team in the league."
Panthers pose with the OPFL Junior Varsity
championship banner and trophy after upsetting
the Essex Ravens on a last second touchdiwn
at Richardson Stadium in Kingston on Sunday.
Panthers' championship run started after the team had
gotten off to a dismal 1-3 start to the season. One of
the major reasons for the slow start was personnel. The
team had lost several key players from years past including
quarterback Christian Veilleux and running back Fabrice
Mukendi who had led the Panthers to the Ontario Varsity
Football League bantam semi-final last summer and the
OVFL final the year before.
players had to step up as starters including Licandro,
Gervais, running back Marvin Simba and Scott Fulton, who
made the switch from middle linebacker to full-back. The
defense also had a lot of new faces. But over time the
players caught up to the coaching, resulting in a seven
game winning streak that culminated with Sunday's victory
in the championship.
lost for words, Panthers' head coach Jeff Koradi had to
compose himself before trying to express what it felt
like to finally win a provincial title.
counted us out. We had guys quit on us, but the coaches
and the players never stopped believing in themselves
and that we could turn things around and make it to the
championship, and now here we are OPFL champions. I couldn't
be more proud of my players or the coaches. It's an amazing
feeling," said Koradi.
game itself, was a take of two halves. The underdog Panthers
flew out of the gates, jumping out to a 17-0 first quarter
lead on a pair of touchdown passes from Licandro to Kevin
Victome and a 20-yard field goal by Gervais.
Ravens only points in the first half came on a safety
given up by the Panthers in the second quarter which made
the score 17-2 at halftime.
the break the Ravens opened the third quarter with their
first touchdown drive of the game. A missed two-point
convert, however, would leave them trailing 17-8. When
the Panthers failed to pick up a first down on their next
possession, the Ravens scored another touchdown and added
the extra point to narrow the deficit to 17-15.
Panthers had an excellent chance to extend their lead
to nine ppoints late in the third quarter when a pair
of pass interference penalties against the Ravens gave
them a first down on the one yard line. Unfortunately,
a botched snap on second down would force them to settle
for a 10-yard field goal and a five-point lead.
five-point lead was whittled down to three points when
the Panthers were forced to give up another safety at
the beginning of the fourth quarter. After Essex tookoever
possession of the ball on their own 35-yard line, they
marched down the field for the go-ahead touchdown and
their first lead of the game with 7:28 left to go.
would get the ball back with 6:35 left on the clock, but
they were stopped dead in their tracks when Conor MacDonald
picked off his third pass of the day to set up the failed
pass attempt from Licandro to Markell.
late game dramatics by the Panther offence overshadowed
a tremendous game by the defence which stymied the top
offensive team in the OPFL time and again led by MacDonald;
Victome; Bitchoka; Dominik Ostrowski, who caused the Ravens'
offensive line fits all game; and linebacker Justice Koradi.
the end of the contest, Victome was named as the top offensive
player of the game and Licandro was named as the league's
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