By Darren Lum
Published Oct. 17 2017
It’s a given when a team wins a championship that emotions will run freely.
However for the Red Hawks senior football team a regular season 22-8 win against the St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School Saints this past Friday possessed the same intensity of emotions which were displayed from the choked back tears to the great smiles and warm embraces between players and players and coaches.
It was a long time coming for some players who hadn’t won a game for a few years stretching back to junior days. It was made sweeter being at home in front of an appreciative and dedicated group of supporters which included family and friends who applauded the red and white.
Hawks coach Derek Little was noticeably emotional feeling strongly about his team and their efforts to win its first Kawartha High School Football League game this season.
He had just left his players after the win giving them a speech and then received handshakes and hugs from several.
“I met with them and I told them I’ve never been prouder of 17 young men” he said.
Haliburton took a 7-0 lead when Zak Shantz took a short Rylan Gwyn pass and ran it from close to the 50 yardline into the end zone. Hawks Matt Manning added the extra point with a successful convert kick. St. Pete’s responded with less than minute with its touchdown and extra point to go into the half with a 7-7 tie.
With minutes left in the third quarter the Saints scored a single point for an 8-7 lead when their attempted field goal fell well short but rolled end-over-end out the back of the Hawks’ end zone. It was the last lead they would have for the game as the Hawks scored a pair of touchdowns the first by a rushing Connor Spence who was rewarded for his efforts after he had several tackle-breaking runs a two-point convert (Shantz caught a ball from Gwyn and scored) an insurance touchdown from Gwyn who kept the ball off the snap and ran it in from inside the five yard line with less than four minutes in regulation and the extra-point convert by Manning.
The Hawks’ defence had a major factor in this game.
They were relentless in their pursuit of ball carriers finishing their tackles and also made a habit of stripping balls from Saints’ players.
Among the highlights included two notable plays resulting in turnovers and one touchdown. Both of them involved Adam McConnell and Paydon Miscio who was a force at linebacker putting big hit after big hit on Saints players. On one of turnovers McConnell caused a fumble that Miscio recovered while the other Miscio caused a fumble with McConnell recovering. Spence’s touchdown was the result of the fumble recovery.
In the lead up to the Friday game three players came to Little and quit without reason other than they didn’t want to play.
“I’m not here to stroke anyone’s ego. Those are decisions people have to make for their own personal reasons and I’m not going to be able to change those things. They’re letting down the other 17 players who are still here” he said pausing and exhaling. “It’s special when you get these guys together. They’ll stay with it. They work hard.”
In the week leading up to the win the team put out great efforts to condition and improve their stamina which is an absolute necessity with just 17 players on the roster. The team had started the season with 22 players.
He adds there were nine of his players who never came off the field.
“That’s not going to work every week against teams who are comparative in terms of … abilities. We showed we can win. Next week we got two games against two of the powerhouses of the league” he said referring to Adam Scott Vocational Collegiate Institute and Thomas A. Stewart Secondary.
Little has told the league convenor his team will play its hardest on Oct. 17 against Thomas A. Stewart Secondary at home but said he will not “put these boys in danger” for the Friday game against Adam Scott.
“If we can’t play next Friday we’ll take pride in the fact that we’ll forfeit with pride” he said on Friday.
The Hawks will then have a re-match with the Saints on Oct. 26. Location has not been determined.
Little was complimentary to the support of the fans on this day and for his team members who have bought into his idea of commitment and family.
“We got 17 boys that want to play and play for the right reasons. Great team support out here today. You’re not going to win a lot of games but that’s OK. They play hard and put everything out on that field and today was a great day” he said.
“I believe in tough love but I believe in family. My message to the guys is we’ll create a family here and in any family I want to be part of it’s important you treat each other well and respectful to each other and that means being courteous and showing good character” he said.
There were a few players he had his doubts about. They proved him wrong and have remained committed. He adds there have been great changes in the players as far as their character.
“As a teacher a coach a mentor that’s what you really look for in this profession. I’m not out to make NFL football players. Again it’s about creating people and helping to form people and make them realize in themselves they can be good people and how important that is. So if they see you or me on the street or anyone they’re going to be courteous and polite … pay it back type thing” he said.
Being a teacher and coach he knows it’s rare to receive an acknowledgement in any form of his efforts so he readily accepted the handshakes and hugs from his players following the game.
As much as Little has preached to his players about listening to him he has been equally open to listening to them for advice on play calls. It was a successful recipe on this day. However it is an ideal characteristic of a strong relationship between players and their coach.
After 22 years of coaching other than a year the team ended with a Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics championships which is unlikely to happen again this is near to the best feeling he has ever had. His feelings are secondary though.
“It’s not about me personally. It’s about these kids because like some of them said they’ve hardly won a football game. Some of these boys have played all through junior and never won a game. Some of these boys at senior have never won a game so this is pretty special” he said.