The Sault Sabercats lost an entertaining game Saturday but gained valuable experience and the confidence that they can compete against any team.
In what was, to be sure, the most exciting game in the Sabercats' first year of existence in the Ontario Varsity Football League, the London Falcons came from behind and made solid plays in crunch time to defeat the Sabercats 18-14 at Rocky DiPietro Field on Saturday in front of a season-high crowd of 1,100.
The loss also marked the first home defeat for the Cats this season as they finish the home portion of the regular season schedule at 3-1.
Overall, the Cats now sit at 3-3 and still remain in the hunt for the fourth and final playoff position in the OVFL Adam Division. London improved to 4-2 with the win.
While London is an experienced team in the OVFL with a winning program, the Sabercats gained another valuable lesson on what it takes to win this league.
Right from the first offensive drives of each team, it was apparent that both teams were equally matched on both sides of the ball. London took a 7-0 first quarter lead before Josh Gauthier answered with a one yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to tie the game.
After a London field goal late in the first half, the Sabercats put together a solid drive which was capped with a four yard touchdown pass from Travis McLean to Tony Boniferro, who played with a heavily taped ankle, to take the Sabercats to the locker room at half with a 14-10 lead. Anthony Posteraro kicked both Sault converts.
In the second half, London's nose for making the big plays came through. A third quarter safety wisely conceded by Posteraro on a bad punt snap closed the gap to 14-12.
Late in the game, London capitalized on a huge interception. McLean hit receiver Jon Day with a pass but as the reception was being made, Day was levelled from behind and the ball floated right into the hands of London defensive back Justin Vince.
Although London did not score on the ensuing drive, a punt and an illegal block penalty against the Sabercats on the return put the Cats on offense from their own two yard line. Unable to convert a first down, the Cats punted away and London took over in Sabercats territory.
London would then exploit the Sabercats secondary for a deep pass and then a three yard touchdown run to pull ahead 18-14 with 2:22 remaining.
The Sabercats put up a valiant effort to come back. Gauthier powered his way to a first down on a catch and run play on a third down and 24 yards play to keep the drive alive. But with the London defensive front pressuring McLean and the secondary sitting on a pass, a sack and an intentional grounding call on McLean sealed the game for the Falcons.
In all the Cats gained 264 yards total offense as compared to London's 292. Sabercats star running back Gauthier was held to 48 yards on 14 carries. Mark Palombi ran for 43 yards on 12 carries. Joel Aro was effective at fullback in the second half and gained 22 yards on three touches.
McLean completed 15 of 27 passes for 150 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Josh Gauthier made three catches for 42 yards while Kyle Gauthier caught two balls for 38 yards and Boniferro gained 37 yards on four receptions.
Defensively Sean Pratt and Eric Vallee led the Sault with six tackles each. Quintino Dilabio made five tackles while Kurt Morrison recorded 4.5. Adam Ross was absent due to his spot on Team Ontario.
The Sabercats will enjoy a bye next weekend before hitting the road for the final two regular season games against Ottawa Cumberland and Metro Toronto, respectively.