On the strength of a big day from Michael Nicoletta, the Sault Sabercats junior varsity team will move on.
Nicoletta ran for 283 yards and five touchdowns on 17 carries as the Sabercats beat the Forest City Thunderbirds 49-26 in Ontario Football Conference action on Saturday at Superior Heights.
“I just saw the open lanes, the offensive line did a good job blocking and just ran, that’s all there is to it,” Nicoletta said of his big day.
“Michael is Michael,” said Sabercats coach Jim Monico. “He’s got that skipping running style and he’s really fun to watch. If there’s eight yards there, he’s either going to get six or he’s going to get 40. He’s a pretty special player.”
The Sabercats running and passing games were on point as the team ran the ball for 396 yards and passed for 352 more in the win.
“I was really happy with the passing game,” Monico said. “They went to a cover-0 and we really made them pay. Ryan Barnes probably played his best game of the season. He threw really well, he ran really well. He was very calm. He was a good leader. We talk about that with him and he’s evolved into that.”
Barnes finished the day completing 11 of 17 pass attempts for 352 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter with a hip injury. Barnes also had 65 yards rushing and a touchdown on nine carries.
“The prognosis looks pretty good and he’s a really tough guy,” Monico said.
Consistency remained an issue for the Sabercats at times in the game.
“We still lack consistency like we always do,” said Monico. “We let them hang around a little bit. We’re happy with the win. We played well enough to win.
“We’ve got to be more consistent,” Monico added. “I’ve said that all year. We’ve got to be a little better on the offensive line, a little better on the defensive line. Our trench game has got to get a little better.”
Forest City opened the scoring just over two minutes in as Jaden Vansevenant kicked a 27-yard field goal.
With 22.1 seconds to go in the opening quarter, Nicoletta scampered in from 50 yards out to get the home team on the board. With a convert from Nathan Lajunen, the Sabercats took a 7-3 lead.
After a Lajunen interception, the Sabercats got deep into Forest City territory after a 40-yard catch by Carmen Caputo got the ball to the Thunderbirds 26. With a subsequent penalty, the Sabercats were looking at a first and goal from the 10. Nicoletta proceeded to run the ball in on the next play. With a Lajunen convert, the Sabercats took a 14-3 lead.
Nicoletta picked up his third major of the day just under five minutes into the second quarter on a 27-yard run. A convert by Lajunen made the score 21-3 Sabercats.
The Thunderbirds responded quickly with a 55-yard catch and run by Tyler Tierney and convert by Vansevenant made the score 21-10.
On the Sabercats next drive, Nicoletta ran the ball 49 yards before diving into the endzone for a touchdown. With a convert by Lajunen, the Sabercats took a 28-10 lead with 4:17 to go in the half.
Tierney got the Thunderbirds to the Sabercats two-yard line with 2:30 to in the half. On second down, quarterback Cameron Seybold ran the ball in from two yards out. That and the subsequent convert by Vansevenant made the score 28-17.
Forest City got a single point with 23.3 seconds to go in the half to make the score 28-18 after the Sabercats couldn’t return a missed field goal out of their endzone.
On the final drive of the half, Nicoletta ran the ball to the Forest City 33. After a penalty on the Thunderbirds on the next play, the locals couldn’t capitalize after Lajunen missed a 24-yard field goal attempt to end the half.
On their first drive of the second half, the Sabercats took a 35-18 lead after a 95-yard pass and run by Caleb Plastino and convert by Lajunen just under three minutes into the half.
A 45-yard catch by Daniel Bumbaco got the Sabercats to the Forest City five, setting the stage for a touchdown run by Nicoletta. With a convert by Lajunen, the Sabercats took a 42-18 lead.
In the final minute of the third quarter, Barnes ran the ball in from eight yards out for a touchdown. With a convert by Lajunen, the Sabercats took a 49-18 lead.
Vansevenant ran 63 yards for a touchdown with 59 seconds to go. A two-point convert by Seybold made the final 49-26.
Defensively for the Sabercats, Andy Beith had four solo and two assisted tackles while Aaron Grandinetti had four solo and three assisted tackles.
Gavin Smith had two tackles and five assisted tackles.
The Sabercats await the winner of the first round game between the Chatham Cougars and Brantford Bisons. A Cougars win would mean the Sabercats travel to Chatham next weekend while a Bisons win would give the Sabercats a home game next week against Brantford.