Both Sault Sabercats squads are 1-0 to start the 2019 Ontario Football Conference season following their home openers at Superior Heights Saturday.
In the early afternoon game, the Sabercats junior varsity program defeated the Oakville Titans by a score of 34-14, using a ground attack that saw running back Mike Niccoletta and quarterback Ryan Barnes combine for 204 rushing yards.
Barnes completed 5 of 13 pass attempts for 80 yards, which included a 45-yard touchdown pass to slotback Carmen Caputo.
Niccoletta paced the running game, averaging nearly 13 yards per carry in a 164-yard rushing performance - also tacking on 25 receiving yards to Saturday’s performance.
On defense, junior varsity cornerback Nathan Keranen tallied three interceptions for the Sabercats, one of those picks resulting in a 40-yard touchdown.
Sabercats varsity team rallies for last-minute comeback
The Sault Sabercats varsity program, meanwhile, came all the way back from a 38-16 halftime deficit in order to eke out a 41-38 win over the Brantford Bisons in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter.
With the rain increasing its intensity throughout the Sabercats home opener, Brantford heavily relied on its run game in the third quarter in order to burn off some time on the clock.
The score remained 38-16 for the Bisons through much of the fourth quarter when a heavy downpour hit the Superior Heights field with just over nine minutes to go.
Minutes later, a couple of offensive plays by receiver Tyler Brechin and running back Nick Pagnotta set up a 36-yard run by Pagnotta, bringing the Sabercats inside the Bisons’ 10-yard-line.
The Sabercats subsequently scored on a five-yard touchdown pass with 5:55 to go in the game, but failed to get the two-point conversion.
The score at that point was 38-22 for Brantford.
Then, with just 4:43 left in the game, Sabercats defensive back Ethan Fawcett intercepted a Bisons passing play, taking it 50 yards for a defensive touchdown.
Again, the Sabercats went for two points following the pick six, but again came up short.
It’s 38-28 for Brantford at this point.
Another Sabercats touchdown, spurred on by a recovery of the football by linebacker Christian Alfano, cut Brantford’s lead to just four points - the Sault squad missed the extra point following the touchdown - with 3:24 to go in the game.
On the ensuing Bisons drive, Sault linebacker Jacob Jurich brought the Bisons’ quarterback down behind the line of scrimmage on first down.
On second down, the Bisons received a timeclock violation - which meant Brantford actually lost a down due to being inside of the three-minute mark of the fourth.
So now, it’s third down, and being pinned in its own end, Brantford looks to punt the ball away.
The punt seemed to bounce off of another Bisons player.
The ball is recovered - by the Sabercats - on what looks to be the one-yard line.
On the ensuing Sabercats drive, Brantford pushes the Sault back to the six-yard line on first down.
The Sabercats then marched it five yards towards the end zone on second down. They’re back on the one-yard line.
It’s third down, with 1:53 left on the clock.
A gutsy passing play at the goal line results in a Sabercats touchdown, and a come-from-behind win, erasing a massive deficit and an early offensive outburst by the Brantford Bisons to emerge victorious by a score of 41-38.
Ontario Football Conference action resumes May 25, with the local varsity squad going up against the Oakville Titans on the road, while the junior varsity team travels to Sarnia to square off against the Sturgeon.
The next home games at Superior Heights are scheduled for June 8.