After picking up their first two wins of the season, on the road, on back-to-back weeks, the Sudbury Jr. Gladiators were an excited lot, returning home to complete their 2012 campaign with three straight games at the James Jerome Sports Complex.
But opening that stretch against the undefeated Twin Cities Predators added more than a fair share of apprehension to the mix.
Elements of both were evident on Saturday as the visitors showcased an offensive attack that presented all sorts of trouble for the Gladiators, as Twin Cities improved to 5-0 with a 62-20 triumph.
The tone, for the visitors, was set early as Twin Cities needed only three plays from scrimmage on their first possession to reach the end zone, with Tre Nicholson bolting in from 25 yards out.
To their credit, the home side displayed some early resiliency, taking their only lead of the game just three plays later when Matthew Glass darted and weaved his way 56 yards to paydirt as a Matteo Vigna convert brought the score to 7-6 for Sudbury.
From there, the Predators dominated much of the opening half, adding touchdowns from Brayden Lane (18-yard pass from Lucas McConnell), Nicholson (97-yard run) and Brendan McCracken (nine-yard pass from McConnell), leading 28-7 at the break.
Any chance of a second half comeback was quickly extinguished as McCracken (24-yard pass reception) and Nicholson (26-yard run) bumped the lead to 42-7.
The Gladiators provided some excitement for the crowd on hand in the fourth quarter as Hunter Holub connected with Connor Chezzi from 22 yards out, with Holub adding another score on a bootleg later from the one.
Containing the Predators powerful offence may have proven problematic, but the Gladiators did enjoy a measure of success offensively, most notably on the ground. Glass finished the game with 127 yards rushing, with Holub also found defensive convert Cam McDermid on the receiving end of several passes.
A small handful of players would see action on both sides of the ball for Sudbury coach Kevin Ellsworth, including St. Charles College product Matt Kuzenko, utilized at both fullback and linebacker, on occasion.
"No matter where the coach puts me, I just try my very hardest," Kuzenko said, after the game. "But I find I'm better suited at fullback. You just put your head down at some point and hit whoever is in front of you."
Despite the sizable half-time deficit, Kuzenko acknowledged that he and his teammates tried to draw inspiration from an earlier comeback.
"We were down 33-1 to Toronto and came back to lose by just five points," he said.
However, Twin Cities provided a more formidable adversary, something that was evident even to the OFC rookie.
"They have size and definitely some speed," Kuzenko said. "It's tough — they have a lot of playing experience because the ball down south just never stops."
Still, Kuzenko was quick to add that in the end, OFC opponents are mortal, certainly not unbeatable.
"I thought (the OFC) was going to be like playing NFL superstars," he said with a smile. "Really, when it comes right down to it, they're all 15 or 16 years old, just like us. You just have to use your head and play smart."
The Junior Gladiators are back in action next Saturday, facing the Peterborough Wolverines at 4 p.m. at the James Jerome Sports Complex.
Posted by Laurel Myers