Perhaps the Sudbury Gladiators just needed a little reality jolt to get back into the swing of things.
Nipissing Wild speedster Jeremy Poeta provided just that, returning the opening kickoff 124 yards for a touchdown Saturday in North Bay. That was the last time a member of the home team would reach the end zone.
After enjoying both a bye week in their Ontario Football Conference (OFC) schedule and a 10-day hiatus in the team's practice schedule, the Gladiators needed just one wake-up call to turn things around.
Dominating the balance of the game, the visitors answered with three quick touchdowns, completely shutting down the Wild and improving to 6-0 with a 35-7 victory in the Gateway City.
"You try and figure out, before the game, what you can do to get the guys into the game and a 120-yard touchdown did that for us," Sudbury head coach Brent Richer said. "It turned out to be kind of a good thing."
Showing the poise of an experienced and confident group, the Gladiators quickly regained momentum. Running back Zach Roque, subbing for the injured Scott Smith, darted 45 yards to knot the game at 7-7 before quarterback Dan Poirier went to work.
Poirier engineered scoring drives on three straight possessions, the final two culminating with touchdown passes to Rob Staszak (44 yards) and Ryan Rochon (three yards). Three converts courtesy of Travis Perrin had the Gladiators holding a 21-7 lead at the half.
For good measure, Sudbury marched more than 70 yards after taking the second half kickoff, eating up almost five minutes off the clock before Poirier spotted Rochon, yet again, from three yards out.
Following a blocked field goal by Dylan Ricciutto, Poirier completed his fourth touchdown pass, hooking up with Matt Vettoretti from 16 yards out.
Coach Richer pulled the majority of his starters midway through quarter three, with his team holding a commanding 35-7 lead. From there, it was all defence as the Sudbury side extended a fairly impressive streak.
In four regular season games against Nipissing over the past two seasons, the Gladiators defence have yet to surrender a point, blanking the Wild on two occasions.
An interception return for a major and Poeta's impressive run have accounted for all of the North Bay scoring against their northern Ontario rivals. The Sudbury efficiency on both sides of the ball is a tribute to the workmanlike attitude that each and every one of his players maintains, Richer said.
"They know the bulls-eye on your back gets bigger with every game you win," Richer said. "I think our 2010 team were likely just as gifted athletically as these guys, but they didn't have that same sense of urgency. This year's team is just so focused on the task at hand."
Statistically speaking, Poirier was near perfect, finishing 13/15 for 146 yards and four touchdowns, while Roque rested the final quarter, having already carried for 120 yards on 13 attempts.
Sudbury received some additional encouraging news as the out-of-town scoreboard reported a 13-12 victory by the Twin Cities Predators over the Huronia Stallions. This result now allows the Gladiators to clinch the Northern Division title with a victory this Saturday against the Toronto Jr Argos, a squad they beat 31-7 on the road back in week two.
The locals will close out their 2012 regular season campaign with a rematch against the Stallions in Barrie, a highly anticipated match given the hard-fought 44-41 Sudbury win over Huronia a few weeks back.
The injury front also holds promise for Richer and company with defensive back Justin Ealdema and lineman Jacob Czaja both expected back this week, while Kennedy Voz and Will Harding are possibly set to go.
Posted by Laurel Myers