Coach Brent Richer and the remainder of the men at the helm of the Sudbury Varsity Gladiators have a dilemma on their hands, a very good dilemma.
Boasting a 7-0 record heading into their final regular season game, the local football team have already clinched first place in the Ontario Football Conference (OFC) Northern Division. In fact, the first-round playoff matchups are already etched in stone.
But the Gladiators are facing the Huronia Stallions Saturday evening in Barrie, the same opponent they are likely to face in the divisional final two weeks from now in Sudbury.
Richer and company took the opener of the home-and-home set, winning 44-41 back in early June in the Nickel City. Knowing they have nothing to gain, in terms of advancing in the standings, the Gladiators are left with a choice about whether to rest some key players, selectively inserting younger back-ups, which might provide a benefit down the road.
That's not the path Richer intends to follow.
"We want to win — always," Richer said after practice Thursday night at the James Jerome Sports Complex. "The guys have given us 16 weeks and for us to go down there and take a knee, I've never done that. We're going to go down there and play the best football we can."
The staff have heard all of the arguments and counter-arguments. While the risk of injury is there for every single game, it also exists in practice and every day life.
Conversely, there is obviously something to be said for the confidence that would be garnered from sweeping the Stallions in regular season play should the two OFC powerhouses collide, as expected, in the post-season.
"I still think we do have something to prove," Richer noted. "It's one thing to be a real good football team at home, and we have been, but on the road, that's where you really prove yourself."
There is no denying the competitive nature that is pushing the young Gladiator athletes to fall in line with their coach's philosophy. Though the unblemished 7-0 mark is noteworthy, the fact remains that Huronia has been arguably the only opponent this year to provide a solid push for the northern Ontario crew.
The Gladiators have won five of their seven games by 20 points or more, and even a 20-14 victory over Clarington is a touch deceiving, with the Knights getting a late touchdown to make things interesting in the last few minutes of play.
The Stallions, however, are a good measuring stick, a team that lost by just a single point (13-12), on the road, against the remaining OFC undefeated crew, the Twin Cities Predators.
"This will be much more intense," Richer said. "We have to remember the speed will be a little quicker. And it's important we have a good start. (Huronia) has done a very good job on preparing.
"We have to be crisp on offence and the defence has to have a good tackling game," he added.
On the injury front, the Gladiators received mixed news this week. Defensive end Will Harding is back in the starting lineup, but feature running back Scott Smith remains out for at least one more week.
Also, the hopeful return of defensive back Kennedy Voz has been nixed, as the University of Waterloo sophomore needs six to eight weeks of rest to heel a broken bone in his shoulder blade.
Thankfully, the likes of Zacherie Roque in the backfield and Josiah Walt and Brandon Hadlow in the secondary have all stepped up nicely, a testament to the incredible depth on the Sudbury roster this year. The team could potentially return as many as 40 players for the summer of 2013.
For now, it's simply the task at hand — moving to 8-0 — that is the sole focus for coach Richer and the entire Gladiators squad.
Posted by Laurel Myers