Just one week after being officially eliminated from the Ontario Football Conference playoff race, the Jr. Gladiators bounced back with a well-deserved 23-22 win over the Vaughan Rebels, as Mackenzie Campbell drilled a 23-yard field goal, through the uprights, with under a minute to play.
Coach Brandon Dougan and company were holding a 20-6 fourth-quarter lead when the hometown Rebels mounted a comeback, grabbing a 22-20 advantage, before the visitors from Sudbury pulled the win out of the fire.
"We didn't play well in the first quarter, but got better in the second," noted Dougan. "We got a nice lead, but made a couple of mistakes and they came back. But we showed some character. With a couple of minutes to play, we completed some passes down field to get into field-goal range."
The Sudbury lead was built courtesy of touchdowns from Darcy Labelle (six-yard TD pass from King Gil-Afau) and Ian Christakos (one-yard TD run on third-down gamble), with Campbell rounding out the scoring with three field goals.
"All three field goal snaps from centre Zach Cochrane were right on the money, which makes everything a lot easier," acknowledged Dougan. With the win, Sudbury improves to 3-4, closing out their 2014 campaign with a second matchup with the North Halton Crimson Tide, a team they edged 10-9 earlier this summer.
Despite a loss to the Huronia Stallions on June 28 that ended the Jr. Gladiators hopes for a post-season berth, Dougan said his players had little trouble getting up for a battle with a well-matched opponent.
"They were bigger than us, they were athletic," said Dougan. "They weren't a pushover team. Our kids realize how good Peterborough is (lost 44-7), they realize that Huronia is better than us right now (lost 28-5), and that's not a bad thing.
"It's a good thing to realize, in a positive way, that here is where we are at and what we need to work on to get there."
In his first year at the helm of the Junior Gladiators program, the longtime Sudbury Spartans' receiver and local high school coach knows exactly the area that needs to be addressed in the off-season.
"Developing quarterbacks and receivers locally," he reiterated. "I'm teaching a 15-year-old things that a 12-year-old already knows in Oakville," said Dougan. "That needs to be fixed if we want to competed with the good teams in three-down football.
"A 15-year-old, coming out of Joe Mac (Joe MacDonald Youth Football League), who wants to play high school quarterback, should know how to do a one-step drop, a three-step drop and a five-step drop — and should understand a passing tree."
Sudbury is back at home to close out their season, with game time at 1 p.m. July 12 at the James Jerome Sports Complex. That encounter will kick off a complete day of football action, with the Varsity Gladiators tackling North Halton at 4 p.m. and the Sudbury Spartans and Sarnia Imperials taking to the turf at 7:15 p.m.