Judges hope to cap Cinderella season with NSSAFFL Tier 2 championship win against Warriors

JL Ilsley Judges are one game away from the unthinkable.

This year’s Cinderella team in the Scotia Division of the Nova Scotia Student Athletic Association Federation Football League (NSSAFFL) are gunning for the  Tier 2 championship title, but face a stiff challenge in the final game.  The number one seeded Judges will face the second seeded Halifax West Warriors on Sunday afternoon at Saint Mary’s Huskies Stadium in the Tier 2 championship game.  Kickoff is 1:00pm.

At the beginning of the season, the Judges were the little engine that could.  As the season progressed the team proved they were the real deal and exceeded a lot of expectations in the process.

“I had a feeling at the start of the season that we could be the dark horse and I don’t think too many took us seriously,” says Judges head coach Steve Saunders.  “We had to work hard during every game and had a lot of nail biters.”

“To go from 1-8 to 8-1 in a year with only three grade 12 starters speaks volumes about the efforts the grade 10s have contributed. We have accomplished more than we ever have as the JL Ilsley football team and hopefully, have gained some respect from a small group who didn’t feel that our school should even be in the league.”

With the success the Judges have experienced this season Saunders hope this will translate into more far reaching, long term effects for the Judges and the city.

“I found it interesting this year that all tier 1 and 2 finalists border our school boundaries,” explains the Judges head coach.  “It is also neat that all our coaches live in our district with ties to our school.”

“Hopefully, this will help build our program and keep kids in our area interested in our program.”

However, this championship game is the culmination of many achievements Saunders has achieved in his gridiron career.

“On a personal note, it marks a number of milestones that I have shared with the kids,” reflects Saunders.  “My grandfather played 100 years ago for Prince Of Wales College, I played 40 years ago at PA, my 30th year as a police officer, 20th years as a head coach and 10th year associated with JL Ilsley Football so maybe the stars are lining up.”

The Judges know they will be facing a team who’s equally hungry to win the Tier 2 Championship title, the Halifax Warriors.  Last season, the Warriors were so close to winning the championship title, only to lose to the Lockview Dragons in double overtime.

Saunders knows the Warriors will come prepared to avenge the disappointment of year’s final.

“Halifax West is the most explosive offensive team in our division and I think would have given the Tier 1 teams a run for their money,” assessed the Judges head coach.  “They have the top quarterback, running back, receiver and a great line as the all-star voting indicated so you can’t work on stopping just one component of their game.”

“Their kick return game scores points as well so that factors in. Dave Kelly always plays tough defensively and we will have our hands full.  They have the best one, two, three punch around with a quarterback who can run and pass, a very fast running back and receivers who can move. We just can’t give them any space.”

As for the Warriors, they must shore up the weaknesses that were exposed in the previous regular season matchup against the Judges.

“For Halifax West to have a chance to win, we have to play smart football,” says Warriors head coach Dave Kelly.  “Last time we played JL Ilsley, we had 17 penalties, eight dropped balls and some mistakes on our punt team that cost us points.”

“JL Ilsley is a very good football team and we cannot do these things and think we are going to beat a good team.  We are looking from an offensive standpoint to stay out of 2nd and long and be able to mix things up with the run and pass.”

There will be a few players that will factor the Warriors offensive success against the Judges.

“We are looking for our offensive line to have a good game,” explains the Warriors head coach.  “Kids like Joe Morgan, Essam Talaat, Amos Fenn and Terrance Bennett need to have a strong game, opening up holes for running backs, and giving time for our quarterback Scott Borden time to pass.”

“This is Scott’s last high school game so we need him to step up be a strong leader and be smart with the football.”

As for the Warriors defensive unit, Kelly says they must put forth their best performance of the season to stop the potent offensive unit of the Judges.

From a defensive standpoint, we have to play strong as a unit and bend, but don’t break,” assesses Kelly.  “They have a strong run game and they a good young quarterback who can make plays.”

“We have to limit their big plays and get them in 2nd and long. They have very solid specials teams that don’t make many mistakes and are quick to take advantage of any mistakes we may make.”

The Judges will expect a few key players to lead their offensive unit on Sunday.

“We don’t have any big names as the all-star voting showed,” comments Saunders.  “Joe Stuckless had over 1,000 yards rushing this year and made the big plays for us when we needed them all year.”

“He may not be a big guy but he plays big and I am sure he will get a lot of attention. Ben LeBlanc steps in as a rookie quarterback and takes us to an 8-1 record. He is throwing well, making great reads and has shown real poise leading the offense. He has a great blocking full back, Tom Fiander, and a talented group of receivers.”

On the Judges defensive unit, there will be four players that will be pivotal in stopping a dangerous offensive threat from their opponents.

“Eric Bowdridge has been a monster all year as have Skylar LeBlanc and Falon Hodge, who both give up a lot of size but get the job done,” says the Judges head coach.  “Every game, it seems that someone steps up their game to make the big play so I am going to pick grade 10 Tristen Oliver to be our big play guy this week as he will get a lot of time on the field on both sides of the ball.”

Keeping the entire Judges team focused will be another key to their success on Sunday afternoon.

“We have to keep our kids focused on the task at hand because of their age and experience levels, they have a tendency to over react and blow coverages,” adds Saunders.  “We don’t have time to put in much so we will try to stop the big play on defense and chip away on offense with the balanced offense that we have used to get us this far.”

Kelly says that the Judges have proven their worth this season and know they will be a fierce competitor for the championship title.  While the Warriors are excited to be in the championship game, the team wants to be successful in their quest to win the title.

“JL llsley has a good group of coaches and they will be ready to play,” explains Kelly.  “They are 8-1 because they are a good team.”

“They beat us already so we know they can beat us.  We have to show that we can beat them. I think it will be a great game and we look forward to playing in it.”

As for the Judges, the Cinderella team of the 2012 season, they need to keep their energy level intact for one game to pull off the unthinkable.

“Our team was emotionally drained after our last encounter as it was such a big game,” comments Saunders.  “That and the 36-33 game with Horton to end the season have made it hard to pump the kids up as they are just realizing they are in a championship game.”

In spite of all the success this season, the team still views themselves as the underdogs.  However, this game will unfold on Sunday, Saunders says the team will soak in the successful campaign they’ve had in 2012.

“We just can’t make any mistakes,” adds the Judges head coach.  “I feel we are the underdogs going into the game, especially watching how they turned it on against Auburn when they got going.”

“We have had a great season so no matter what the outcome, it’s been a wonderful experience that has meant so much to our school and the community of Spryfield.”



2012 Record:  7-1-0 in the regular season (first place)

Coaching Staff:

Head Coach:  Steve Saunders (5th season, but is in his 20th season coaching)

KEY PLAYERS:  Eric Bowdridge (defensive end), Lucas Hill (wide receiver), Skylar LeBlanc (defensive back), Andray Brady (receiver), Cody Smith (offensive lineman), Falon Hodge (defensive back), Tristen Oliver (defense), Tom Fiander (fullback), Ben LeBlanc (quarterback), Joe Stuckless (tailback, special teams)


2012 Record:  7-1-0 in regular season (second place)

Coaching Staff:

Head Coach:  David Kelly (9th season)

Assistants:  David Rent (offensive coordinator), Justin Rudolf (defensive line), Karim Shawwa (quarterbacks), Andrew Preston (linebackers), Ryan Sabean (running backs) and Chuck Kline (receivers)

KEY Players:  Scott Borden (quarterback), Essam Talaat (offensive lineman), Josh Sampson (defensive back), Luke Byrne (linebacker), Ahmed Ramadan (defensive back) and Mahmoud Altawil (defensive back), Quintynn Parsons (receiver), Javon Parris (running back), Terrance Bennett (offensive lineman), Kendrin Butler (defensive back), Amos Fenn (offensive lineman) Joe Morgan (offensive lineman)

PREVIOUS 2012 MEETING:  In Week 7 action at Graves-Oakley Field in Spryfield, the JL Ilsley won the highly anticipated battle between two first place teams.  The Judges topped the Halifax West Warriors 22-13.

The Judges got on the scoreboard first in the game as the team seized opportunities based on their opponent’s mistakes.  Due to penalties and two blocked punts by Judges defensive back Mike Drillio, the Warriors conceded three consecutive safeties in the first half.

At the half, the Warriors enjoyed a slim 7-6 lead as the team scored a touchdown late.

In the second half, Judges quarterback Ben LeBlanc connected with Spencer Cooter-Earle and Jacob Parker on two bug passing plays.  Subsequent to those plays, tailback Joe Stuckless scored a major on a six yard run.  However, the two point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

Once again in this seesaw battle, the Warriors would come back and score to take a 13-12 lead.   However, Stuckless was successful on a 27 field goal attempt to put the Judges back up 15-12 early in the fourth quarter.

Finally, the Judges tailback solidified the victory with two minutes remaining when he scored on a 17 yard touchdown reception.  Overall, Stuckless amassed 137 rushing yards on 23 carries for the victors.

Defensively, Eric Bowdridge led the way with eight tackles and two sacks.  Defensive backs Skylar LeBlanc and Liam Thompson shut down the Warriors offensive air attack with huge plays in the game.

“Defensive ends Eric Bowdridge and Will Campbell did a great job chasing down the guys with the ball and our defensive backs and linebackers really clicked as a unit,” assessed Judges head coach Steve Saunders after the victory.  “Offensively, Joe Stuckless had a great day but fullback Tom Fiander made some huge blocks for him.”

“The West did a good job of shadowing wide receiver Andre Brady which opened up some routes for our slots, Spencer Cotter-Earle and Jacob Parker who both made some big catches to get us out of a hole.”

Saunders commented about the varied game tempo of both teams on the field.

“I can’t say enough about how the kids responded to the West when they had to from defense to special teams,” described the Judges head coach.  “It was a physical game on both sides and we hung in there.”

“The West got off to a slow start which really disrupted their tempo but as the game went on, really started to put some drives together as their quarterback (Scott Borden) was firing on all cylinders from the pocket and the roll.”

Warriors pivot Scott Borden had 12 completions in 26 attempts for 144 passing yards and one touchdown in the loss.  Clarke Hannam scored a major and amassed 74 yards on four catches.  Tariq Karaballi found the end zone once and rushed the ball five times for 18 yards while running back Javon Parris accumulated 80 yards on 13 carries.

Defensively for the team, Luke Byrne registered 11 assisted tackles, five solo tackles and a sack.  Daniel Power added five assisted tackles, four solo tackles and two sacks while Ahmed Ramadan chipped in with eight assisted tackles and two solo tackles.

Warriors head coach Dave Kelly said the Judges came prepared to play and earned the victory while capitalizing on the Warriors mistakes.

“JL Ilsley is a very good, solid football team and were more prepared to play then we were,” commented Kelly after the loss.  “We had a very bad day on special teams and our offence was unable to get going.”

“A lot of dropped balls and almost 160 yards in penalties put us in a lot of holes that we were unable to get out of and as head coach, I have to do a better job of getting our team ready to play in these tough games.”

Undisciplined play and lack of focus were attributed as the main reasons for the Warriors obstacles in securing a victory.

“JL played well; they did not make a lot of mistakes and took the game to us from the opening whistle,” explained Warriors offensive coordinator David Rent.  “We were unable to respond and lost focus.”

“We played undisciplined and as a result took 17 penalties some at crucial times, which either ended a drive for us or continued a drive for JL Ilsley”

While no particular player had a standout performance for the Warriors, the defensive unit did their best to keep the team in the game. However, the team will move forward by improving on aspects of their game in the coming days.

“This week, the coaches will be pushing the players hard to be more disciplined on the field and pushing the veterans to lead the team into the next game,” added the Warriors offensive coordinator.

As tough of a loss as it was, Kelly is optimistic the team will rise from it.

“I am hoping that we learn from this loss and get better because of it,” said the Warriors head coach.  “We have to cut down on our mistakes because as this loss shows, we can’t get away with it against a good team.”

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