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Steelers thumped in title game

Don McBain, Sault Steelers, special to the Sault Star
Steelers head coach Barry Rushon walks among his troops at halftime, offering encouragement despite the fact that the favoured Oakville Longhorns led 44-0 at the time.

By Peter Ruicci

Monday, August 18, 2003 - 09:00

Local Sports - Oakville - It was a close game . . . until just after the national anthem was played.

Seriously, Saturday’s Northern Football Conference battle of the undefeated became a one-sided, lopsided and, from a Sault Ste. Marie perspective, totally forgettable contest, almost from the outset.

The Oakville Longhorns won their 11th consecutive NFC championship — and 39th straight game - whipping the Sault Steelers 51-0.

Derwin Phillips ran for three touchdowns and 46-year-old quarterback Mark Demerling threw for another three, completing nine of 13 pass attempts for 183 yards — in just two quarters of work — as the Longhorns opened a 44-0 halftime lead.

The Steelers, who took a 10-0 record, playoffs included, into the final, managed just two pass completions for eight yards and 80 yards net offence.

Including playoffs, Oakville was 9-0 going into the contest.

“I don’t have an answer for what happened,” shrugged Steelers’ head coach Barry Rushon, whose team was particularly flat in the early stages. “Every aspect of our game in the first quarter was weaker in some way. Passing, pass catching, running, defence . . . it’s hard to accept this type of defeat.”

The Longhorns harassed Steelers’ quarterbacks Seth Cond and Travis McLean, forcing five interceptions and numerous bad throws.

Star linebacker Wayne Sliwinski, named defensive player of the game, was particularly effective.

“Oakville is known to come out and smash you in the mouth early,” Rushon continued. “But I didn’t want to imagine getting whacked like this.”

“It was a bad day to have a bad game,” added linebacker Russ Moyle. “We were flat, no question about it. I’m getting sick of losing to these guys.”

It marked the Sault’s third championship game loss to Oakville over the past eight years. The Longhorns stopped the Steelers 35-14 in 1996 and 38-3 in 2000.

“We’re a much better team than we showed, “ said fullback Kegan Franklin. “It’s embarrassing. I think our inexperience finally showed.”

Trailing 10-0 late in the first quarter, Cond was intercepted by Oakville’s Chris Downs, who returned the ball 31 yards to the Steelers’ six. Seconds later, Phillips carried the ball the final four yards and the rout was on.

“I didn’t think it would be this easy,” said Demerling, who gave way at halftime to former Sault Storm quarterback Steve Nott, a Sault native, who completed five of nine passing attempts for 41 yards. “No matter what though, the Sault never quit. And (defensive tackle) Brandon (Lewis) represents how hard they work.”

“They’re (the Steelers) a good team, who just met a better team today,” added Oakville’s first-year head coach Pat McNerney. “We never go into a game thinking anything is easy. We respected them. But I don’t think they understood our 3-4 defence.”

Theon James (55 yards), Colin Grant (37 yards) and Rick Rodrigues (11 yards) were on the receiving end of Demerling’s TD throws. Phillips, the offensive player of the game, also scored on runs of one and two yards. Ray Skeet had the other major.

Kyle Lansdell had both Steelers’ receptions, one on a nifty rollout and throw by McLean. Josh Gauthier led Sault runners with 60 yards rushing on seven carries. Jason Brunetti was credited with five tackles while Troy Boyer had four and Wade Kraft and John Maione three each.

Damage control and lack of respect in Steeler Land

By Ken Hilderley

Friday, August 29, 2003 - 07:00

Local Sports
- Sault Ste. Marie -

Barry Rushon was deservedly honoured as the Northern Football Conference coach of year on Thursday for the third time in eight seasons with the Sault Steelers. During those three coach of the year seasons, Rushon led the team to the NFC championship game only to lose out to the Oakville Longhorns.

Perhaps the biggest job and the best job Rushon has done is manage a group of adult male amateur football players who pay to play. With a group as such, egos fill the locker room and everyone wants a starting spot on the field. With the Sault blessed with some of the best local print sports coverage anywhere, there is some fame and headlines to be gathered as a star local athlete.

In what the coach terms 'damage control', Rushon successfully constructed a team first concept and created a family atmosphere. Rushon managed to successfully substitute players in and out of the game and made room for several reserves on special teams.

While grumbling from some individuals were still heard, Rushon managed to keep he group together and focused towards the goals he set for his team.

If you look across the field, one can only imagine what Oakville rookie head coach Pat McNerney dealt with this season. Fielding one of the most dominant teams in league history, players 51 through 60 on the depth chart would likely find a starting role on any other team in the league.

And what about us?

I'm sure I wasn't the only one who surprised to see a lack of Sault Steelers on the NFC All-Star Team.

The Steelers went 8-0 in the regular season and only suffered a loss in the championship game. The team featured the league's second best defense and second best offense but only three players are selected to the team, one of them on defense.

Mississauga, who the Steelers beat in the semi-finals, and the Tri-City Outlaws, who the Steelers beat twice including a quarterfinal victory, managed to place more players on the all-star list than did the Steelers.

How could this be?

Brandon Lewis has been the league's most dominate defensive lineman for several seasons and could hardly be excluded from the team. But credit for any member of the offensive line and other defensive standouts should have been given.

Any one of the hogs on the offensive line such as Jean-Guy Lafleur, Jason Biagini, Zack Moran and Cody Boissoneau would have made honourable selection. On defense, Troy Boyer is proving to be one of the best defensive backs in the league. Linebackers Russ Moyle, Darren Woods and Jason Brunetti along with hard-hitting safety John Maione all played at all-star levels.

With players and coaches from the around the league casting the all-star ballots, perhaps the other teams lack respect and have failed to take notice at the success the Steelers achieved.

Motivation for next season has begun nine months before the opening kick.

Battle of the unbeaten for NFC championship

By Randy Russon

Monday, August 11, 2003 - 03:00

Local Sports
— Sault —

Don McBain, Sault Steelers, special to the Sault Star
Steelers at Oakville as mighty Longhorns seek 11th straight title.

On paper, the Sault Steelers and Oakville Longhorns boast similar records

Both went 8-0 during this Northern Football Conference regular season. Both have added to their win totals during the post-season, with the Steelers knocking off the Tri City Outlaws and Mississauga Wolverines, and the Longhorns crushing the Oshawa Hawkeyes after gaining an opening-round bye.

But despite the fact that the Steelers are 10-0 and the Longhorns are 9-0, no one is giving the Sault much of a chance as it heads to Oakville for this Saturday's NFC championship game.

While the Steelers have been very good in going undefeated, Oakville has been overwhelming. Case in point is while the Steelers defeated a tough Oshawa team 28-13 during the regular season, the Longhorns tore the Hawkeyes apart 64-0 in their semi-final matchup of last Saturday.

Steelers' head coach Barry Rushon, while basking in the glow of the Sault's 21-11 semi-final win over Mississauga before a big crowd at Rocky DiPietro Field this past Saturday, knows what it will take just to compete with Oakville.

"We'll have to have the game of the season, the game of our lives," reasoned Rushon. "If we play our best and Oakville plays its best, it still won't be enough. We'll have to play our absolute best and hope to force them into making mistakes they haven't made all season.Then, you never know."

Included in Oakville's nine wins this season have been seven shutouts. Not only can the Longhorns score -- and score big -- they're almost impossible to score on.

This will be the Sault's third trip to the NFC championship game since 1996 -- all at Oakville. The remarkable Longhorns have won 10 straight NFC championships and haven't lost a game in three years.

AGAINST ALL ODDS: When the Steelers won their last NFC title, back in 1980, it was against an unbeaten Stoney Creek team that was about as powerful then as Oakville is now.

But the Steelers of '80, coached by Dick Joy, defied the odds and upset Stoney Creek to win the NFC championship on a hot August night at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Interestingly, a number of Steelers from that time were on hand at DiPietro Field to watch this past Saturday's win over Mississauga, including Mark Cady, Rob Dilabio, Fred Marotta, Marty Smith, Joe Valente and Walter Vial.

ON THE MARK: Oakville features 46-year old quarterback Mark Demerling, a living legend who has spent parts of four decades in the NFC!

HANDY CARPENTER: Backup receiver Adam Carpenter was the hero of the Steelers' win over Mississauga.

The 19-year old Carpenter recovered a Wolverine fumble off an Anthony Posteraro punt for the first Steeler touchdown. And later, Carpenter took away what would have been great Mississauga field position by recovering another Wolverine fumble off another Posteraro punt.

The hard-nosed Carpenter recently completed a fine high school athletic career at White Pines as a major contributor to both the football and basketball programs.

JUST JOSHIN': Steeler running back Josh Gauthier, who zigzagged his way to the Sault's clinching TD on Saturday, plays a lot like Walter Vial, who was part of that '80 championship team.

In fact, Gauthier wears no. 29, the same number Vial wore as a star running back with both the Steelers and during his high school days at St. Mary's.

TOUGH TONY: The Steelers will be minus big tight end Tony (Bono) Boniferro for the championship game in Oakville. Boniferro, who had made a spectacular one-handed grab for a Steeler TD in the win over Mississauga, badly injured his ankle during a special teams play just before the end of the first half.

JIM DANDY: Jim Shaule has been a fine addition to the Steeler staff as first-year line coach.

Shaule helped out Steeler offensive co-ordinator Paul Caldbick with the high school team at Korah last fall. Interestingly, Shaule then became part of a double reunion with the Steelers this season.

Not only has Shaule hooked up again with Caldbick, but reunited himself with Steeler head coach Barry Rushon. Shaule and Rushon were teammates on city and NOSSA high school championship clubs at Sir James Dunn in the early 1970s.

TRAINERS TABLE: Mississauga players kept the Steelers' first-rate training staff of Derek Wolfe and John Micucci busy during Saturday's semi-final.

Wolfe and Micucci made a good dozen trips onto to the field to tend to injured Mississauga players, who were dropping like flies.

30 Years of Sault Storm and Steelers Archive Information 1972-2002

The Sault Ste. Marie Steelers, Storm and Sabercats or Football Club are Sault Minor Football Association, Northern Football Conference and Canadian Senior Football League or Canadian Major Football League members