For the 14th time, the St. Thomas More Knights proved kings of the castle on the Grade 8 gridiron circuit.
In a big-play kind of game, the winning points came as the clock counted down on a lengthy drive that put the ‘back’ in comeback, for a 24-22 victory over archrival Vancouver College.
“It was a pretty exhausting day,” recalled Grade 8 Knights head coach John Freire. “It was a real grudge match, like a heavyweight tilt with the teams trading blows back and forth.”
At no time did any team get much breathing room, as every score was countered during the day’s contest, until running back Matthew Custodio took the handoff on a third-and-goal with 20 seconds remaining.
It came just 3:20 after Vancouver College had reclaimed the lead on a 12-yard running play, putting all the pressure on STM.
Methodical would apply to how the Burnaby squad mounted its rally.
“We called a timeout – well, I was actually hoping to run the clock down a little more but we ended up with a timeout with 20 seconds left,” recalls Freire. “The players were never concerned if we could do it, it was more like ‘Who is going to get the ball to (score).’ “
Custodio ran to the weak side, received a huge block from teammate Michael Comuzzi, and stepped into the end zone to clinch the program’s first Quadra Cup since 2013.
All of STM’s previous majors in the game came from big plays – runs of 51, 87 and 62 yards. Custodio, who would be named the final MVP, opened the scoring on a 51-yard run. After Vancouver responded, taking an 8-6 lead late in the second quarter, receiver-turned-quarterback Malachi Hayford passed to Comuzzi for an 87-yard score. With a handful of seconds left in the half, the Fighting Irish grabbed a 14-12 advantage on a short-yard major.
Hayford and Comuzzi would connect again, this time for a 62-yard TD, to put the Knights back on top in the third frame. But after a series of tough defensive plays by both teams, the game appeared to turn on VC’s drive with 3:40 to play.
Cue the comeback.
In a season where the Knights went a perfect 7-0, including two playoff games, there were a handful of games that came down to the final minute, the coach noted.
“We had several games this season where we were tied or trailing into the fourth quarter but the kids never got down or panicked. … They never got riled up or upset.”
It was the third game between the two sides this year, with the previous encounters decided in STM's favour by 44-28 and 13-7 scores.
The rivalry intensified as the season went on, and both teams was impressive, Freire said. For STM, the growth has come with a group that included all but four who had never played tackle football before.
"The rate of improvement with this group has been always incremental," said the coach. "They never plateaued. There was never a case of getting too high on ourselves, they just kept working and wanting to learn more."