Semifinal loss ends Knights' strong season

There’s no denying that the St. Thomas More Knights’ senior football season was a success on the field in 2019.

You go undefeated in league play, knocking off a future finalist (Lord Tweedsmuir) as well as the defending provincial champions (Mount Doug) in the quarterfinals, and there are plenty of positives to go around.

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It just didn’t feel that way Saturday after a 37-8 loss to Vancouver College in the B.C. Subway Bowl semifinal at B.C. Place.

Conceding that Saturday's score flattered the at-times overwhelmed Knights, the takeaway was both eye-popping and deflating. Vancouver College proved to be a freight train, and put in a near-perfect performance in advancing to meet Lord Tweedsmuir in this Saturday's B.C. Subway Bowl final.

“We met a vastly superior opponent, that’s the best I can say,” STM head coach Steve De Lazzari said of the loss. “In all honesty, we prepared for this game as intensely as we prepared for every game, but the difference from what you see on film (of VanCollege) to the actual impact on the field, just doesn’t prepare you for the real thing.”

The Fighting Irish scored on their first drive – an 11-play march that benefitted from a rare STM roughing the passer penalty that moved the sticks onto the Knights side of the field – with Daesaun Johnson ricocheting off two tacklers to score on an 11-yard run.

It ate up five minutes of playing time.

Unable to create anything on their first possession, St. Thomas More got a favourable turn when Gabe Nacario intercepted VC quarterback Alex Nyvlt at the Knights five-yard line. Six plays later, however, STM was forced to punt. The Fighting Irish turned that into a five-yard, 35-yard drive with Johnson carrying it in from 14 yards.

Vancouver’s defence bent very little, as STM managed to get only to its own 45-yard line early in the second quarter before forced to punt again. And while the Knights put the brakes to the Fighting Irish’ drive at midfield this time, the No. 3-ranked team in B.C. later responded with Johnson’s third TD of the half, making it 20-0.

In an earlier exhibition encounter with the Fighting Irish in just the second week of the season, STM was in a similar hole at halftime and threw up the white flag due to injuries suffered to its starting core.

This time, the game went on.

“The (halftime) message was just believe in yourself, play to the best of your ability,” noted De Lazzari on preparing for the second half. “They really had nothing to lose.”

It was evident early, however, just how different Vancouver College is on the field to the other opponents they’ve met this year.
“Our players played their best abilities and put it all on the field, but (Vancouver College) had so much speed, played with so much intensity and such physicality, that we just couldn’t match up.”

Nacario would score STM’s lone touchdown on a 37-yard pass from quarterback Anthony De Lazzari, hauling it down at the five-yard line under intense scrutiny from a Fighting Irish defensive back, before darting into the end zone.

The loss mars what was a terrific season for a scrappy underdog. The Knights entered the semifinal on an eight-game win streak, capped by one of the most dramatic comebacks of the season, last week's thrilling 24-21 victory over Mount Douglas.

“It was such a special group. We’re the smallest school in the province with a football team, and as our principal likes to say, we punch above our weight,” noted coach De Lazzari. “Doing what we did, winning the (eastern) conference in the last game, making it back to win the quarterfinals, it’s a feat in itself.”

The team had six members, including Grade 11 Nick Osho, named to the inaugural B.C. High School All-Star Game, to be played Saturday at BC Place. However, a full list of players was unavailable at press time.

Next year will provide the usual challenges for STM, coach De Lazzari said. Drawing from the smallest student body population for a football program, the returnees may be in double digits, but those who got starting minutes would be counted on one hand -- Osho, quarterback De Lazzari, and lineman Bryson Vanloo. And while it is considered a private school, it does not recruit, relying on its junior team, which went 3-6 this past season, as the prime feeder.

“There are massive holes to fill,” he noted. “Our focus for the players will be on working to get bigger and stronger, and learning the offensive and defensive schemes. “

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