STM ready for final league test

With one game to go, St. Thomas More can feel good about the momentum they’ve created.

But they feel best about the momentum to come, thanks to the expected return of star lineman Sam Steele to the starting lineup.

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The 2017 AAA Defensive Player of the Year, Steele has missed the past six weeks due to a leg injury. It’s been a huge victory that the squad has gone 5-1 in his absence, locking up home field advantage for the playoff opener on Nov. 9.

In the meantime, results like last week’s 51-14 triumph over Kelowna continue to show a squad that is deep enough and savvy enough to be among the province’s top contenders – even without one of their key leaders.

“Our goal is to hopefully play our A-game (against Mission) to close out the regular season,” STM head coach Steve De Lazzari said. “We’ll have Sam back and plan on playing him on the offensive line for the first half. We’ll play it by ear and give him some defence time if things go well.”

Although Steele’s athletic skills and football acumen have been missed, many players stepped forward to fill the void in his absence.

In last Friday’s contest in Kelowna, the Knights made up for lost time after a sluggish start. Marc Abboud capped a long drive by scoring the game’s first major on a one-yard dive. It was followed by a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Dario Ciccone, scampering in from seven and 27 yards.

But despite that, the go-ahead score didn’t come until well into the second half, a product of a sluggish start and Kelowna coming out hard, despite the absence of quarterback Isaac Athans.

“It was a slow start and a good finish,” remarked De Lazzari. “Even without three of their top players, (Kelowna) were a tough opponent in the first half.”

The lead grew after the team mapped out a clear path for the second half, complete with requisite adjustments. It’s been a big part of their success this season, noted the coach.

“Part of the slow start is a long road trip, getting your legs after climbing off the bus,” he said. “The other half was making those second half adjustments that created a lot of holes for our runners to get through.”

Abboud finished with 140 yards rushing on nine carries, while Julian Valerio scored both from the run and on defence. Michael Simone, meanwhile, pulled down a 50-yard TD pass.

Ciccone finished with 81 yards on six carries, while passing for 140 yards.

On the defensive side, Daniel Auld enjoyed another standout night, racking up five sacks and three tackles, while adding a blocked punt that turned into a TD.

They now face 4-2 Mission today (Friday), 5 p.m. at Burnaby Lake.

“They’re a very skilled and physical team, and they’ve played everyone hard,” said De Lazzari.

Getting Steele back in the lineup will resonate with everyone on the team, the coach said.

“He’s a heart-and-soul player, with an amazing football IQ,” added De Lazzari. “We’re being ultra cautious, but I’m not worried about his conditioning or approach. He’s not the type of player who takes it easy or isn’t prepared.”

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