The Delhi Raiders will put their undefeated season on the line this weekend when they play host to the 2019 Norfolk Bowl.
The Raiders advanced to Saturday’s championship game on Oct. 25 with a convincing 37-0 win at home over the Holy Trinity Titans of Simcoe.
That combined with Waterford’s 17-0 victory the same afternoon in the other semi-final means a rematch of the Oct. 19 Pumpkin Bowl – a turnover-filled game Delhi won handily by a score of 42-7.
Raiders coach Dave Leatherland and his staff have performed a balancing act as they prepare their team for the biggest game of the year. They need to be ready, Leatherland said, but they also want the kids to have fun and savour the moment.
“At this point, it’s about refining things,” he said. “It’s about cutting down on mistakes. We’ve been pretty good on defence, so we want to just keep doing what we’re doing.
“Our job now is to go out there and finish the season. Our staff feel we got better every game every week. We want to play our best game at the bowl, so everyone will need to chip in.”
The Raiders got another strong kicking game Friday from quarterback Jaxson Zurby. Aside from rushing for a touchdown, Zurby kicked two rouges and five conversions en route to the 37-0 final.
Adam Leatherland scored two touchdowns while running back Jacob Schooley scored one. Tyler Matthews on defence ran an interception into the house to round out the score sheet.
Zurby has waited three years for this moment. The Raiders don’t like to lose but the team has stuck with it and is now well-positioned – at last — to hoist the championship trophy. Whatever Zurby’s routine has been this season, he has no plans to change it.
“I’m a little superstitious,” he said. “I like doing the same things before every game. I’ll get in some extra passes and extra kicks this week to try and improve.”
While the Oct. 19 Pumpkin Bowl in Waterford turned out to be a preview of the Norfolk Bowl, Wolves coach Dave Millette is banking on a different outcome. Waterford learned from that experience and will try new things now that the county title is on the line.
“There are some things we didn’t show Delhi when we played them,” Millette said following Friday’s win.
“We’re holding back some of our cards. Attendance at practice will be mandatory this week. Delhi will be prepared so we have to come prepared.”
The Wolves’ Keithen Hagan and Kyle Conway scored touchdowns in the first and second quarter to end the half 14-0 in Waterford’s favour. Ben Baruth kicked a field goal in the fourth quarter to round out the offence.
Taye Lovell legged out some impressive rushes for Waterford while delivering hits that left both benches and the crowd buzzing and some Sabres with aches and pains to remember him by.
Lovell’s a spark plug for this team, who will need a big game from him Saturday if they’re to have any chance of taking down the Raiders.
“I love my team to death,” Lovell said. “We’re all brothers and there is a real bond. We didn’t have our best game at the Pumpkin Bowl but if we all do our jobs, we’re golden.”
As for the Sabres, Friday’s loss brings to a close a challenging season for the young team. Simcoe is rebuilding its offensive and defensive lines among other projects. On top of everything else, the Sabres had to deal with the jolt of losing their head coach two games into the schedule.
Veteran physical education instructor Chris Harvey has been working from home since he was charged with shoplifting in September. That thrust offensive co-ordinator Frank Rankin into the top job. Under the circumstances, Rankin said this season went as well as the Sabres could expect.
“They stuck with it,” he said. “When all was said and done, we dressed 22 guys for this game. They never gave up. They played till the end, and we’re proud of them.”
For his part, Holy Trinity coach Matt Martinow isn’t lingering over a lost season. Now that winter is approaching, he will turn his attention to coaching other sports.
However, Martinow will keep an eye out for players who use the next 10 months to prepare for the 2020 season. He’ll be watching to see who’s taking advantage of the weight room and who’s working on improving their agility.
“The message delivered to the boys is – when they look in the mirror – can they tell themselves they gave 100 per cent?” Martinow said. “They need to begin preparing for next season. This is where we test the waters – seeing who is willing to put in the time and the effort for the program going forward.”
Saturday’s Norfolk Bowl will be played at Delhi District Secondary School. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.