#CFCHSFB (ONT – GBSSA): 2015 an “amazing” swan song season for Phoenix

2015 marked the end of an era for the football program at Barrie Central Collegiate.

This was one of many ‘lasts’ this year after it was announced that the 173-year-old building would be closing its doors in June of 2016.

An interesting twist to this season saw the separation of the public and Catholic school board athletic associations and led to the forming of the Catholic School Athletics of Simcoe County (CSASC) solely for schools of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB)

It was thought there would be two teams, both a junior and a senior, to carry out the legacy of a storied run of football at the school.

However, if there was only to be one team, many would have put money on the fact that it would be the school’s juniors that would be sidelined for the swan song season. That quickly changed, though, when it was the seniors who had very minimal interest at the initial meeting.

The juniors were by no means a big squad, but the need for seniors was a top priority. The seniors had a week of practices with anywhere between 18-25 bodies out on the field every day. The team was told on the Friday of the first week of school that they would be folding. But some desperate pleas from players convinced the coaches to give them the weekend to recruit a minimum of 35 players by the following Monday. Any less than that, they were told, would result in immediate fold.

A meeting was called on the Monday, September 14, to determine the state of the team. Players were still unsure how many players they would have. The recruiting was tireless, but many that were sought out did not give a firm decision on their desire to play. Unfortunately, a total of just 32 players showed up to the meeting, and the team was forced to seize operations.

After some consideration of fielding a varsity squad, it was decided by the coaches to run strictly a junior team for the final year of the program. They decided that the rigours of a senior season would not have been feasible and would jeopardize player safety. The subtleties between the junior and senior games were also a factor in the decision. The juniors also did some recruiting and had a total of 25 players in time for their first game on September 24.

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As the only team that would leave the legacy of Barrie Central Football, the juniors travelled to Innsfil, ON to take on the defending GBSSA champion Nantyr Shores Tritons. This was the first time many Phoenix had ever strapped on the pads or put on a pair of cleats. The rustiness and inexperience showed early as there was mass confusion in terms of position and rules on the part of the visitors. The Tritons took it to the Phoenix in the first half, and although the Phoenix improved dramatically in the 2nd, the Tritons handed Central a 38-8 loss to open the season, however, the score did not entirely dictate how the Phoenix played. Their defence picked up in the 2nd half and they got on the board for the only time in the game on offence, but, despite the improvements, they headed into week two with an 0-1 record.

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The Pheonix had eight days to prepare for a week 2 matchup on October 2 against the rebuilding Orillia Knighthawks, who were formerly known as the OD/Park Trojans. The Knighthawks lost their only real offensive threat from 2014, Rhys Rusby, who moved up to the senior ranks as a rookie this season. The Knighthawks were mostly made up of first-year players, and it showed. Although the Phoenix also had their fair share of rookies, the Grade 10’s they did have led the way. The visitors came out gunning early and jumped all over the Knighthawks. Orillia’s offence could not get anything going all day long against a strong Central defence. They also could not keep the Phoenix at bay on defence, and the Phoenix were able to even their record at 1-1 with a convincing 26-0 win, and head into a week three meeting with the Eastview Wildcats at .500.

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Central played their third straight road game to start the season on October 8 against the Eastview Wildcats. The Wildcat junior team had not won a game in two years coming in, and they were looking to put an end to that streak. This was a game of back and forths. The Wildcats held leads of 6-0, 12-8, and 19-8, while the birds held leads of 7-6, 22-19, and 28-19. The Phoenix looked in position to improve to 2-1 and keep the Wildcats winless streak alive. However, two late majors put up by Eastview, including one off an onside kick in the final minute that Central could have easily recovered, stunned the Phoenix and allowed the Cats to win their first game in over two years by a score of 33-28. The Phoenix fell to 1-2 with the heart-wrenching defeat, and got set for their first home game of their final season against a bitter crosstown rival.

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The Phoenix took to their home field for the first time this season on October 15 against the Barrie North Vikings, one of their fiercest rivals. Central had not beaten North in any level, neither junior nor senior, since 2003. This version of the Phoenix was not about to let that skid prolong itself any further. They got off to a quick start in a soggy opening quarter, scoring the opening touchdown on a reverse from QB Matt Pigott to RB/SB Josh Whyte to WR/RB Curtis King. That lead would hold up all the way to the fourth when North would take a late lead on a short-range TD. However, the Phoenix, aided by a huge 3rd and long conversion by Whyte, would come back to score the game-winning major on a pitch to King. That would give Central a 12-7 win to once again even their record, this time at 2-2, and pick up their first win against the Vikings in 12 years. The win was made all the more special by the fact that, by games end, the home side was down to a meagre 18 players. Next up was another home date with the winless Collingwood Fighting Owls.

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The Phoenix junior program looked to climb above .500 for the first time in two seasons in week five against the Collingwood Fighting Owls. Collingwood had other ideas. In search of their first win of the season, they were took the field ready to play and took advantage of a flat Phoenix start. They lead 7-0 after one and 21-0 at the half. A shocked Phoenix team, known for being a second-half team, looked to find their step. After a scoreless third quarter, they would stage another late rally in the fourth. King would be the bearer of two receiving touchdowns in the last four minutes, including one in the final moments. The hopes of a miracle comeback came down to an onside kick, which was recovered by Collingwood, securing a six point victory. They would drain out the clock and head home happy, having picked up their first win of the year and dropping Central’s record to 2-3 with one more game to go in the regular season.

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The regular-season finale between the Phoenix and the Nottawasaga Pines Timberwolves of Alliston, ON was for the right to host a playoff rematch the next week for the SCAA ‘AA’ Championship. The game was originally scheduled for October 28, but was postponed until October 30 due to perspective inclement weather that never really came. However, it gave both teams time to prepare for the most important game of the season. Both teams got off to slow starts offensively, the Phoenix without their starting quarterback Matt Pigott who was away in Chicago. After a scoreless opening frame, the Phoenix would score on a scamper by replacement quarterback King and lead 6-0 at the half. After another uneventful quarter in the 3rd, the Phoenix would add to their lead in bizarre fashion. After an interception by Jordan Travis, who saw time at pivot for select plays, he would recover a fumble from the T’Wolves linebacker and return it all the way to the end zone to give his team a 12-0 lead. A late Nottawasaga score would do nothing but break the shut out and the Phoenix earned the ability to host the playoff rematch  on November 5 with a 12-6 victory. Both teams would finish the season with identical 3-3 records.

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Regardless of the outcome of the acquaintance, this would be the final football game ever to be played on the famous Red Storey Field at Barrie Central. The winner of this game would move on to play a team from the CSASC in a winner-takes-all for the GBSSA ‘AA’ Championship on the turf field in Orillia. Although both teams got off to slow starts on offence, Nottawasaga’s offence would strike first near the end of the opening 12 minutes. A short run by Kyle Enslow put the Wolves on the board, up 6-0. The Phoenix would threaten off an interception late in the first half, but could not score and trailed by that same 6-0 margin at halftime. The T’Wolves would tack on another touchdown in the third. Some poor pass coverage allowed Enslow to catch a deep pass down the near sideline and score his second major of the day and give his team a 12-0 lead. The Phoenix, still struggling mightily on offence, were able to put one drive together in the fourth. It started on Central’s 3-yard-line, and they would drive the ball proficiently down the field before Curtis King made a seemingly impossible one-handed grab on a long bomb by Pigott, who was back under centre for the home side. That trip to paydirt pulled Central to within five at 12-7 with plenty of time to go. However, they were unable to build on that drive, and on their last possession, Pigott threw three incomplete passes. After the third incompletion, the Wolves were given the ball on downs, took a knee and wrapped up a 12-7 victory to win the SCAA ‘AA’ title. That loss officially ended not only the Phoenix’s season, but also the 100-year football program at Barrie Central Collegiate.

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Looking back on the season, there are plenty of positives to take away.

“We played really hard every game and gave it our all till the clock ran out,” said King. “[He was] glad to see everyone get better as the season went on.”

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For tight end and defensive end Matt Eliot, he saw an immense growth in the team and himself throughout the season.

“This season I saw boys turn into men,” he recalled. “[For] me personally, I saw myself take leadership but also become a part of a huge family.”

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It meant a lot to him to be able to play on the final version of the Phoenix, as he has a family tie to the storied school.

“It meant a lot for me personally [to play on the team] because my Mom is a teacher at Barrie Central so I felt like I had a lot to prove, he commented. “It made me feel important.”

One word rookie cornerback Seth Allen used to describe this season? “Amazing.” Here’s why.

“Meeting the people on the team was one of the my favorite things this year,” he recollected. “And even though we didn’t win every game we were a family win or lose and we played as one all year long.”

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Something this team prided itself on all season was its ‘never-say-die’ attitude.

“When these boys stepped on the field they turned into something that everyone loves to see,” commented Eliot. “They turned into a well-trained, hard-working group of young men.”

King echoed those statements and said this team was unlike any he has played with.

“This team had more heart than any other team I’ve played on,” he stated. “They always strived to get better and never give up.”

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Allen says the team did its current and former school families proud.

“I think that we did everyone of Central proud,” said the Grade 9. “At the start of the season people didn’t even think we would win a game and we went out to the field every game and even if we lost we always played as hard as we could.”

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Second-year linebacker Wyatt Brown says something about this team that may surprise you.

“I didn’t feel if there was any extra pressure for the team [to perform],” he mentioned. “Because whether we were the only team or 1 out of 50 teams from the school it is our job as a team to leave Central with a great legacy in its last year”

He also says it was very important for the team to leave a positive legacy,

“For the team to be able to perform well in the last year was really important,” said Brown. “It shows that even when we are not going to play together next year Central has got heart and nobody can deny that.”

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A big reason the team did perform as well as it did on a weekly basis was thanks to the selfless coaches who put their time, hearts and souls into this team.

“The coaches meant everything to us,” complimented King. “They always took the time out of their day to make us better even when the times weren’t the greatest. They made us better as a team and I would like thank them for every second they put in.”

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Brown says that although the season is over, the fraternity that is this team still carries forward off of the gridiron.

“The camaraderie still carries on as it would if we were still playing,” he stated. “The boys are my brothers and nothing’s going to change that even if we get split up and go to different schools next year. We all still bleed red black and white and we will always be Phoenix’s at heart.”

Nottawasaga Pines went on to beat the St. Theresa’s Thunder 53-0 on Wednesday to take the ‘AA’ GBSSA championship.

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