St. Stephen – The St. Stephen Spartans football team finished a home game against the Oromocto Blues just as they started it. Strong, and in control.
The Spartans finished with a 30-19 victory to advance 4-0 in the season. The undefeated Spartans currently lead division A, and lead the league in points for – with a whopping 221 points scored.
The Saturday home game at the St. Stephen High School was notably the Spartans toughest test of the season thus far, coming up against last year’s defending champions.
In the early seconds of the game, running back Kyle Stewart scored on a 75 yard touchdown rush after the kick off to take an early 6-0 lead.
The Blues responded with a touchdown of their own in the quarter, and a successful point after attempt to take a one point, albeit short lived, lead.
In the second quarter, the Spartans regained the lead with an 11 yard touchdown run from running back Hunter Milligan and successful point after attempt, kicked by Donovan Rogers for a 13-7 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, Spartans fans prematurely celebrated a touchdown scored by Stewart, which was disallowed – but the squad responded well; shortly after, Stewart scored a touchdown on a 50 yard run. Rogers successfully kicked the convert.
Heading into the fourth quarter with a 20-13 lead, with less than nine minutes in the final quarter, Rogers kicked a key 25 yard field goal, kick starting a solid finish from the Spartans.
Though the Blues scored another touchdown to close the gap in the Spartans lead to just four points, the energy from Rogers’ field goal propelled the Spartans to a strong finish.
The squad logged the final touchdown of the game on a passing play, with Stewart receiving a 25 yard pass from Rogers to score.
Rogers was named the Tim Horton’s Player of the Game for leading the Spartans’ explosive offense as quarterback.
While it was no secret to those in attendance there’s no love lost between the two teams, coach Neil Grant said he was happy with how his team exercised restraint in some of the tougher moments.
“I think it’s important they face adversity to see how they handle it and I thought [Saturday], like the early part of the Simonds game [the Spartans first of the season – a 41-20 win] was good because it forced them to make adjustments; it forced them to react to adversity.
“There were a few things I had to deal with, but on the whole, I thought they did a very good job of facing it, and being stronger on the other end for it.”
With a back and forth momentum in the first half, Grant said the message at half-time was a reminder that every rep counts.
“We made adjustments in the half, but you’ve just got to play every rep, and you can’t think about the play that happened before. You’ve got to go to the next play and it’s the play that’s in front of you.
“I think that a team that didn’t have the same type of strong mentality… it’s a matter of when something negative happens, that was in the last play, and let’s get back to work, and that’s what we did.”
For Rogers, a Grade 10 starting quarterback in his first year in a Spartans jersey, he identifies his time thus far with the team as “great.”
“They’ve been treating me real well – I’m just trying to do my best out there to do my job,” Rogers said, and recalled his first start in September.
“I was nervous going in there, expecting to get lit up, but I just took my time, and was patient about it.”
Rogers identified the Saturday game as the Spartans’ toughest test yet, saying the Blues was “actually a team that gave us a good going”, but said he felt the Spartans locked down a strong momentum from the beginning of the second half.
“We started off strong right at the half, and we never slowed down from there. We just came out of the gates flying.”
Stewart, who logged 17 carries for a total of 196 yards, and two receptions for 45 yards, said for him, the excitement and confidence grew with the Spartans first touchdown after kickoff.
“That just brought the momentum and made the statement that this is our house and that if another team is going to come here to play us, then they’re going to have to bring all they got.”
A humble Stewart was quick to praise the unsung heroes of the team, and credited the win to them.
“I have to give a shout out to the boys on the line who never get their name in the paper, because without them we wouldn’t be able to pass, we wouldn’t be able to run – because they’re the foundation of our team.”
The Spartans are slated to host James M. Hill in the annual Nick Desilets Memorial game Saturday at the St. Stephen High School with a 1 p.m. scheduled start.