Delhi Raiders win Haldimand-Norfolk Bowl
Delhi Raiders Brandon Gushue (No. 36) and Eric Boodram (No. 35) celebrate the team's 2015 Haldimand-Norfolk Bowl victory over the McKinnon Park Blue Devils at DDSS Saturday. The Raiders completed a perfect season by coming from behind to win 24-22. Raider running back Ryan Isenor was named the game's most valuable player. (JACOB ROBINSON/Simcoe Reformer)
Three years without a Haldimand-Norfolk Bowl title felt more like an eternity for the Delhi Raiders and their fans.
From 2006-2012, DDSS took part in the area's biggest football game, winning four times in that span. After a pair of semifinal disappointments, the Raiders returned to the top of the mountain on Saturday with a 24-22 win over the McKinnon Park Blue Devils in Delhi before a few hundred spectators.
“It's awesome,” said Delhi quarterback Anthony Abele. “It's literally the best feeling. All our fifth years are happy – everyone on the team is completely happy. It's an experience like no other.”
With his team down 16-0 thanks to a pair of scores by Blue Devils tailback Matt Weston – each followed with two-point conversions - Abele fired up the home fans with a thrilling two yard lunge into the end zone at the end of the first half, cutting the Raider deficit to nine.
Abele's positional counterpart, Connor Carusello, responded with a one yard touchdown plunge to open the third quarter before Delhi nearly experienced disaster.
On the following drive, Abele was fallen with a leg injury and required help getting off the field. With their pivot on the bench, 'Big Al' Daradics rumbled in from three yards out to keep Delhi within striking distance.
Sporting cleat marks on his leg, Abele returned to the field with some added motivation to boot a 16-yard field goal before the end of the quarter.
“As soon as the play happened I realized they were out of it – they weren't completely into the game,” said the QB. “Cheap stuff like that doesn't usually happen when you're completely focused on the game. They were nervous, I could tell. So were we, obviously, but as soon as that happened I knew that we were going to come back. That gave us the determination to move harder and play that team as hard as we possibly can.”
“There was no way I was not coming back. This was the best game I've ever played in, this is the most exciting game I've ever played in.”
That prediction proved correct as Delhi tailback Ryan Isenor punched in the game winning score late in the fourth, which ultimately made the difference. For his efforts all afternoon, the Grade 11 runner was awarded the game's MVP.
“I feel great, I feel honoured,” said Isenor, who scored six times against the Blue Devils in their first meeting back on Oct. 16.
“We worked all year for this. Last week it was pouring rain, wind over 70 km/h and we had everyone come out to practice. Everyone was always trying hard...We were down, but we never stopped fighting.”
Saturday's penalty-filled affair was actually the second time Delhi has come off the mat to top the Blue Devils. Their regular season meeting saw the Raiders down both 14-0 and 28-14 before eventually winning 44-35.
The Blue Devils politely declined interview requests after Saturday's contest.
“We never give up,” Abele said. “We've been through tough games throughout the year. Twice we've been down going deep into the game. We just lean on our line in the trenches and they battle hard, we all go hard and we make sure our defence steps in ... It was just determination – our coaching is excellent. We have the best coaching in the league for sure.”
A number of Raiders and head coach Dave Leatherland made a point of dedicating the victory to Dave Lane. A popular DDSS teacher and defensive coach, Lane died last winter at the age of 44 after a battle with esophageal cancer.
“He was a great coach for Delhi,” said Daradics. “We miss him a lot and we said at the start of the season that we were going to win this one for Mr. Lane and we did it.”
Given his team's absence from the big dance the last two years, Daradics said Delhi's eighth straight win had extra meaning for the entire town.
“It means a lot, not just to us but the community,” said the fifth year Raider who played on both offence and defence. “This is a great football community and we love playing football for Delhi. We've been practising really hard and we knew coming into this game we had to give it our all. We came out, had a good game plan and executed it.”
The game was halted with 17 seconds remaining as a spectator required immediate medical attention. The school's automated external defibrillator was used and the man was taken from the field on stretcher. A relative said the fan suffered a heart attack, but was conscious and coherent while in hospital care Saturday night. His family wished to thank the fast-acting medical staff for possibly saving a life...As Delhi celebrated its victory, a brawl broke out between adults just outside the field. After some anxious moments, cooler heads would eventually prevail...As the top team in Haldimand, McKinnon Park will move on to face a Hamilton school in an OFSAA Bowl playoff.
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