If their win-loss record didn’t do it, a look at video of the Chatham Cougars in action certainly convinced the head coach of the Sault Sabercats junior varsity of how good his opponent is.
"They’ll definitely be the best team we’ve seen so far this year,” said Jim Monico, whose club is slated to face the Cougars on Saturday in a 7 p.m. start at Chatham Kent Secondary School.
Chatham is a perfect 4-0 in Ontario Football Conference action while the junior varsity Cats have won three straight and are set to take a 3-1 record into the contest.
"They look like a well-rounded, well-coached team,” Monico said of the Cougars. “They have a lot of talent at the skill positions.”
The Sault coach spoke of how the Cougars feature a solid quarterback, a “really good” running back, who “runs fast and hard,” and a talented slotback.
Monico believes the Cats, coming off of a 27-17 victory over the Brantford Bisons last week, can hold their own against the Cougars on both lines.
However, “the biggest test will be in handling their skill-position players,” he added. “We need to be disciplined, play hard, and if we play our game we’ll have a really good chance.”
That said, Monico also admitted a fourth straight win for the Sault will be difficult to come by.
One thing the Cats want to see is an improvement in their passing game.
As first-year quarterback Tyler Brechin continues to learn the position on the fly, the team is certainly pleased with the way in which he has rushed the football.
Brechin ran for three touchdowns, including a 45-yarder, against Brantford. He finished the game with 100 yards on 10 carries, but managed to complete just one pass in 10 attempts for 46 yards.
The Sabercats have made some changes in order to simplify their offence. They’ve also been putting in extra work to better execute the plays in their passing game.
"We have to get our passing game going,” Monico said. “But ultimately, we have to run the ball well to win. That’s our bread and butter.”
Running back Nick Pagnotta, who had 140 yards rushing on 12 carries last week, joins with Brechin in forming a formidable 1-2 running attack.
Monico continues to try to get more carries for slotback Tristan O’Flynn, he said.
"But the last couple of weeks we’ve been running the ball inside a lot,” he explained. “That’s our strength.”
O’Flynn is more of an outside threat who “was close to breaking a couple of runs last week,” Monico added.
Asked about defending the Cougars, the Sault coach spoke of how all 12 players on defence will have to do their jobs well.
He also spoke of how the secondary has been the strength of the Cats defence to date.
The group is led by safety Ethan Fawcett, defensive half Gaston Matilla and cornerback Cole Tasz.
Monico said three players will alternate at the other half and cornerback spots: Seth Roubal, Dante Campagna and Gavin Smith.
"Our kids are excited going into the game,” the coach said. “This will give us an opportunity to keep the dream of being the No. 1 seed in the (junior varsity) West Division alive. We really want that.”