Junior Sabercats too much for Titans

PETER RUICCI With blocks from Konnor Ritchie (88) and Jacob Brown (77), Sault Sabercats junior varsity running back Mike Nicoletta streaks into the Oakville secondary on Saturday. The Cats stopped the Titans 35-14 in Ontario Football Conference action at Superior Heights. jpg, SM

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Mike Nicoletta provided the finesse, Ryan Barnes added the power and Nathan Keranen the anticipation.

Combined, the junior varsity trio proved unstoppable.

Nicoletta and Barnes rushed for a combined 304 yards on Saturday and Keranen had three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown.

The result for the Sault Sabercats was a 35-14 decision over the Oakville Titans in the Ontario Football Conference season opener at Superior Heights.

“They couldn’t stop our run,” said Cats head coach Jim Monico, whose team had opened a 21-0 lead before the three-minute mark of the second quarter. “We’re a little bigger and stronger than them and we took advantage of that in the first half.”

“It’s a good start to the season,” said Nicoletta, who ran for 164 yards on 13 carries and scored touchdowns on runs of nine and 19 yards. “We made a couple of mistakes here and there, but we’ll learn from them and get better as we go along.”

Forming a 1-2 punch with Nicoletta, Barnes, the team’s quarterback, ran for 140 yards on 16 carries.

Making his first start at quarterback, Barnes, known more as a standout defensive end, also ran five yards for a touchdown.

But perhaps it was a play by Keranen which proved the game’s biggest.

With the Sault up 7-0 in the first quarter, the linebacker/defensive back stepped in front of a Chris Johnstone pass and scampered down the left sideline.

His run covered 40 yards, ended in the Oakville end zone and, following Nathan Lajunen’s second of five converts, the Sault held a 14-0 lead.

The visitors got no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.

“There’s nothing like three interceptions. That was crazy,” Keranen said after the game. “It just seemed as if the ball was coming to me and I just made the plays.”

Keranen, who also recovered a short kickoff which was fumbled by the Titans, spoke of how “personally, this was one of the best games I’ve had in my career.”

Carmen Caputo, on a 45-yard strike from Barnes, had the other major for the winners, who are slated to play Game 2 of the season this Saturday in Sarnia.

Start time against the Sturgeon is 4 p.m.

“When we mix the pass and the run, we’re difficult to defend,” Nicoletta said, noting how much trouble the visitors had when it came to slowing the Sault offence.

In many ways, it was the Cats who slowed themselves with dropped passes and ill-advised penalties.

While pleased with the victory, Monico talked about the fact he and his team have much to work on before their second game of the season.

“We made mistakes with penalties and fumbles and missed assignments,” the coach said.

The Sabercats tried to spread the ball around in hopes of getting more people involved in the offence.

“But our passing game isn’t where we want it to be right now,” Monico added.

He agreed Barnes, despite losing a couple of fumbles, threw the ball well.

“But he has to learn to maintain an even keel,” the coach said. “But that’ll come with experience.”

“We made a lot of mistakes offensively,” said Oakville head coach Lawrence McKinnon. “We made some good plays defensively, but we have to tackle and read better. But it’s still early in the season.”

Despite a number of drops, Barnes finished with five completions in 13 attempts for 80 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Caleb Plastino had two catches for nine yards while Nicoletta had one for 25.

On defence, Patrick Sarlo finished with five solo tackles and one assisted tackle while Colby Fellinger was credited with five solos.

Aaron Grandinetti had three solos and an assist while Gavin Smith was credited with two solos and three assists.

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