When it came to football talent, on a scale of 1-10, the 2006 St. Mary’s Knights were an 11.
The Knights ripped Thunder Bay’s Westgate Tigers 52-10 in that season’s Northern Bowl, becoming the fourth Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) bowl game champion in school history.
Six years later, by winning the 2012 Northern Bowl, St. Mary’s became the first school in the province to win six bowl game titles. As part of this series, we’re recapping the exploits of all six of those clubs.
In 2006, St. Mary’s stopped Bawating 37-13 in the High School Senior Football League semifinals. That set the stage for the Oct. 27 city final against White Pines at Rocky DiPietro Field.
League awards were announced in the days prior to the big game and Knights star Mark DeVuono won his second straight Rocky DiPietro Award as the city’s top receiver. He was the only unanimous selection in 2006. DeVuono caught 18 passes from quarterback John Mullin for 428 yards and six touchdowns, helping lead St. Mary’s to a 5-0 regular season record.
Meantime, starting inside linebacker Jordan Verdone was named defensive player of the year, winning an award donated by the Sault Steelers. Verdone, who would go on to a brilliant university career before playing in the Canadian Football League, led the local loop with 41 tackles. A punishing hitter, he edged out his cousin, and fellow Knights linebacker Jason Amadio, who finished with 33.5 tackles.
In the city final, running back Jeff Greco, who didn’t win a 2006 award, exploded. Greco ran for five touchdowns, rushing for 228 yards on 22 carries. He scored on runs of four, seven, nine, 18 and 20 yards as the Knights secured a 45-15 victory.
“No individual award is worth as much as a team victory,” Greco said after the game. “I’d give them up for a team victory any day.”
“He’s a tough runner,” said Wolverines head coach Barry Rushon, who led his team to a 4-1 regular season record and a 43-0 semifinal victory over Sir James Dunn. “I can count four or five times we had him at the line of scrimmage and he broke the initial tackle, dropped the next guy and continued on to get a 15-or-20-yard gain.”
Mullin, who threw for 1,099 yards in five regular season games, finished with six completions in 10 attempts for 108 yards in the city final. That included a 23-yard touchdown toss to Joey Lamon. No defensive stats were available for the Knights who moved on to face North Bay’s St. Joseph-Scollard Hall in a Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (NOSSA) semifinal.
On Nov. 4, 2006, St. Mary’s rode an explosive offence and punishing defence, typified by the play of Verdone, to a 50-0 thrashing of the Bears on a snow-covered Rocky DiPietro Field. Verdone recorded a season-high 12.5 tackles, including 10 solo stops.
“We had an inspirational speech from head coach (Marty) Smith before the game and it got me jacked up,” Verdone said afterward.
Meantime, Mullin turned in what was arguably the best half of quarterbacking play ever seen in this city. He finished the first 30 minutes of the NOSSA semi with 15 completions in 19 attempts for 248 yards and four touchdowns. Mullin wound up going 22-for-28 for 342 yards and five TDs. DeVuono, who caught seven balls on the day for 109 yards, hauled in a 25-yard touchdown strike on the Knights first play from scrimmage. Just 2:28 later, DeVuono scored again, returning a punt 62 yards for a 14-0 lead. Greco scored one of his three majors and Lamon booted his third of seven converts to make it 21-0 just 10:52 in.
“When you score that early and that fast, it sends a message right away,” said DeVuono.
The message for the Knights next opponent, Sudbury’s St. Benedict Bears, would be obvious to all.
“Absolutely, we’re the underdogs,” Bears head coach Frank Rocca told The Sault Star the week before the NOSSA final. “We know they’re good.”
How good? Well, playing at home, St. Mary’s handed St. Benedict a 73-0 thrashing to win the M.J. Poupore Rugby Trophy as Northern Ontario champions, while advancing to the 2006 Northern Bowl, slated for Dec. 7 in Toronto.
“We wanted to hammer them right off the bat and show them this was our game,” said Knights linebacker Alex Zalewski.
“We tried to decide the game in the first half and I thought we did that,” said Smith, whose club led 42-0 at halftime, having held the Bears to just 18 yards of offence over the first two quarters.
St. Benedict finished the day with just 39 yards of net offence. Mullin hit DeVuono with a 23-yard touchdown pass on the Knights first play from scrimmage. On the Knights second play from scrimmage, Mullin and DeVuono hooked up for a 50-yard, pass-and-run play that finished up in the St. Benedict end zone. Lamon booted his second of 10 converts to make it 14-0 and the rout was on.
Mullin hit Craig Rushon with a 20-yard scoring strike and ran for another TD himself. Greco scored three TDs, rushing for 85 yards on 12 carries. Lamon, Matt Buchan and Aaron Bertolo also scored majors for the winners. Rushon ran for 77 yards and added 43 receiving. Mike Esson rushed for 67 yards as St. Mary’s was dominant on the ground. After the game, some Knights players told me they expected more from a Sudbury club they believed came to the Sault with an arrogant attitude.
“They chirped (trash-talked) us all game,” said Verdone, who was credited with six solo tackles and two assists in the NOSSA final. “I’ve never seen a team that undisciplined.”
“We expected a tough game,” added DeVuono. “We didn’t expect this at all.”
Neither, apparently, did their Sudbury rivals.
NEXT: The 2006 Northern Bowl