The passing game reached its peak at the right time for Forest Hill Falcons.
On a sunny Nov. 23, the Navy and Gold entered Esther Shiner Stadium for the Varsity Development football final.
As always, the modest roster of grade 9s, 10s and 11s strolled in at 29 strong, and they felt the air of disbelief from the crowd.
“A lot of times we showed up to fields and some of the teams — just the way they would look at you — and the reaction was like, ‘Really? This is it? You’ve got only 25 guys and you aren’t giants?’” Falcons coach Chris Parkin said, after the teams had cleared the field.
Still, they proved their opposition, Lakeshore Phoenix wrong, clipping their fiery wings by a final score of 34-21.
At the hub of that win was pivot Brett Stein, who stunned Lakeshore’s secondary with pass after pass. Stein went 23 for 36 racking up 350 yards suffering only one sack and throwing one interception.
“It’s just a great feeling, all of the hard work we’ve put in over the season after school,” he said. “Coach (Ron) Singer, he’s put in a lot of volunteer hours and we’re very thankful for that.”
Right from their opening drive, the Falcons took to the air. Stein was 4 for 4 with 53 yards. Not even a 10-yard holding penalty could knock the wind out of them, as Stein rushed nine of those yards back, and then fullback Josh Belfer powered his way through the Phoenix defensive line for six.
The two-point conversion was no good.
Lakeshore would subsequently take the lead for the only time in the game, answering Belfer’s TD with a quarterback sneak for three yards by Khiry Best Grant.
The Phoenix set up that opportunity with the help of rusher Stefonne Rose, amassing 20 yards in rushing. The additional 25 yards in penalties to Forest Hill’s defence also aided. Tyler Gagnon would kick for the extra point.
A Falcons response was due, as Stein went 3 for 3 sending the ball to receivers Matt Rumack and Aaron Goodman for a total of 63 yards. Goodman would secure the ball in the endzone for three yards. Then Stein went to Rumack for the two-point conversion.
What seemed to start as a seesaw battle soon became the stuffing before American Thanksgiving.
The Phoenix rush attack was staunched, as Forest Hill’s Dustin Kwinter would pick off Grant’s pass meant for Immanuel Archer.
Stein would find Goodman in the endzone again for another TD and an eventual 20-7 lead. The Falcons standout receiver would add one more six-pack by halftime, making it 28-7 after a two-point convert.
Phoenix coach Dave Budzinsky lauded the Falcons passer for his arsenal in the first half.
“They just came out, they have a great quarterback, two great receivers and they did a lot of things we didn’t expect them to do,” he said. “I know all season they’ve been a running team, and they started throwing.”
The success of their subterfuge was what Parkin was hoping for.
“For years we have been known as the team who runs, so I think a lot of teams were surprised,” he said. “The fact that we were able to put that together and it got better and better was great.”
It’s been a year of uncertainty for the Falcons. In previous years they have played in Tier 1 and Tier 2 football. With a limited number of players showing up at tryouts on the second day of school, Parkin made the decision to vie for top spot in the Varsity Development league.
“Every year is a bit of an adventure. You never really know what you’re going to get,” he said. “We didn’t have enough kids come out to that clinic, so we really didn’t know how much interest there would be.”
It’s amazing what a little bit of cohesion through practice can do.
“The amount of maturing these kids did as football players just boggles my mind,” Parkin added. “I never would have suspected, going back to that second day of school, that we would have had this kind of success.
“It’s a testament to the kids for working hard and coming out.”