By Josh Bell
Though they’re not in the same league anymore, the Myers Riders and Cumberland Panthers are still competing with one another tit-for-tat, each capturing junior varsity division provincial titles on back-to-back days Aug. 5 and 6.
The Riders were a team on a mission this season, going undefeated at 11-0 and outscoring their opponents by an average of 43-13. They capped their Ontario Varsity Football League season with a 55-32 championship victory over Etobicoke at McMaster University.
“While our scores looked lopsided, a lot of work went into getting our team to that level,” underlines Riders JV head coach Ntare Bainomugisha. “Kids bought into what we were preaching and did a great job of following through with our weekly game plans.”
A large part of what made the Riders successful was that everyone put the team first, adds the former York University player.
“We had a lot of very talented football players this season, but also a lot of very smart kids,” Bainomugisha explains. “There are too many to call out individually, but all three facets of our team – offence, defence and special teams – contributed to our success.”
Bainomugisha had “no idea how our season would go” initially, due in large part to the creation of the Ontario Provincial Football League, which supports tiered levels of play, with the goal of ensuring competitive games at the top level, amongst its philosophies.
Many past OVFL clubs, including Cumberland, joined the OPFL, while the Ottawa Sooners added youth teams alongside their club’s junior franchise, drawing players from the west-end territory traditionally occupied by Myers.
“With the Ottawa Sooners entering the summer football scene as another option for kids to play summer football, a number of very talented players who we thought would be coming out to play for us chose to go and play elsewhere,” notes Bainomugisha, who was unsure how much of his roster would remain intact for next season.
“Hard to say,” says the Ottawa Tech high school educator. “On paper, we do have quite a few kids scheduled to be back, but with two leagues in Ottawa summer football, it has created more transition.”
Bainomugisha says he doesn’t miss playing the Panthers.
“I think our players and parents missed playing Cumberland,” he counters. “As coaches though, it was just another game on our schedule. I did miss the fact that we didn’t have to travel to play them though.”
Bainomugisha used to coach Cumberland’s OVFL JV team and watched the Panthers’ OPFL championship game at Queen’s University on his way back home the day after his team’s triumph.
“I’m still friends with the Cumberland organization,” highlights the hulking former lineman. “(Their final) was one of the best games I’ve ever seen and I was happy for their coaches and players.”
The Panthers’ journey to the top was quite the contrast to the Riders’. Cumberland dropped 3 of their first 4 games before winning 4 in a row to finish the regular season.
The Panthers downed Durham 12-9 and Burlington 15-8 in the playoffs to reach the championship game against Essex, which they won 28-24.
The Ottawa Sportspage was unable to connect with Panthers head coach Jeff Koradi for an interview as of press time.