The offensive engine coughed and sputtered all game for the Leaside Lancers but defence and special teams kept the bus rolling.
Defensive back Yann Dika-Balotoken scored two touchdowns as the Lancers defeated the Central Tech Blues 16-6 in the season opener of Senior Boys Tier 1 action at Leaside High School Thursday afternoon.
Dika-Balotoken transferred to Leaside from Don Mills Collegiate this year for the French Immersion program and certainly impressed head coach George Jim Georgiadis with his performance.
“He’s a fantastic athlete,” Georgiadis said. “He played summer football for the Scarborough Thunder and he’s a standout player in that league as well. We’re happy to have him.”
The win was the first time the Leaside senior team defeated Central Tech in more than 30 years.
The Lancers’ defence set the tone for the game on Central Tech’s second play from scrimmage.
On second and long the Lancers blitzed Blues quarterback Abe Shah and dropped him for a nine-yard loss.
Dika-Balotoken then went to work.
First major of the game
On the ensuing play, he caught the punt at the 30-yard line and followed his blockers to the right sideline. He found a seam and exploited it, scampering 80-yards down the right sideline for the major to give the Lancers an early 7-0 lead.
“As a returner you have to make the first guy miss you and I was able to do that,” Dika-Balotoken said. “I soon as I did all of my teammates were blocking downfield so I ended up running on the grass by myself.”
Central Tech wasn’t particularly effective in its next four offensive possessions. Plagued by a number of penalties and a swarming Lancers defence, the Blues managed only two first downs by the end of the opening half.
“I think the defence played a great game,” defensive coordinator Csaba Vegh said. “We knew we had to shut down Central Tech’s run coming in here. We knew they had athletes and they can throw the ball as well.
“You try to shut down the run and take one element of their game away and let them go to their other element and hopefully you have success at doing that.”
The offence takes time
Leaside was mildly efficient at moving the ball but early season offensive issues plagued them time and again.
“[Our] offence sputtered at times but there were breakdowns here and there, turnovers,” Georgiadis said. “But these are things we can correct over time. Offence usually takes a little more time [to gel] than the other two areas of the game.”
In a carbon copy of the opening 30 minutes, Leaside scored early in the second half.
On first down at its own 47, Central Tech committed an error that led to another touchdown for Leaside.
His second TD of the day
The Lancers defensive broke through the gaps in the offensive line and chased Shah to the left side of the field. Shah threw on the run into the flat, but Dika-Balotoken read the play and jumped the route, picking of the pass and racing down the left side for his second touchdown.
“I was able to get at the right spot at the right time,” Dika-Balotoken said. “I was reading what the defensive line was doing in case the quarterback releases. He [Shah] threw the ball up and I was in the right spot at the right time.”
The extra point was blocked and Leaside led 13-0.
On their next possession, the Lancers tacked on a 27-yard field goal by Stephen Edwards, keyed by a 15-yard objectionable conduct penalty on Central Tech’s Andy Barrientos.
A long score for the visitors
Barrientos made up for the penalty on one of the few positive Blues’ possessions.
He broke into the open and Shah found him down the left sideline, for a 63-yard catch- and-run major.
“Even the best defensive backs in professional football get beat,” Vegh said. “If you can limit that to one touchdown or getting beat once a game then I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The Blues went for two points but the pass went incomplete in the back of the end zone, cutting the lead to 16-6.
Central Tech got the ball back in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter but Shah went to Barrientos once too often, resulting in a pick by Morgan Moskulyk.
Leaside ran out the clock to open the season with a well-earned victory.