Flames take on North Catholic in opener

Northgate’s Rodney Burrow (No. 1) and Xavier Rowsey (No. 11) put on their defensive helmets to take down a North Catholic runner during the Flames’ season opening loss to the football powerhouse. Photo by Luke Thor Travis for The Citizen

By MEL PERKINS

In a game hampered by delays at the start and again late in the first quarter, the Northgate Flames fell to the North Catholic Trojans at Stone Field last Friday by the score 33-7.

The beginning of the game was postponed for 30 minutes due to lightning in the area, and there would be one more delay, for nearly an hour, before the first quarter would end.

For the second year in a row, and with the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin in attendance, the Northgate Flames opened up their football season by taking on the perennial powerhouse Trojans from North Catholic. The Trojans entered the game with ex-Steelers' linebacker Jason Gildon as their new head coach, and with a pre-season Class A ranking of #2.

The Flames started the game on offense, but were quickly shut down by the Trojan defense. After going three-and-out, Northgate was forced to punt. North Catholic needed only five plays to go 41 yards for the score, taking a 6-0 lead.

The Flames began their second series with Rodney Burrow carrying for a couple of yards. But, the series stalled after an illegal procedure penalty, and the Flames had to punt on fourth down.

North Catholic would go 69 yards in 10 plays on their next series to make the score 13-0. After the game, Northgate head coach T.J. Wiley said, "We were getting manhandled pretty good up front. And, in our style of offense, it kind of compromised everything." The disruption at the line of scrimmage was limiting Northgate's play-calling options.

Northgate's third series started from their 24-yard line, with 3:15 left in the first quarter. The series would prove to be a combination of big plays mixed with penalties.

After a 1-yard pick-up by Kenny Azzerello, the Flames would get hit with an illegal procedure call, and the following play would net a 6-yard loss. An unsportsman like penalty against the Trojans took some of the pressure off the Flames and they were looking at 1st-and-10 from their 29. Stephon Adams took the snap and pitched to Rowsey, and Rowsey threw downfield, finding Burrow for a 37-yard pick-up and a first down on the Trojan 38-yard line. The Flames next play would go for a 3-yard loss. And, with 2nd-and-13, Adams' pass was tipped and picked off.

The first quarter ended with the Flames trailing 13-0. And, North Catholic wasted no time scoring early in the second quarter to make the score 20-0. The Trojans would add another score before the end of the half, and the score at the half was North Catholic 27 - Northgate 0.

Northgate's defense tightened up in the second half, and after forcing the Trojans to go three-and-out on their first series in the third quarter, Northgate's offense came out swinging. After the punt, the Flames began at midfield.

Burrow took a direct snap and ran to his right, racing 20 yards for a Northgate first down. Burrow got the call on the next play, picking up two yards. Second-and-8, and on the Trojan 28, Adams tossed to Burrow, who had to reverse field before picking up seven yards. On 3rd-and-1, Adams called his own number and ran up the middle to the Trojan 3-yard
line. Adams fumbled at the end of the run, but Patrick Sustayta recovered to keep the drive alive. After a 7-yard loss, the Flames were looking at 2nd-and-goal from the 10. The drive was stalling, and Northgate could not find their way into the end-zone. With the ball on the 11, 4th-and-goal, Adams tossed a strike to Jarred Jackson in the corner of the end zone for a Northgate TD. Rowsey's kick was good, and the Flames were on the board, trailing 27-7.

It was a defensive battle in the second half, with only 13 total points scored. "We changed some things and I think we executed better in the second half. I think in the second half that we showed that we can stand toe-to-toe with them, and we are every bit as good as them," Wiley said later. North Catholic scored against the Northgate reserves in the closing seconds of the game to make the score 33-7.
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