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Tigers storm back in second half to stun Vikings

Defending junior football champion Hammarskjold led 30-8 at the half, but couldn't stop Westgate QB Mitchell Papineau in the third and fourth, falling 52-37.

THUNDER BAY – Mitchell Papineau is a rarity – a high school junior football quarterback with a big arm and pinpoint accuracy.

His skills were on full display in Thursday night’s season opener.

Papineau, whose Westgate Tigers (1-0) found themselves down 30-8 at the half against the Hammarskjold Vikings, powered his team to a remarkable 52-37 comeback win, firing three touchdowns through the air in the third and fourth.

The Tigers QB finished 17-for-26 for 402 yards and four scores on the night and said despite being down 22 points after the opening 24 minutes, he and his teammates never stopped believing they could complete the comeback.

All they needed was a chance.

“Our confidence rose after we got the first (score) and our momentum just kept on going. We just rode it out the entire time,” said Papineau. “Our defence stepped up crazy in the second half and got all those stops and we just started rolling.”

Three of his scores fell into the arms of wideout Cole McVety, including a 59-yard bomb midway through the fourth that stretched the Tigers lead to 45-30.

“I guess I just trusted my receivers and threw it. They were getting open on a lot of routes. I just trusted my gut and threw it,” Papineau said.

“(McVety) actually never played football before, but he’s fast and I trusted him with the ball a lot. He can do a little bit of everything.”

For the first half, it was Hammarskjold running back Gerald Marshall who couldn’t be stopped. Marshall had 116 yards on the ground by halftime, including a 63-yard scamper that pushed the Vikings in front 16-0 at the time.

Their first score came in the first, on a 12-yard run by Ewan Reid. Liam Lucas added a three-yard score before Papineau started the comeback in earnest, connecting with McVety for a 25-yard touchdown with 56 seconds to go in the second.

The Vikings needed just 28 seconds to answer back when quarterback Taylor Main hit an open Reid for a 45-yard TD.

They couldn’t maintain the momentum in the second half, however.

After turning the ball over on downs on their first possession, Westgate’s Michael Romeo stropped the ball from Lucas at the tail end of a 24-yard run, returning the ball 31 yards to the Hammarskjold 12. One play later Papineau found Jack Popowich for his second major of the night.

The Vikings (0-1) went three and out and it took just three plays to find the end zone again, Papineau and McVety connecting for the second time.

Another three-and-out gave the Tigers the ball back at their own 31 and Papineau needed just four plays to march his team down the field for another touchdown to tie the game 30-30, Griffin Hlady hauling in ball from 12 yards out.

Westgate’s special teams recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and took the lead for good 1:38 into the fourth, Popowich punching one in from two yards out.

“We had a bad start, but then the second half came and one touchdown motivated us,” McVety said. “The second touchdown, by that time we were tied and it just kept going up from there.”

Tigers offensive co-ordinator Bryan Popowich said it may be a cliché, but they took it one play at a time and never let the deficit wear them down.

“That’s all we could do when the score was not in our favour that way. Things started to go our way. The turnover was big on a stripped ball that turned into a great play. And I’ve never witnessed a quarterback play a game like that in the city, really at any level,” he said.


Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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