Imperials defense celebrating a first half touchdown against Oakville. August 6, 2016. Photo by Jake Jeffrey (www.blackburnnews.com)

Imperials Rally For Wild Comeback Victory

If you’re into improbable comebacks, then Saturday’s Sarnia Imperials playoff game was one you didn’t want to miss.

Trailing the Ottawa Invaders 40-15 early in the second half, the Imperials were staring down the barrel of an early playoff exit.

Cue Patrick Wright and the Imperials’ offence.

The offensive coordinator dusted off his cleats and threw five touchdown passes in the second half to help the Imperials claw back and eventually take the offensive shootout 58-53.

Head Coach Jake Cherski says although the offense helped them come from behind, it was their work on defense and special teams that orchestrated it.

“You gotta look at how the opportunities came about, our defence started making plays that they were suppose to, getting us the ball back quickly to get back on the offence,” says Cherski. “Our special teams, what more can I say about that, we simply don’t come back if it wasn’t for some well executed kicks.”

Cherski says fortunately for the Imperials, they have a guy like Kevin Allaer, who booted three successful onside kicks in the second half.

“Three onside kicks, who does that? Luckily, our kicker does that,” he says. “Kevin is the best kicker in the league for a reason. It’s amazing to have that opportunity to come back, and know that we’re never really out of a game as long as we have Kevin to do what he does.”

The comeback might not garner the same national publicity as New England’s 25 point comeback win over Atlanta at Super Bowl 51, doesn’t mean this game didn’t have its fair share of story lines worthy of national attention. Whether it’s Pat Wright’s five touchdown passes in the second half, Kevin Allaer three successful onside kicks, or a later pick six that capped off the comeback victory, Cherski says impressive individual performances may of helped lead the charge, but the team doesn’t come back without a team effort up and down the roster.

Despite Sarnia trailing 40-15 early in the second half, he says the guys never gave up.

“That’s one thing we have this year that we haven’t always had in the past, the guys never really counted themselves out,” says Cherski. “As soon as we started scoring we felt it, we knew we were a better team than we were in the first half, once we started to get going we were able to capitalize on the opportunity.”

The Sarnia Imperials get refocused at half time (photo by Jake Jeffrey)

Even though Sarnia’s offence ruled the second half, it was their defensive play that sealed the deal. A late pick six was the final nail in the coffin, giving Sarnia the 58-53 victory. Anyone who has watched an Imperials home game at Norm Perry Park know that the home fans are a vocal bunch, and Cherski says that was the case again Saturday night.

“They were very loud, I was talking to someone who lives out by the old Sarnia General Hospital and says they could her the commotion coming from Norm Perry Park,” he says. “Most of the league hates our fans, and that’s why we love them so much.”

The celebration didn’t last long, as Sarnia prepares for a semifinal match up against GTA, who finished 8-0 during the regular season.

“The congratulatory speech at the end of the game was pretty short, it was a big win but it’s time to go back to work,” says Cherski. “Now we face a very good GTA team, we’ve played them well this year, so we’re hoping we can go there and get the win and earn another birth in the championship and complete some unfinished business from last year.”

The unfinished business Cherski is referring to? The Imperials lost to GTA 29-21 in last year’s final, Sarnia’s first appearance in the NFC Championship game.