Second-half comeback gives football Lions first win

Heneri Dervishi’s field goal in overtime gave the York Lions football team a 20-18 victory over the University of Waterloo Warriors on Saturday, Sept. 17 at Warrior Field.

The win was the team’s first since 2007 and gave head coach Warren Craney his first with the Lions. His players soaked him with a Gatorade bath after the final whistle as the team celebrated at centre field.

 York Lions quarterback Dimitar Sevdin completes a long pass to William Austin in the end zone for a touchdown.
Above: York Lions quarterback Dimitar Sevdin completes a long pass to William Austin in the end zone for a touchdown. Photo by Trevor Mahoney

“It feels amazing,” said Craney after the game. “I’m speechless. I don’t even know what to say! We just had to do it the hard way, but I’m glad we pulled it out in the end. We have such a young team and this is just the beginning. I’m so proud of everyone.”

The first-year kicker from Toronto made good on an 18-yard field goal on York’s only possession in overtime after Waterloo missed a field goal on its attempt and scored a single point after the kick went through the end zone.

The field goal capped off a remarkable 17-point comeback by the Lions in the second half. The Warriors held a 17-0 advantage after two quarters but the Lions slowly chipped away at the lead.

They first got on the scoreboard just three minutes into the third quarter on the second play of the drive. Facing second-and-eight from the Waterloo 29, quarterback Dimitar Sevdin, who was starting his first Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) game, completed a long pass to William Austin in the end zone for the touchdown.

The score remained 17-7 until near the end of the third quarter, when the Lions scored on a 43-yard field goal by Dervishi to make it 17-10.

The Lions continued to press for the tying points and were finally rewarded at the end of the fourth quarter. Defensive back Cory Bellerdine intercepted Waterloo quarterback Luke Balch at the 50-yard line and returned the ball 34 yards to the Waterloo 16, giving the Lions tremendous field position. It was Bellerdine’s second interception of the day, to go along with one he had in the first half.

A four-yard rush by Blair Yachetti and an incomplete pass set up third down and the Lions converted, with Sevdin completing a four-yard pass to rookie Skyler Hurst in the end zone for the tying touchdown with just 2:44 left on the clock.

On Waterloo’s final drive in regulation, York cornerback Belah Small intercepted another Balch throw at midfield. Sevdin marched the team into field goal range and Dervishi had a chance to win it with six seconds left on the clock, but his 32-yard field goal attempt went wide.

In the end it didn’t matter, as he redeemed himself in extra time to give the Lions the win.

Sevdin finished 12-29 for 174 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while Austin had seven completions for 79 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Nick Coutu checked into the game on several occasions and amassed a team-high 63 rushing yards on 10 carries, and Yachetti had 43 yards on 12 carries.

The Lions pestered Waterloo’s quarterbacks throughout the game and finished with six sacks. Veterans Patrick Russell and Steve Reading had 1.5 each and Zack Davis had one.

Rookie Denzel Philip led the way in tackles with a game-high eight.

Waterloo starting quarterback Evan Martin went 15-23 for 229 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in the first half before injuring himself on the first drive of the second and missing the rest of the game. Receiver Dustin Zender led all players with nine catches for 109 yards and a touchdown.

The Lions will be at home on Saturday, Sept. 24 to take on the Queen’s University Golden Gaels in their annual Homecoming game. Kickoff is set for 1pm at York Stadium.