Waterloo Warriors quarterback Tre Ford tries to elude University of Toronto tacklers during OUA football action earlier this season. Waterloo won 28-23 to improve to 3-0 at the time. Photo by Mathew McCarthy, Record staff
By Karlo Berkovich, Special to The Record
WATERLOO — Four straight losses to end the Ontario University Athletics football season. Out of the playoffs, again.
Same old Waterloo Warriors?
Not a chance, says head coach Chris Bertoia.
"You can take the rebuild tag off it now, and just call it a build," Bertoia said Sunday. "It's definitely a successful season for us."
Even though the 4-4 Warriors missed the OUA playoffs. Waterloo, on its bye week for the regular season's final Saturday, didn't get the help it needed from other results and finished seventh in the 11-team league, one spot short of the playoffs. The Warriors tied for sixth with Queen's, but the Gaels advanced via the tiebreaker, having routed Waterloo 68-17 on Oct. 5 in Kingston.
But that blowout loss — and an earlier 71-24 defeat at the hands of Laurier in the annual Battle of Waterloo — didn't define the Warriors' season in terms of making the playoffs.
Two close losses did. A 40-30 defeat at Ottawa in Waterloo's final game two weeks ago, and a crushing 53-49 home loss to Guelph the week after the Laurier loss, which ultimately did-in the Warriors.
The Guelph loss arguably hurt the most. Waterloo, rebounding nicely from the Laurier blowout, led Guelph 32-12 at one stage, apparently headed to a 5-1 record at that point. The Warriors were still up 49-46 in the last minute before a Gryphon touchdown with 23 seconds left gave Guelph the win.
"That was one of those woulda, coulda, shoulda won that game," Bertoia said. "But there's a mantra I really like: You either win, or you learn. This is a work in progress."
On the flip side, the Warriors did to Carleton, earlier, what Guelph did to them. Waterloo rallied from a 30-10 deficit to stun the Ravens 45-43 in Ottawa to improve to 4-0.
The back and forth results, the comebacks and blown leads, particularly in high-scoring games, are a function of the lack of consistency that comes with inexperience, Bertoia said.
The offence appears in good hands with the presence of such players as quarterback Tre Ford, a passing and running threat who had an outstanding freshman season.
It's the defence, particularly at the line of scrimmage, that the coach intends to shore-up, though he says it's more a matter of gaining experience than talent.
"We have a really young D line," Bertoia said. "Most schools are playing third to fifth-year guys at the line of scrimmage. It's a man's game there and we just need experience. We did give up 15 fewer points per game than last year."
That's when the Warriors finished back-to-back 0-8 seasons in Bertoia's first two years at the helm. But the taste of winning this season is the key as Bertoia and his staff continue their patient turnaround plan, which is big on attitude adjustment — and finally this year yielded results in the won-lost column.
It doesn't matter that Waterloo's wins came against teams with a combined six wins in 32 games. The point is, the Warriors won. This is a step-by-step process.
"The fact is that for six-and-a-half of eight games, aside from the Queen's game and the second half against Laurier, we were competitive as hell with everybody," Bertoia said.
"Now that our guys have tasted it, it's a motivating factor. It's a credit to the players, and the staff, that they've bought into the vision and the goals we've set forth," the coach added.
"Overall, it was a very positive season. The competitor in me is disappointed that we're not preparing for a playoff game. We had four cracks to win one game to get in and we didn't do it. But starting off 4-0 was a super positive statement and that stuff's contagious.
"It's important to dwell on the positives."