Johnson: Fantastic day for Mr. Fox
Colts reserve running back comes off bench to flatten Hilltops
Fantastic Mr. Fox.
No, it’s not only a 2009 animated feature starring the vocal talents of George Clooney and Meryl Streep.
“This is everything I could ask for now,” beamed tailback Cameron Fox. “We just wanted the win. We just wanted first place. It doesn’t matter who, as long as someone gets it done. Everybody wants to play but we’ve got so much depth . . . everywhere. Running backs. Receivers. When someone goes down, we’ve got guys who can step in.
“Luckily enough for me, today I stepped in and I did my job.”
Pinch-hitting for starting tailback Dustin Whetton, sidelined after suffering a finger injury early on during Sunday’s first-place Prairie Football Conference showdown at McMahon Stadium, Fox filled in magnificently as the Calgary Colts nailed down home-field advantage through the playoffs, churning for 86 yards on 11 totes (a nifty 7.8 yard average) in the 30-19 pennant-clinching win.
The Colts can bask in the glow of an 8-0 regular-season for a night or so. But perfection? No, that’s a ways away yet.
“Luckily,” said offensive co-ordinator Adam Blasetti, “we’ve got a stable of three backs and they all are very good football players. Cam was feeling it today. We had him as a rookie and he came back dedicated this season wanting to make a contribution.
“He’s got good vision outside the pocket and he hits the hole really hard. He’s explosive into it. Whereas Chucks (Oakfor) will set up his blocks a little more patiently, Cam hits the holes aggressively. Which on a defence like (Saskatoon’s), where the backers close so hard it’s really important to hit those holes quickly, as soon as they appear.
“We’re lucky that when D.J. went down, to know we had both Chucks Oakfor and Cam Fox ready to go, hungry and wanting to play. We knew we wouldn’t lose a step with either of them. We’re blessed.”
Calgary’s penthouse-clinching drive proved to be a Fox master class. With the wind-aided Colts scrimmaging first down at their own 50-yard line and three minutes remaining, he shed two or three Hilltop defenders the way a snake sheds its skin, rumbling for 26 critical yards. Next snap, veering off the left side of the O-line, Fox ripped the Hilltops’ weakening stronghold asunder for a further 18.
Then with the Saskatoon defence utterly convinced the rampaging No. 28 simply had to be getting his mitts on the ball again, Calgary quarterback Derek Cooper cooly lofted an 18-yard touchdown strike to wideout Ben Hnatiuk for the game’s capping TD.
“In my career, as both a player and a coach, I’d never beaten Saskatoon until this year,” said Blasetti, “So these are big deals to me as a coach. Because that’s an extremely talented and well-coached football team. To be able to win at home, to finish off a great regular season . . . is really satisfying.
“This is big for the program.
“But it’s just the start.”
For the No. 1-ranked Colts, sights are set squarely on a national championship. And depending on the severity of Whetton’s finger injury, for Mr. Fox, too.
“Cam Fox could be our third tailback or he could be No. 1 tailback, like he was today,” adjudged Calgary head coach John Stevens. “This isn’t the first game he’s played well. He’s played well in three or four occasions when he’s come in in a backup role. I remember a game where he came in and killed the clock in the fourth quarter against the wind, at a critical time.
“So it’s no surprise. We’re very fortunate that those guys have bought into the system and although they might not be getting the touches, they’ve all committed to the program no matter how many touches they’re getting and have performed when asked to.”
Being subbed in with games already done and dusted, with defences already softened up, is one thing. Sunday’s ask was quite another.
The stakes could not have been higher, the 7-0 Colts vs. the 6-1 ’Tops with so much on riding on the outcome.
And Fox delivered in style.
More will be determined on Whetton’s problem after X-rays arrive, as early as today. The problem could be either a dislocation — the optimistic take — or a break. The unfortunate injury occurred as the tailback was putting down the hand to cushion himself, he was hit, and the finger twisted awkwardly.
Blasetti reckoned that, depending on severity, they might be able to cast the offending digit up allowing him to be ready for Sunday’s opening playoff date, against Regina.
And if not?
“Between Cam and Chucks, we still have a very potent backfield. It’s just a matter of them reading their blocks and executing.”
It seems unlikely, given the dominance they’ve both shown through this PFC season, that the Colts and Hilltops have seen the last of each other, either.
After Sunday’s rampage, though, the ’Tops probably wish they’d seen the last of Fox.
“There were some nerves there, at the beginning,” he conceded. “But team first, right? My offensive line did a great job blocking for me. I just tried to run as hard as I could.
“I knew I could do it. The coach knew I could do it.
“I just needed a chance.”
Fantastic, Mr. Fox.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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