Sarnia Imperials ready for biggest test yet – a shot at the finals

Quarterback Julian Shadd-Gentry has led the high octane offence of the Sarnia Imperials, which play Hamilton in the semi-finals this weekend. Tiffany Hart Photo

Jake Romphf

The Sarnia Imperials have won seven straight games to reach the Northern Football Conference’s semifinals, but something still troubles head coach Jake Cherski.

“We haven’t really been tested,” he said.

After dropping their first two games, the Imperials reeled off six straight easy victories to finish with a 6-2 record on the regular season, and the team got better and stronger with each game.

The league quarterfinal was a blowout, with Sarnia crushing the Toronto Raiders 47-0.

But that progress will be tested when Sarnia faces the Hamilton Steel City Patriots in the semifinal Aug. 11 in Hamilton.

The seven-game win streak, in which the Imperials outscored their opponents by at least 30 points each game, hasn’t gone to his players’ heads, Cherski said.

They understand the teams they dominated were young or rebuilding. Hamilton, on the other hand, is a tough, physical team that went 7-1 in the regular season.

“We’re pretty competitive with each other. We compare very well,” Cherski said. “Hopefully our defence can get our offense the ball in good field range.”

Sarnia’s defence has been a strength, posting five shutouts in nine games.

“But our offense has been putting up a lot of points,” he said.

If the Imperials can get by Hamilton they would probably face the undefeated GTA All Stars in the final. The All Stars are the undisputed favourite and reigning national champion, and they mauled Sarnia 38-9 earlier this season.

But no team is ever guaranteed a win, Cherski said.

“It’s football. You still have to play the game.”

For the success to continue, the players need to recover during the week off and come committed to practice, he said.

“You want to make sure everyone’s still buying into the process and keep them mentally sharp. The best prepared team that day will win.”

The game atmosphere generated by Sarnia’s fans has been phenomenal, and that’s attracted people who don’t even normally watch football, he added.

“I truly believe that the Sarnia Imperials, we’re in our dynasty years. We’re living that dream right now and it’s mostly thanks to our fans.”