Clark Barnes of the Guelph Gryphons is one of the premier returners in OUA football.
Whenever he gets the ball, he’s a threat to finish his return in the opposition’s end zone.
In 2019, his rookie season, Barnes returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, averaged 37.4 yards per kickoff return and was a first-team all-star.
Saturday, Barnes had a 108-yard return for a touchdown to go along with a receiving touchdown as the Gryphons defeated the Waterloo Warriors 27-10 at Alumni Stadium.
His return touchdown came midway through the third quarter on a kickoff following a Waterloo touchdown that cut Guelph’s lead to seven points. Waterloo never threatened after that.
“We had a field return so I decided to catch the ball and make my way to the field and look at my blocks,” Barnes said. “They set up perfectly, honestly. I saw the hole and just had to hit it. (Then) I saw the safety, I had to make my move and the rest was history, really.”
The game was the second of the season for Barnes as an injury kept him out of the first two games of the season. He made his return on the Thanksgiving weekend loss to the Queen’s Gaels at Kingston.
“He still had some rust from his injury so Kingston wasn't his best night,” Gryphon coach Ryan Sheahan said. “Tonight he looked in full form and we're thrilled that 6 (Barnes's number) is back and I think that we're creating a legend around here. Don't kick it to him, even though we like it when teams do.”
Problem for opposing teams on kickoffs is that they have a choice of booting the ball towards Barnes or Kiondre Smith. While Smith has averaged six yards per kickoff return, he’s Guelph’s primary punt returner and averages just under 12 yards per punt return.
“You've got to pick your poison there,” Sheahan said. “They're both fantastic football players and I'm thrilled that they play for us.”
Waterloo had two kickoffs Saturday and Barnes returned both of them with the other being a 19-yarder. He was also the favourite target of the Gryphon quarterbacks, they used all three (Shawn Lal, Deandre Rose and Ettore Casati II), as he had six catches for 92 yards and a touchdown and an 11-yard catch-and-run play. That made him a fairly busy player and could have left him a little weary on the long runs.
“There was a reception, I made a long run (62 yards) and my legs, I kind of ran out of gas a bit,” he said. “On the kick return I was worried for sure, but I had enough in me to get it done.
With a schedule reduced to six games instead of the usual eight as a result of the pandemic, every game feels like a must-win game.
“(They're) a lot more important,” Barnes said. “We have six games so every game already should be a lot more important and this year, our division is a lot tougher and the teams that we're playing are very tough. It's really competitive right now so every game is a battle. Every game means everything to us.
“This game, we needed the win for sure. If we didn't get this one, it would've been a lot different. The season would go a lot different so it was great that we got this. That speaks to the type of team that we have. We had a job to get done and we got it done today.”
The win leaves the Gryphons at 2-2 with two games to go in the regular season. They’re to host the Toronto Varsity Blues Saturday at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.