Montreal Gazette

Flag football league booming

62-TEAM LEAGUE Nincheri proves age no barrier to title

- DAVI D YAT E S

Rick Nincheri has reached the far side of 40 and has a mane of grey hair, but you can forget any notion that he is about to become an armchair quarterbac­k in the near future.

With a wicked right arm, Nincheri throws a football with zip and accuracy and he guided the Hurricanes to the winter championsh­ip of the fast-growing FlagPlus Football League at Catalogna Soccerplex­e.

Nincheri, who was recruited last year to take over the role as pivot, threw 16 touchdowns with only one intercepti­on as the Hurricanes swept through the playoffs, beating Montreal’s Finest 32-25 in the Division 1 final.

The touchdown sealing the win came late in the game, when Shane Williams stepped in front of a shovel pass from Finest QB Zan Symonds on the Hurricanes’ goal line and ran the length of the field for a touchdown.

Williams, who also caught a Nincheri TD pass, was named the game’s most valuable player.

He said the Hurricanes had scouted the Finest and were expecting a shovel pass when the team had the ball near the goal line.

“We lined up in a zone to block the passing lanes,” he said.

It seems that flag football is serious business, in more ways than just scouting. There are the referees in striped shirts, intricate pass patterns, medals and trophies for the championsh­ip teams, and the perfect environmen­t under the dome at Catalogna.

All those factors have helped FlagPlus Football become a fastgrowin­g business venture started three years ago by Concordia University student Robert Campana. He will graduate with a degree in human relations this year.

The popularity of the league is undeniable. It grew to 62 teams in three divisions from 46 teams last year and has attracted toplevel players, including several from CEGEP and university teams.

Campana had to expand his staff from three to seven to handle the business, including a website with detailed statistics that cover passes (attempted and completed), TDs, intercepti­ons, quarterbac­k rating and defensive plays.

Many of the players are on two or more teams and even play outdoors in the winter.

Hamid Mahmoudi, a defensive back with the Université de Montréal Carabins, played in two of the final games and was named the most valuable player after his team, Notre Dame, defeated Phoenix 32-26 for the Division 2 championsh­ip. He played for Montreal’s Finest in the Division 1 final.

“All these people have the passion for the game,” said Mahmoudi, who had 12 receptions and six TDs in the playoffs. “It’s a good and safe environmen­t.”

He likes the league because the games allow him to loosen up after a week of training with weights and sprints.

His Carabins teammate, Tony Testa, was named MVP in Division 3.

Other key players included Liam Mahoney and Frank Bruno of Bol d’Or champion Vanier College. Mahoney will move on to Concordia University and Bruno is heading for the Carabins.

After the success of the winter league, Campana started a spring league last year and he expects to have 30-plus teams in the fold for this year.

Nincheri didn’t play big-time football, but he has been a fanatic about touch and flag football since he was a teenager.

“I play about 100 games a year,” he said. And that means at least two games a week – even outdoors in the deep freeze of January.

Williams paid tribute to his QB, saying Nincheri has the knack of putting the ball on the money when receivers run their patterns. He threw for 44 TDs during the regular season, giving up 11 intercepti­ons for a rating of 100.3, second among firststrin­g QBs.

The Hurricanes celebrated their championsh­ip by uncorking several bottles of champagne and spraying each other liberally. They later repaired to a West Island bar for a late night of celebratio­n.

But that didn’t stop several of the Hurricanes, including Nincheri, from heading back outdoors for early-morning games the next day with other teams in other leagues.

“I have no plans to hang up my cleats just yet,” Nincheri said. “They’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming off the field.”

d_yates03@hotmail.com

 ?? JOHN KENNEY GAZETTE FILE PHOTO ?? Robert Campana, who began flag football league, stretches for a pass at Catalogna Soccerplex­e.
JOHN KENNEY GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Robert Campana, who began flag football league, stretches for a pass at Catalogna Soccerplex­e.

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