Donovan Saunders, shown above running the ball in this file photo, drew first blood for the Mounties with 25-yard field goal in the second quarter during yesterday's game against the St. Francis Xavier X-Men.
Many terms could be used to describe what took place in Antigonish on Saturday night – those like "comedy of errors" or "comedy of horrors" – but there was little to find funny or enjoyable as the Mount Allison Mounties continued to shoot themselves time and again in absorbing a one-sided 31-10 shellacking at the hands of the St. Francis Xavier X-Men.
Meanwhile, the Huskies dumped Acadia 14-11 on Friday night in the other game.
For both teams it was their season opener in the Atlantic Universities Football Conference (AUFC) after each had fallen in their lone pre-season exhibition – the Mounties to St. Mary's and X-Men to Acadia.
These statistics prove shocking to any football fan - the Mounties had a total offensive output of 231 yards but were flagged for 257 yards in penalties, actually leaving them 26 yards short of a balance. They held the ball for 72 plays, meaning they were stymied each time they attempted to launch a drive or, on the other hand, were flagged on several occasions after stopping the X-Men momentum.
Officials appeared to have a particular fixation on tossing the red hankie as the winners also got nicked on 12 occasions for 191 yards, and so the game became somewhat of a bore for the nearly 4,000 fans who came out for an evening home game. Both teams dressed several newcomers to the conference but it wasn't only inexperienced people who paid the price for being overly aggressive. The second half, especially, was about as interesting and exciting as watching paint dry or water ooze the wrong way at Magnetic Hill.
It will be interesting to hear comments from the referees-in-chief after they have had time to review the game films and if teams are provided with a new set of instructions to follow.
For the Mounties it was a rough outing after having enjoyed an outstanding recruiting year. They introduced two newcomers along the offensive line as well as one or two in the receiving corps, along with some good-looking youngsters on the defensive side of the ball. However, the unexpected loss of middle linebacker Richard Deschamps has left a major gap and the X-Men running backs, especially Ashton Dickson, took full advantage of the gaps and galloped for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns to set the pace for the winners.
But there were some bright spots for coach Kelly Jeffrey, although the results may have been discouraging. Sackville's Michael Bohan emerged as a dynamic punt returner, actually to nobody's surprise. As a Titan he had done it all - punting, kicking, quarterbacking, safety and kick returner. He returned one beauty for 45 yards only to have it nullified by one of those red hankies and showed a quick set of feet to convince observers he will join Donovan Saunders in providing the team with some serious threats.
Rookie receiver Rod Joseph, after a rough first half, demonstrated how route running should be done and pulled down four tosses for 26 yards, while veteran Troy Trentham, inserted as an inside receiver, showed that is where he belongs as he coaxed five balls in the heavy going for 30 yards.
Christian Plante, overshadowed last season by his linemates Ryan Downe, Jacob Leblanc and Quinn Everett, stepped up his play to lead the defense from his end position, with nine solo tackles, several in the X-Men backfield. AJ Singh, stepping in for the departing Justin Richard, was johnny-on-the-spot with seven stops, while Kwame Adjei, Michael Bohan and Matt Montgomery looked comfortable on defense.
Andre Goguen, a rookie from Moncton, looked sharp as the centre as he was dead-on with all of his snaps in the shotgun formation, while Joe Marcelli of Pickering looked at home at guard in his debut. Devant Sampson of Mississauga also made the step from high school with ease and looks to settle in as a defensive half.
Forty yards in penalties helped to set up the opening scoring thrust by the X-Men as Jeremy Ford split the uprights from 28 after five minutes of play, and eight minutes later elongated receiver Devon Bailey leaped to haul in a TD pass to up the count to 10-0 after 15 minutes.
With Jordan Botel showing his all-conference style, the Mounties managed to put three points on the board early in the second quarter as Saunders nailed it from the 23.
It was at this point that the Mounties defenders showed their toughness and over the next while halted the X-Men on the one-yard line with some gritty and gutsy play. However the Mounties were forced to concede a safety. Dan Tomei flopped on an X-Men miscue following a botched punt attempt and four plays later quarterback Brendan Leyh scooted over from the five for the initial Mountie major.
A late X touchdown and another safety built the score to 21-10 by half time and the second half was a crap-shoot, with the winner placing another 10 on the scoreboard.
Botel ground out 169 yards with some Grant Keany-like charges but that was the major highlight for the Mounties, who managed just 84 yards through the air and a net ground plus of l58.
So, what does the Mounties coaching staff have to do to prepare for the highlight of their season, this Saturday's homecoming matchup with the much improved McGill Redmen at MacAuley Field at 2 o' clock? In a nutshell, plenty. The linebacking corps needs fine tuning, the miscues and fouls must be curbed and something more than Jordan Botel must be found to generate yardage.
Dozens of alumni will be in town, not only for the homecoming game but also to attend the special Eric Lapoint fundraising dinner, which runs from 11 to 1. Lapointe is expected to bring a challenge and message to his alma mater, calling for much greater support from Allisonians of all stripes for athletics in general and football in particular.
Saturday's game could be the turnaround Jeffrey has been looking for – a win over the Quebec visitors would have the effect of propelling the Mounties to the type of season they had been contemplating. But it will require much greater discipline and a more diversified offense – things that appear possible with the talent available.