Football Mountie Michael Bohan returns a SMU punt 74 yards during Friday’s game in Halifax. PAUL LYNCH PHOTO
It took a near perfect performance but finally, after 13 difficult seasons, the Mount Allison Mounties shook the monkey off their backs in Halifax on Friday evening as they downed the Saint Mary's Huskies 27-24 in Atlantic Universities Football Conference action.
The last time the Mounties were able to post a victory over the Huskies in Halifax was the opening game of the 1997 season when Eric Lapointe ran for 311 yards in a 28-8 win. Since that time they have tasted defeat on 17 consecutive occasions and so the victory on Friday came as a blessing after so much frustration and disappointment.
On the other hand, the Mounties have defeated the Huskies at home on the previous three occasions and Friday's victory did not come as a total surprise as they had defeated them 29-15 earlier this year on MacAuley Field. But the Huskies had been on a winning streak and continue to lead the conference with a 4-3 record. They have defeated the Acadia Axemen on three occasions and a win on Saturday over the St. FX X-Men will hand them first place and home field advantage in the playoffs.
The big question yet to be answered is can the Mounties continue their two game winning streak this Saturday when they host the Axemen in a 2 o'clock start here in Sackville. Earlier they were hammered 40-9 in Wolfville and much may be read into the advantage of playing at home on the only natural grass field in the conference. It is a "must" win and could very well leave the Mounties with a second place finish at 4-4. Currently the Mounties, St. F. X. and Acadia are dead even with 3-4 records.
However, the Kelly Jeffrey-coached Mounties have been improving quickly. They have lived with a stout defense for some time but now the offense, with a greatly enhanced variety of plays, is allowing the defensive players to get some rest.
Friday's game had a little bit of everything as the score changed hands several times with the Huskies having an edge in the first and third quarters and the Mounties taking over in the other two. Actually, the winners roared back from an 11-1 deficit after 15 minutes of play to rattle home two unanswered converted second quarter TDs to take a 15-11 edge to the dressing room.
After the Huskies moved out front with a touchdown and a pair of conceded safeties to go up 22-15 the Mounties scored 10 straight points to build a margin of victory. The final two points handed the Huskies came with only five seconds remaining on the clock when Kyle McLean, instead of punting took the snap and raced through his own end zone to run out the clock and send both the team and its huge group of loudly supportive fans into a state of ecstasy.
For Mountie All-Canadian lineman Jacob LeBlanc it was a special moment with Halifax being his home town, and he put on a show for his friends and relatives by literally controlling the line of scrimmage. From his defensive tackle spot he stymied the opposition by making 9.5 tackles that included two sacks of quarterback Jack Cruikshanks. LeBlanc was named player of the game for his efforts.
But all hands rose to the occasion. Brooks, Alberta's Troy Trentham, scored a bid double – he threw a touchdown pass and then raced down field to curl in a Brendan Leyh pass to score one of his own. Te Nguyen at middle linebacker leveled 7.5 Huskies, including a sack and Michael Bohan put on a show. Not only did he notch five key tackles but added another 126 yards on punt returns, one for 76 yards that changed the tempo of the game. On this one he took the ball on his own 23, danced the sidelines, picked up a couple of key blocks and didn't stop until he stumbled and fell on the Huskie 11. And it was a pair of late interceptions by Kwame Adjei and Devante Simpson that put the icing on the cake.
A wide field goal attempt gave the hosts a one-point lead early, but Leyh, showing signs of maturity, stunned the stadium when he quick kicked the ball through the Huskie end zone three minutes later. But a field goal and touchdown fired up the Mounties who went to work. With less than five minutes gone in the second quarter, workhorse Jordan Botel drove over from two yards out to complete an 82-yard drive, highlighted by 21- and 29-yard receptions by rookie Rodreke Joseph. And late in the period Leyh pitched the ball out to Trentham and he, after taking a couple of steps, threw a strike to Josh Blanchard standing alone and he finished off the 37-yarder for six more.
A converted touchdown and two safeties seemed to put the Huskies in the driver's seat by the 13-minute mark of the third as they were up 22-15. But it was at this point that Bohan showed his magic, which led to a 14-yard field goal by McLean. And this was followed up with a 55-yard heave to Trentham, who sped untouched into the end zone to bring the crowd to its feet.
They continued to use their momentum to move the Huskies around and were rewarded with a two-pointer when the punter went to the knee. However, it wasn't over with the final four minutes proving to be a nail biter. Adjei pulled in an interception but the ball was taken back 20 yards because of penalties, leaving the Mounties on their own 11 and things warmed up until Martin stepped in front of a receiver to steal the ball with just 50 seconds remaining on his 39.
In addition to scoring a touchdown Botel padded his rushing lead with another 165 yards of rushing, giving the Mounties the best run attack since the days of Lapointe. Leyh completed 10 of 16 pass attempts for 147 yards and Trentham's five catches for 74 yards led the way.
Leyh said after the game that the victory had to be a total team effort, adding that the defense kept them in the game, thus allowing him and the offense to become more focused.
And Jeffrey, paying tribute to the Huskies for being a very good team and especially tough on their home turf, said his Mounties are improving every game and he is looking for it to continue.
Time will tell, and fans have only three days to see if he is correct as they will need to pick up their efforts if they are to rebound from their earlier loss to Acadia.