Te Nguyen intercepts an Acadia pass in the second quarter of Saturday’s game. PAUL LYNCH PHOTO
The astonishing Mount Allison Mounties not only vaulted into second place but at the same time set themselves up for a home playoff game this Saturday as they continued their winning ways last Saturday with a stunning 23-14 victory over the pre-season favourites, the Acadia Axemen, in the final game of the regular season in the Atlantic Universities Football Conference (AUFC).
It was a rise from the ashes for the Sackville school, who began the season on a losing note but have now won rather convincingly three consecutive outings, defeating each of the other three teams in the conference. It all began three weeks ago with a 42-13 win over St. F.X. and continued last week as they downed St. Mary's 27-24 in Halifax.
The Mounties finished regular season play with a 4-4 record, the best since 1998 when they went 5-3 and also their first four victory campaign since that time. As a result of Saturday's victory they finished solidly in second place, trailing St. Mary's who have a 5-3 mark. Both St. F.X. and Acadia ended with 3-5 records but Acadia grabs third place as they defeated the X-Men on each of their two matchups.
So, this coming weekend it will be a rematch between the Mounties and the Axemen at MacAuley Field beginning at 1 o'clock.
Asked to explain the total turnaround by his team, coach Kelly Jeffrey said the players believed in themselves and each other, worked very hard every week in practice with the result they have shown improvement in each consecutive game. He also believes in the players and is looking forward to the challenge that the playoffs present and the opportunity to take his team to its first conference championship since 1997.
Saturday's victory was definitely a team effort. The defense picked off three interceptions to stymie Acadia momentum, the special teams turned in solid efforts and the offense, like in recent times, came through at crucial moments to seal the win. In their first meeting in Wolfville, the Axemen hammered the Mounties 40-9.
Like he has in each of the previous two games, Donovan Saunders made a key interception, but both Kwame Adjei and Devante Simpson came up with picks while versatile Kyle McLean recovered a Mountie onside kick on the Acadia one-yard line to set up a scoring play. McLean also sped around right end for a 17 yard major, added a trio of converts and a pair of singles on booming punts.
There were enough stars to go around. Workhorse Jordan Botel continued his onslaught on the 100-yard-a-game pace by adding another 111 on 28 attempts, quarterback Brandon Leyh showed some new dekes, and the receivers, especially Troy Trentham, Mikele Joseph, Josh Blanchard and Matt Rose showed some sticky mitts.
Leyh, who completed eight of 13 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown and who has been improving dramatically, said following Saturday’s match that his game has been upped mainly because of an offensive line that is giving him extra time but also from the fact he can call upon Botel at any time to do "the dirty work." And Botel said he felt that everybody had done their job and earned the victory. He said he is looking forward to starting down the playoff trail and knows that the team has the ability to get the job done.
And veteran Troy Trentham, the pride of Brooks, Alberta, said it is like a breath of fresh air to enter post season play on a high, perhaps the first time this has happened in his four years as a Mountie.
Playing under a sunny sky but in cool weather with a chilling wind, the Mounties played shutdown football early in the game as they took a 7-0 lead on a peculiar play. Leyh had quick kicked and McLean, johnny-on-the-spot, grabbed a loose ball on the one and then Botel charged through the defensive line for the opening touchdown. Only moments later, after 10 minutes of play, Acadia managed their first first down and capitalized on it by driving 64 yards in seven plays with Thomas Troop carrying the load from his running back position to knot the count at seven.
As the Axemen began to generate momentum Saunders stepped in front of his cover man and took it back 55 yards before being downed. Four plays later McLean, to the surprise of all, took a handoff and raced into the end zone from the 17. Just four minutes later it was deja vu as Simpson snared an errant pass and returned it to the Axemen 31 from where Sackville's Matt Rose snared a difficult reception and hoofed it home to send the Mounties up 21-7, and McLean added a single to give the Mounties a 14-point bulge at the break.
It was defense in the second half as they held the visitors on the 14 before Ryan Begin connected on a 21-yard field goal. McLean boomed a 60-yarder for a single in the final quarter and the Mounties conceded a pair of safeties near the end to end it 23-14.
Rookie Devante Simposn, putting in a bid for rookie of the year honours, put together 7.5 tackles to go along with his interception and safety Kwame Adjei had 6.5 and an interception. Michael Bohan continued to haunt the opposition with 3.5 tackles and 66 yards in punt returns to give his team positive field position. The defensive line turned in another find show while Saunders took down a trio of Axemen as well as return an interception 59 yards.
Joseph caught four balls for 16 yards but Trentham picked up 33 yards on a pair of catches, Nathan Zavarella received two for 23 yards and Rose had just one but it was good for 31 yards and a big major.
Now that the Mounties seem to have their game together – a determined defense, an explosive special team and a more diverse offense – fans who weren't at the field on Saturday should considered a trek to Sackville to see the finest football played here in this century. It's at 1 o’clock at MacAuley Field for kickoff time. DON'T BE LATE.