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Sackville Titans high school football squad suffers first defeat in three seasons

With only seconds left on the clock and the Titans down by one point, quarterback Justin Vogels looks into the end zone for a receiver in Friday night’s home game against Riverview.
With only seconds left on the clock and the Titans down by one point, quarterback Justin Vogels looks into the end zone for a receiver in Friday night’s home game against Riverview.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – The carousel stopped operating here Friday evening and when the smoke had cleared, the Tantramar Titans were on the sidelines looking in.

That’s correct – the seemingly invincible gridiron greats just suffered their first defeat in three years – and that “by the skin of their teeth.”

The 27-26 victory posted by the visiting Riverview Royals saw both teams go to the airways, with the visitors just a tad more efficient in that department as they were in the kicking game to squeeze out the win and tie the Titans with 4-1 records.

But it all came down to the final seconds. Trailing 26-20 with just 18 seconds remaining on the clock, the Titans completed a 43-yard drive as Oliver Longpre hauled in a 15-yard toss for six. And that’s when it all came down to one play and coach O’Neal called for a two-point attempt – a successful completion would have meant victory.

Quarterback Justin Vogels could find nobody open so he decided to run and was just a few millimeters short of the goal line, as ruled by the referee.

One might ask why the team didn’t try for a single conversion, which would have given them a tie. First, there is no overtime in high school football. Secondly, they had been unsuccessful in converting any of the previous three touchdowns so it was logical to gamble even though it lost – barely.

Yes, the Titans had gone 23 games without losing or tying – a record-tying effort that matched that of Moncton High in the 1960s. However, it has been determined that the Fredericton Black Kats have a mark in excess of 30 consecutive wins in the 1990s.

So the “come-uppance” might prove what was needed. Perhaps the players were concentrating more on their record than the game at hand.

But coach Scott O’Neal is having none of that. He said his team was “flat”, while coach Guy Messervier had his Royals geared and ready.

“They have a really fine team.” O’Neal said following the game. “They shut down our running game with a strong defense and we were forced to go to the air.”

The Titans have long been known as a hard-nosed ground attack team but it just didn’t work on Friday. 

While Oliver Longpre managed 100 yards in the first half, his role was limited during the final 24 minutes to that of receiver and returner. Jared Prescott fought for hard-earned yards throughout the game, but the visitors were lurking and held him to minimal yardage.

Early on, it looked as though the Titans would put number 24 on the boards as they took an 8-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and were out front 20-7 at the break.

Penalties came into play in the second half as Riverview picked up a converted touchdown in the third and added two more in the fourth to take a 26-20 bulge into the dying seconds. They did this with a passing attack that accounted for much of their offense.

The major turning point, other than the Titans’ problem with conversions, came in the third quarter when defensive back Owen O’Neal intercepted a pass in his own end zone and returned it to the 40. With the huge crowd on its feet frantically cheering, the air soon left the balloon as the Titans were called for another infraction, placing the ball on their own six from where Riverview completed their drive.

The Titans absorbed 85 yards in infractions and, combined with iffy kicking, found themselves in poor field settings time after time. However, they remained in the mix and came within a whisker of pulling another one out of the hat in the end.

Another question was put to coach O’Neal – did he think the fact the Titans have been finishing their games by half time recently – 64-0 and 49-0 – has had a negative impact on his team’s performance. While such lop-sided victories have permitted the use of second and third string players, it may have played a role in taking some of the edge off the team.

But he deflected any such ideas and said it was just another time the team came out flat. But many fans disagree and are convinced the Titans had reached the point where they expected to beat any team they played. Now they realize otherwise as they wrap up their season with a match this Friday against l’Odyssee on Rocky Stone Field at 8 o’clock and host Harrison Trimble at David Jardine Field on Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. 

Should both Riverview and the Titans pick up victories in their remaining games, the one-point defeat on Friday could come back to haunt the local squad in the playoffs.

The Titans opened the scoring when Colin Mullin was Johnny-on-the spot to pick off an errant Riverview pass and take it home from the eight but the extra point was a failure. However, pressure continued and Riverview was forced to concede a safety when they were on their own 10-yard line. 

Jack Estabrooks took the ball home on a 48-yard pass and run play early in the second quarter and then Prescott took it home from the five-yard line to up the count to 20-0 before the visitors hit the scoreboard just before the end of the half

But it was a different story in the second half as Riverview scored seven following the penalty as O’Neal made his interception and had the ball returned. And as the fourth quarter got underway, the visitors struck again on an 18-yard completion and Ben Mueller took a six-yard toss from quarterback Logan Crossman and the conversion for what turned out to be the winning points.

There is usually a good deal of celebrating when a team comes up with a victory but this one was extra special for the Royals and they, along with their strong supporting cast of fans, were ecstatic to have added icing by finally stopping the juggernaut from Sackville.

Starting with a clean slate, the Titans, stung by defeat, will begin a new chapter, one they hope will lead to their third consecutive provincial high school championship.  But they now realize that road will be anything but smooth and have plenty of detours and potholes. So it will require intensity and total commitment and not a “free ride” they have experienced so often over the past three seasons. 

Another championship would tie them with the Titans of the early ’80s and continue to keep them in the top half of the 50 high schools ranked in the country.

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