HALIFAX, N.S. – The Mount Allison Mounties are arguably the best – or at least hottest – team in the Atlantic Universities Football Conference (AUFC).
But they will be on the sideline looking on as playoffs begin leading up to the Loney Bowl, emblematic of the conference championship. They have been in the Bowl game for the past four years but due to some lacklustre play and serious injuries ended this season in fourth spot in the five-team setup.
Back-to-back one-point losses to Bishop’s and St. Mary’s cost them a post season opportunity.
But on Saturday the Mounties showed their grit and determination by coming back from a 22-17 deficit late in the game to snatch a 26-25 decision over the Huskies – actually reversing the score from their first meeting.
But the Mounties had dug themselves into a deep pit leading into the final weekend. In order to qualify for the playoffs they needed to defeat the Huskies, while Bishop’s had to topple the X-Men in Antigonish. Well, the Mounties completed their part of the deal, but Bishops went down to their seventh defeat in eight games.
Thus the X-Men gained third spot even though they and the Mounties ended season play with identical 4-4 records. But the X-Men gained the edge due the point differential between the two in their two meetings – the X-Men won 37-0 at home and fell 32-15 in Sackville, thus giving them a 20-point advantage.
But members of Scott Brady’s team have only themselves to blame for their lot – fans were never sure which Mountie team would show up. Starting out with a massive 64-23 victory over Acadia, they then went to Antigonish and were punished to the tune of 37-0. It seemed to take forever for them to recover from the two shocks and before they knew it they had a 1-4 record. A little late they came together and ran off three consecutive victories – over St. F. X., Bishop’s and St. Mary’s – to make them the hottest item in town – but it was a case of “too little too late” and so for the first time since 2011 they will be able to mark Reading Week in the library.
Many had considered the Mounties and rebuilt Huskies as the teams best prepared to go all the way in pre-season reviews. Few considered Acadia as a serious threat but look at them – they finished in first place with a 6-2 record, with much of the credit going to crafty coach Jeff Cummins.
For the first time in years there was no way to predict outcomes in the AUFC – it became topsy-turvy, with first one team and then another pulling off major upsets. The Bishop’s Gaiters, in for the first time after leaving the tough Quebec Conference, had little success – their lone win being a one-point decision at the expense of the Mounties. St. Mary’s restocked heir lineup and, for the most part during the early going, were dominant but came back to earth with a forfeiture and a slack in production.
This became evident on Saturday as the Mounties sailed into Halifax and showed how well they could perform. They scored first, were up 7-6 at the quarter but trailed by two – 19-17 at the half. The teams swapped field goals in the third, the huskies upped heir lead to 26-20 early in the fourth, but reliable Chris Reid found a hole and raced 16 yards to paydirt with just one minute and 24 seconds remaining on the clock to catapult the Mounties to their first comeback victory of the year.
Defense was critical for the Mounties and they rose to the occasion. All-Conference linebacker Damien Halstead was on the prowl all afternoon and added a trio of quarterback sacks to his resume, while Skyler LeBlanc was busy making 9.5 tackles, including one sack. Actually it was sack day for the Mounties as they dropped the opposing signal caller 10 times for a record as Donovan Glave and Matt Watson had one apiece, with Dylan Cormier and Mitch MacAulay credited with three between them.
Statistically, the teams were as close as the score indicates. The Mounties managed 405 yards of offense to 375 for the Huskies but it was opportunism, some fine quarterbacking by Jakob Loucks, great hands by Josh Hicks and Malik Richards, punishing running by Chris Reid and a solid offensive line that proved to be the margin of victory.
Reid put another 100-yard game in the books with 121 on the day, while the ever-improving Hicks snared three passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Not to be overlooked was the impressive kicking by Ryan Lambert, who booted a pair of key field goals and the trio of converts, while Richards came through with a pair of majors and Reid made no mistake with the one that spelled victory.
Under normal circumstances a 4-4 record would qualify for a playoff berth but it has become clear that the AUFC is on the move upwards and even more emphasis will be placed on coaching excellence, astute recruiting, proper game planning and long term goals – all factors Mountie athletic director is looking forward to, especially with the introduction of the Ted Rogers athletic fund.
As fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers became famous for saying – “just wait ‘til next year.”