SACKVILLE, N.B. – Yep, the sparkling Tantramar Titans did it again – they showed spirit united with talent here Saturday afternoon to score a fourth quarter come-from-behind 24-14 victory over Moncton High Purple Knights to clinch the championship of the New Brunswick High School Football League.
And, as veteran coach David Burns said, “Jack Estabrooks simply took the team on his shoulders in the late going and there was no way Moncton was going to stop him.”
The champs jumped to an early 9-0 lead but a pair of defensive lapses allowed Moncton to score touchdowns on two huge runs and the score was 14-9 for Moncton entering the fourth.
But Estabrooks, who racked up 121 yards along the ground in the final 12 minutes, moved over from his linebacking position and took command. He put the Titans into the lead three minutes into the quarter after covering 48 yards on six rushes to finish it off with a spinning 18-yard hurdle into the end zone.
And then, in order to ensure there was no mistake, he continued to leave Moncton defenders wondering what happened, he repeated his magic act with less than a minute remaining. Again taking the ball on the Moncton 48, Estabrooks took the handoff seven straight times and finally sewed it up with a 15 yarder that saw him dragging a couple of Moncton defenders along with him.
The matchup proved a perfect show for the largest crowd to attend any high school football game in Sackville and surpassed the numbers often attending Mountie games. More than 2,000 filled the bleachers while the north side of the field was lined several people deep and they got their money’s worth.
For the Titans, it marked their 28th victory in 29 starts over the past three seasons and completed a threepeat – a goal set by coach Scott O’Neal prior to the start of the current season. Having their 23-game win streak snapped by a single point by Riverview, they began anew and now have five to begin next season. They erased the odor of that one defeat by whipping Riverview 35-0 in the semi-finals.
While Estabrooks, who was earlier named the most outstanding player in Pool A, was named player of the game, the entire squad played heads-up football with but two letdowns when Moncton scored their points on runs of 49 and 57 yards which accounted for the bulk of their offense.
Jeff Lafford was a key factor with two huge interceptions to wipe out any hope of a Moncton win. Lucas Cormier was all over the field on both sides of the ball and performed brilliantly and picked off an errant Moncton pass while handling the punting and conversions. Quarterback Justin Vogels enjoyed another good day at the office, completing some long balls including a 55 yarder to Cormier in the opening quarter.
The offensive line came up big to provide Vogels with solid support and, as usual, Jared Prescott was a battering ram with 91 yards in the first half.
But the visitors were not intimidated by the Titan record. Their defense led by Brendon Breen, Evan Globe and a large line came ready to play and stymied the Titan attack time and again, especially during the third quarter when some jitters seemed to hit the winners.
Running back Kyle Lewis was their big man as he scored both touchdowns in showing blazing speed as he outdistanced the Titan defensive backs on his way to paydirt. And, as usual, their quarterback Chris Cameron-Kogler was a triple threat and picked up much of the remainder of their ground game.
The Titans got on the scoreboard quickly as Moncton conceded a safety after being forced back to their two-yard line and then Vogels hooked up with Cormier on a 55 yarder and Cormier added the convert to run the count to 9-0.
The second quarter was played mostly in the Moncton half of the field but neither team could connect. But the hometown fans were taken aback early in the third when the Purple Knights found some momentum and Lewis scored his first of two after just two minutes of play. And five minutes later, he repeated on almost the exact same play and things appeared to be heading south for the Titans as they committed a pair of fumbles and appeared out of sync.
But ultimately came the saviour and there simply was no stopping Estabrooks who obviously was on a mission.
This game marked the second time in two weeks they had finally met an opponent who was prepared. Unlike their walkovers of Harrison Trimble, l’Odyssee and Mathieu Martin, both Riverview and Moncton came to play – to play the type of football the Titans love – clean, hard hitting, no prisoners taken and everything left on the field.
A lesser team than the Titans could have been lulled into a sense of superiority as a result of early matches but O’Neal and his outstanding staff were in no mood to permit their players from suffering from such a symptom and they relished having to work for a win.
The threepeat matched the mark set by the Titans in the early 1980s when Bruce McMillan was the man behind the bench and Peter Hess and Ian MacDonald were their offensive guns. The faces and names have changed but otherwise they are much the same. Impossible to make actual comparisons other than to say that both were dominant and supreme in their own eras.