HALIFAX, N.S. – It started out as a barn burner but the St. Mary’s Huskies were successful in making adjustments that resulted in a relatively easy 28-16 victory over the visiting Mount Allison Mounties in Atlantic Universities Football Conference action on Saturday in Halifax.
The teams scored a touchdown the first time each got the ball as the Mounties utilized the outstanding running of Kiel Ambursley to march from their own 45 in seven plays, with Chris Reid bulling over from the two after Ambursley had racked up 63 yards on eight rushes.
With the two backs racking up huge gains, the Huskies put as many as eight men in the box and stopped that threat, while the Mounties were unsuccessful in developing any consistency through the air as Troy Downton managed to complete just 12 of 26 attempts for 112 yards, while having two picked off.
But the Mounties did improve in some areas over past performances. A failure to pressure opposing quarterbacks was one problem but that was soon settled when two defensive players made a sandwich out of Kaleb Scott, the top QB in the conference and he went out with a leg injury.
However, his backup, Cam Valardo, came in and they never lost a step as he rushed for 54 yards while completing nine of 13 tosses for 153 yards.
By inserting some new personnel on special teams there was an improvement as Idy York and Ambursley got some blocks and did well in picking up more than 200 yards on returns. The punting was marginally improved at a 32-yard average but, overall, there is a considerable amount of work to be done.
There remains a sense around the conference that the Mounties have the personnel to have a better than 2-4 record. Prior to the season beginning it looked as though the offense should be able to score points big time. With a huge and talented offensive line, great backs in Reid and Ambursley and with receivers like Malik Richards, Josh Hicks, Ian Carty and Aidan O’Neal the potential was there but has yet to be reached.
On the other hand, the defense was a question mark but there have been some pleasant surprises. Players like Marshall Esokpunwu, Reese Martin and Jamal McCartyy-Bennett have stepped up while stalwarts Damian Halstead, Nate Rostek and Dylan Cormier continue to star.
Now the pressure is squarely on these young men if they wish to see any playoff time. This Saturday will be key in more ways than one. If they can defeat the Acadia Axemen here by at least 12 points they will retain hope that rookie head coach Peter Fraser will continue to pace the sidelines for some even more important fixtures. Actually, to ensure a spot they need to take out the Axemen and then topple St. F.X. the following weekend in Antigonish.
And it must be noted that there will be a fundraising drive by the team for Craig’s Cause pancreatic cancer society. Players were out on Monday going door-to-door selling 50-50 tickets for the cause and others will be passing through the stands during the game to raise funds for the worthy cause.
A lot of things went wrong in Halifax. James Parker had two field goal attempts mess up due to a time count violation and bad snap, and Downton had two interceptions causing a drive breakdown. It seemed just as things were beginning to click somebody dropped the ball or had a fumble at a most inappropriate time.
While the Huskies were the better team they didn’t play all that well, although Valardo kept things alive with timely running and solid passing.
For the Mounties it was Reid and Ambursley with touchdowns and Parker hit on a field goal and added a convert – the other was a missed two point effort.
Ambursley’s 102 yards along the ground was his third consecutive 100-plus game, while O’Neal with three receptions for 35 yards was led with Carty and Richards with the same number.
On the other side of the ball Skyler LeBlanc and Esckiybwu with 6.5 tackles each led the defense, while Nate Rostek recorded 4.5 and a sack along with Cormier.
For several of the leading Mounties, including Halstead, Rostek, Reid, Ambursley and Downton this Saturday could mark their final appearance at home so the team may be counted on to go all out, not only to earn a playoff spot but to ensure their teammates can finish on a winning note.