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Members of the 2019 Tantramar Titans celebrate their fifth consecutive provincial championship Saturday evening in Fredericton. Sackville downed the Riverview Royals 23-13 for the win.
Members of the 2019 Tantramar Titans celebrate their fifth consecutive provincial championship Saturday evening in Fredericton. Sackville downed the Riverview Royals 23-13 for the win. - Scott Doherty

Sackville Titans claim fifth consecutive provincial title after 23-13 win over Riverview

FREDERICTON, N.B. —

The Tantramar Titans have proven beyond all doubt that they are the most outstanding high school football team in the province as they drove home a couple of exclamation points on Saturday by taking down a strong Riverview Royals squad to the tune of 23-13.

This marked the fifth consecutive year in which they have brought home the New Brunswick High Football League crown and they did it with class by bringing it to the house in the late going, while demonstrating how a defensive scheme should work.

Played on a snowy, wet and cold evening on Fredericton’s BMO Field, the champs put up a 7-0 first quarter lead and increased it to 10 by the half.

After Riverview scored on a broken play to open the third quarter, the Titans held a slim slight lead entering the final session. After swapping touchdowns, the winners pulled away with a late major and then tightened up to pull in a pair of interceptions and send Riverview home still looking for their first-ever Ed Skiffington Trophy.

But it was a far different game than a year ago when the Titans hung a 42-0 shellacking on the Royals to win their fourth title at home.

The NBIAA, in its ‘wisdom’, opted to hold all three championships on the same day in the capital city. This included playoffs for all three divisions.

Many – and perhaps rightly so – termed the Division 1 final “the Owen O’Neal Show.”

But his dad and Titans head coach Scott O’Neal termed it a total team effort.

“I’m just so proud of every player on the team,” O’Neal noted. “It’s all about work and commitment – they are tough grinders.”

Regardless, Owen, an all-round player, put on a show for all ages. He notched all three Titan touchdowns and rushed 52 times for 413 yards of offense.

On top of this, he chalked up numerous key tackles, both on defense and on special teams.

While there was no question about who was game MVP, there was plenty of congratulations to go around. Players like Ethan Doherty and Evan Phinney stepped up in key situations to snuff out potential Riverview rallies. And the return to action of Arturo Moreno de Jesus and Mason Prescott added depth to the defense.

The usual array of starters – players like Colby Tower, Riley Estabrooks, Thomas Allen, Joe Carpenter, Jory Parsons, Chase Clayton, and Andrew Hess – showed experience and controlled fury to ensure another victory was rung up by “the little school that could.”

Actually, the fifth championship came to Sackville in spite of numerous handicaps, hurdles and roadblocks. They have yet to lose a game on the field but had three wins taken away due to an unknown change in the rules, resulting in the loss of a key player and a one-game suspension of the coach. And, unlike previous years, the injury bug finally set in with a passion.

After losing for the season the use of Oliver Longpre, they watched as one starter after another went down, forcing coach O’Neal to use more younger players than usual. However, again it was the three C’s – commitment, conditioning and coaching – that came through, and the team’s resulting toughness was too much for the remaining teams.

On the field, the Titans have recorded 45 wins in 46 games stretching back over five years – the lone negative factor being the mistaken use of one ineligible player, resulting in their official standing for 2019 being 3-4 rather than 7-0 on this campaign. Due to this, they were forced to play both the semi-final and final on the road, thus sacrificing some well-needed home game revenue.

The opening series of Saturday’s game set the tone. Taking the opening kickoff on their own 32, they marched the 78 yards to score, with Owen O’Neal hitting paydirt on his eighth consecutive carry. He was a far different player than the one who had been contained by Riverview in a previous meeting and there was no stopping him as he shredded defenses with sweeps and off tackle dives to gain yardage.

Joe Carpenter split the uprights from 24 to up the lead to 10.

Fans were set back as the Riverview quarterback ran the ball home on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. But O’Neal took just three plays to cover 50 yards and drive home another major. After Riverview managed a second TD on a long pass, it was O’Neal again finishing off a drive with a three-yard touchdown.

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