Life hasn’t gotten any easier for Scott O’Neal’s Tantramar Titans, but they continue to find ways to carve out victories over much larger Division 1 schools in the New Brunswick High School Football League.
This past weekend, the Titans defeated the Moncton Purple Knights 24-14 in a semifinal tilt. And on Saturday, Nov. 9, they will attempt to win a fifth straight provincial championship when they hook up with the Guy Messervier-coached Riverview Royals in Fredericton in the title game. Riverview downed Fredericton in their semifinal.
The last time the Titans and Royals met, Tantramar edged out a 23-14 victory.
The game in Moncton on Saturday kept fans on the edge of their seats during much of the time, but the Titans, led by a powerful defense and the running skills of Owen O’Neal and Riley Estabrooks, spelled the difference.
O’Neal hit the 200-yard rushing mark once again and added a touchdown, while Estabrooks crossed into TD land on two occasions. For the first half, however, it could have been anybody’s game.
Memories of five years ago when the Titans fell 14-13 to MacNaughton on a missed conversion for the title rebounded, as the first half came down to the final seconds with the Titans down 14-13, but Estabrooks lofted a punt through the end zone for the tying point.
O’Neal notched his touchdown to up the count to 21-14 and Joe Carpenter added a field goal to complete the scoring while the defense kept Moncton at bay.
Asked how he feels going into the championship game on Saturday, coach O’Neal said: “Well, we have come this far so we just may as well finish the job.”
Many fans are questioning the decision by the NBIAA to move the championship game to Fredericton. This appears to be another “questionable” decision by the governing body.
“What it really means is that two teams will have to ride buses to Fredericton and all fans of both schools will have to find a way to get to the capital when we simply could have gone to Riverview and there would have been little disarray.”
Fortunately, the Titans will have all but one of their players back in the lineup and ready to play. This includes deJesus, Smith and Prescott, but, of course, Oliver Longpre will remain on the sidelines, still recovering from major injuries sustained while competing for Team N.B. earlier this year.
“Can you just imagine if we had Oliver at his best to go along with Owen and Riley,” said O’Neal. “That would have been the perfect ground attack, one that would not have been stopped.”
But the veteran mentor knows the game well and he has confidence his boys will have enough left in the tank to bring more joy to Sackville. While they may have restricted numbers, many can and do play both ways, ensuring a tight defense as well as a strong attack.
Thus, it is anticipated the city of Fredericton will feel a rush of football fever this Saturday when all three high school divisions play championship games there. And among the throng will be dozens and dozens of fans from “down by the Marsh” dressed in school colours and proving once again to be the 13th man on the field.