By John DeCoste
The Horton Griffins settled for fourth place in the Scotia Division of NSSAF football, following a 36-33 loss to the J.L. Ilsley Judges Nov. 2 in Wolfville.
In as entertaining a high school football game as one is likely to see, J.L. Ilsley overcame an 11-point deficit after three quarters to score the come-from-behind win courtesy of a pair of late touchdowns.
J.L. Ilsley jumped out to a 16-0 lead early in the second quarter, only to see the Griffins score 19 unanswered second-quarter points for a 19-16 halftime lead.
Cam Davidson opened the scoring for Horton with a 37-yard touchdown run. The Griffins made it 16-9 with a safety and 16-12 with a Diego Oliviera field goal, then took the lead for the first time on a 20-yard touchdown run by Zack Gouthro.
After intermission, the Griffins took a 26-16 lead on a nine-yard scoring pass from Kyle McMullin to Michael Boylen, which came on a play made possible by a long gain by Boylen on a fake punt.
The Judges responded with a touchdown of their own, but the convert attempt failed, leaving the Griffins with a 26-22 lead.
Horton took over the ball on its one-yard line, and McMullin drove the offense 114 yards – the length of the field – capping the drive with a 15-yard scoring pass to Boylen. Oliviera’s convert gave Horton a seemingly comfortable 33-22 lead.
J.L. Ilsley, as it turned out, was far from finished as quarterback Ben LeBlanc marched his team down the field, culminating in a touchdown pass to Andre Brady. The convert by Joe Stuckles made it 33-29 with 13:04 left on the clock.
About eight minutes later, LeBlanc found Brady again to give the Judges back the lead, which after the convert, stood at 36-33 with 5:46 remaining.
The Griffins had their chances, but an Oliviera field goal attempt went wide left. In the final minute, with Horton on the march, the Judges’ Eric Baldridge picked off a McMullin pass to snuff out the Griffins’ chances.
“It was a very entertaining game that could have gone either way,” Horton head coach Alec Hyndman said. “That’s been the case with each of our three losses this season,” which were by a total margin of 13 points.
Hyndman was extremely proud of McMullin, whose stats were impressive for the high school level – 19 of 25 completions for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
He acknowledged LeBlanc played a strong game as well.
“We weren’t expecting him to play that well; he hadn’t shown that all season. He really took it away from us.”
Hyndman also had praise for Brady, whose two late TD receptions were the difference in the game.
To Hyndman, the performance of the Horton defense was disappointing.
“We got beat deep three different times, which is uncharacteristic for our defense,” he said.
With their fourth-place finish in the Scotia Division, the Griffins earned themselves a first-round playoff meeting with the same Judges Nov. 9 at Burnside.
“I’m feeling good about the playoffs.” Hyndman said. “If we play like we’re able, I really don’t see them beating us next time. We’re a lot better team than we were at the first of the season.”
He added that McMullin took the loss hard.
“I told him we’d be playing (the Judges) again Friday, and he said, ‘that’s the best news I’ve heard all day’,” Hyndman said.
The other two Valley teams in action this past weekend didn’t fare any better. Avon View dropped a 28-8 decision to Halifax West Nov. 3 in Windsor, and NKEC lost 62-7 to Cole Harbour Nov. 4 on the Burnside turf. Avon View finished the regular season with a 1-7 record, while the Titans finished 0-8, out of playoff contention.
The short-staffed Titans began the game with just 25 healthy players, and by the end, had just 14 fully healthy players. Josh Fogarty completed a 50-yard scoring pass to Jordan Martin for NKEC’s lone touchdown.
NKEC head coach Scott Pope remarked that his players “were beaten up and tired, but never quit, and haven’t quit all year despite a very tough season.”
He was “very, very disappointed” that Cole Harbour chose to run up the score in the final quarter.
The Scotia Division playoff games are all this weekend at Burnside, with the top four teams and the bottom four teams playing off.
Besides the Griffins and Judges, Avon View will meet Cole Harbour Saturday and Central Kings will take on Dr. J.H. Gillis Sunday.