By John DeCoste
A hard-fought 17-9 win over the Saint Mary’s Huskies Nov. 10 earned the Acadia Axemen their second straight Atlantic University Football Conference title.
Strong northeast winds made most offensive plays a challenge in the Loney Bowl game in Wolfville, but the Axemen managed enough offence to win and defensive unit did the rest.
After a scoreless opening quarter, Saint Mary’s opened the scoring on a 34-yard Brett Lauther field goal early in the second quarter.
Conference MVP Kyle Graves then marched Acadia down the field, capping the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Renaud. Ryan Begin’s convert gave the Axemen a 7-3 lead they would not relinquish.
Lauther kicked a 49-yard field goal to bring the Huskies within one, but a 12-yard Begin field goal on the final play of the first half brought the Axemen a 10-6 lead.
After halftime, Lauther’s third field goal of the game, this time from 35 yards, again brought Saint Mary’s to within one point at 10-9, but the Axemen defence made sure that was the closest the Huskies would get.
Playing with the wind in the fourth quarter, Acadia forced Lauther to concede a pair of two-point safeties, then rounded out the scoring on a 28-yard Begin field goal with 47 seconds left on the clock.
Acadia finished with 321 yards of total offence, more than half of it by AUFC Rookie of the Year Thomas Troop. The 18-year-old Alliston, ON, native rushed for a net 181 yards on 28 carries to earn game MVP honours.
On a tough day for passing the ball, Graves completed 10 of 24 for 110 yards and the one touchdown. He was also intercepted once in the fourth quarter, but the Axemen defence made sure Saint Mary’s didn’t take advantage.
Defensive squad rules
Other than Troop’s rushing performance – which included several long runs from scrimmage – the Acadia defence was the story of the game.
After a slow start, the Axemen defence dominated the final three quarters, holding Saint Mary’s to just 97 yards in total offence.
Huskies‘ quarterbacks Jean Legault and Drew Jacobson completed only one pass all afternoon. SMU’s Michael Dawes did have 94 rushing yards, but most of them came early, and he was held in check in the second half.
Drew Morris had four solo and 13 assisted tackles and Jesse St. James had a huge game with five solo and four assisted tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss (for total losses of 23 yards) and a pair of quarterback sacks.
Kirby Fletcher and Aaron King also had sacks as the Axemen put pressure on the Huskies’ offence, especially on Legault, all afternoon.
“Our defence was the key,” head coach Jeff Cummins said after the game. “They played ‘lights out’ the last three quarters, shut them down completely.”
Defensive coordinator Shad McLachlan agreed. “It’s not necessarily that our defence had to win the game, but we knew we’d have to play well in order for us to win.
“Our defence was the key. They played ‘lights out’ the last three quarters, shut them down completely. - Coach Jeff Cummins
“It took us a little while to settle down, but once we did, the guys played fantastic.”
In particular, Acadia “shut down the run, which was our number one goal going in.”
Cummins also had praise for the Acadia offensive line, which did a great job opening holes for Troop and giving Graves the time he needed to run the offence.
“They have a good defence,” he said of the Huskies. “They gave us a few headaches, and the wind was a huge factor, both in terms of throwing and kicking the ball.”
With the victory, the Axemen move on to face Université Laval in the Uteck Bowl, Nov. 17 in Quebec City. A
sked the keys to that game, Cummins said, “we can’t turn the ball over on offence, and defensively, we can’t give up the big play.
“Laval is a team that takes advantage of your miscues, especially playing on their home field,” he said. “The goal for us will be to not make any mistakes.”