Archives - 2019
Football beat goes on for reigning Maritime champs April 18, 2019 8:00 AM ADT No Jon Golacki. No Josh Brown. No problem for reigning Maritime Football League champion Saint John Wanderers. That’s the word out of camp from president Scott McNamee, who declares that all systems are “Go” for the MFL club’s season opener Saturday, May 4 when the Moncton Mustangs make a house call to the Canada Games Stadium in a 4 p.m. kickoff. “Jon Golacki and Josh Brown are absolutely irreplaceable,” said McNamee, “but we have excellent players ready to step in. There’s a consistency level to the executive and the coaching philosophy that allows us to have a good grasp of these types of situations. We know when guys are retiring or leaving and that allows us to plan accordingly. We also do a great job identifying young talent out of the high schools and coaching them up to where they need to be. So yes, the beat does go on for the Saint John Wanderers. “ During his MFL career, Golacki was a 12-time all-star quarterback, a four-time league MVP, a five-time most outstanding offensive player-of-the-year and a recipient of four most outstanding quarterback trophies. On the other side of the line of scrimmage was Brown, a 13-time all-star who earned five most outstanding defensive player awards and four selections as top linebacker. Both athletes were also named to an MFL All-Decade team. The duo were key players as Saint John beat the Mustangs 42-23 in last year’s Maritime Bowl, but as McNamee notes, so are 2018 award winners and returnees Nick Bynkoski (top offensive player), Danny Oliver (top linebacker) and Chris Freake (top defensive back). The team’s player depth, and a staff led by head coach J.J. Joudry and assistants Mike McGarvey (offence) and Chris Gallant (defence) gives McNamee cause to remain confident Saint John will be in the conversation as it eyes a sixth title in seven years. “Nick Bynkoski can do it all – the ball is going to be in his hands a lot this season,” said McNamee, “and Rob Fox is one of the best defensive players in the league – he’s ‘The Man’. There are other core players such as Alex McGarvey, Joel Seale, Jon Atherton, Tyler Kurnew and Brayden McNamee. We’re also excited that Colin Gallagher has returned home from out west. He’s a defensive halfback and he’s primed and ready to go. “We lost players, but our coaches know how to get the younger guys up to speed. Players like Daniel Bell and Colin Sleigh are among the best ones to come out of high school in the past two or three years. The boys are competing in practice for spots – there is competition within the team.” McNamee is also encouraged by the healthy state of the MFL, which will add two franchises – the expansion Southern NB Ducks and the reinstated Nova Scotia Buccaneers – to its stable that includes the Wanderers, Mustangs, the Halifax Harbour Hawks and the Mariners of Prince Edward Island. Teams will pair off to play a home-and-home series against one opponent and single games against the other four entries for a six-game schedule. The Wanderers-Mustangs game is one of three to open the season May 4 – the Ducks get their baptism by fire when they host the Mariners in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Kennebecasis Valley High School while the two Halifax-based teams play in Bedford, N.S. at 4 p.m. The top four teams advance to semifinal playoff action June 15, setting the stage the Maritime Bowl on June 22. McNamee believes there are enough players in the Halifax and Saint John regions to sustain two programs, but that’s as far as he’ll go. “There are good, young players around, but finding enough seasoned football players – that’s the challenge,” he said. “Having another team in Greater Saint John will not affect us that much, other than playing a game without any travel involved. We’re good to go.”
Moncton part of new-look MFL April 27, 2019 11:03 AM ADT The Moncton Mustangs will have some new competition this season. The Maritime Football League has expanded from four to six teams thanks to the startup of the first-year Southern N.B. Ducks of Hampton/Kennebecasis and the return of the Nova Scotia Buccaneers, a Halifax squad that's coming back following a one-year leave of absence. Moncton, the defending champion Saint John Wanderers, Prince Edward Island Mariners and the Harbour Hawks of Halifax formed the league last season and they're all back this season. Teams will play a six-game regular season and the top four will quality for the playoffs in search of the Maritime Bowl. "We feel that as a league we're in a pretty stable spot again," said Eric Sabean, a Saint John native who's entering his 10th season as MFL commissioner. "The success of the teams is largely dependent on the people running them and how successful they can be in getting sponsorship and keeping their finances straight. "When teams are operated properly, that helps a lot with attracting players and it improves the quality of the product on the field. Guys don't want to play for a team if they see it lacks stability. We feel good about all our teams and the way they're being operated." Moncton will begin the regular season by visiting Saint John on May 4 in a rematch of last season's Maritime Bowl. "Six teams is nice," said Sabean. "We're not feeling threatened. When we had four teams if something would've happened to one of them it would've been devastating for the league from an operations standpoint. All the teams have been in training camp since mid January so it shows how seriously the coaches and players take it. "I hope the young guys entering the league understand how much work the older guys put into it to give them a place to play. The older guys who have been around for a long time understand what it takes to compete at this level and they're very committed." Sabean is confident when it comes to the stability of the two new clubs. He points out the Southern N.B. Ducks and Nova Scotia Buccaneers both have money and sponsorship in place and they're both being operated by veteran football people who know what it takes to be successful at this level. Sabean said the Ducks and Buccaneers are reaping the rewards by landing some quality players. He also mentioned that Halifax's other team, the Harbour Hawks, are very well run. "There's enough football players in Halifax that everybody should be concerned about what comes out of there," he said. "I expect both Halifax teams to be competitive and Moncton and Saint John always field strong teams. There should be some good football. I think anybody who watches our games are often surprised by the calibre of play. "Every year, I get an email from someone wanting to join the league and I try to scare people off by telling them about all the requirements. Ninety-nine per cent of them don't go past a couple of initial emails. We want any new teams coming in to be fully aware of the work that's involved. It's about making sure the new teams last and creating stability for the league."
2019 Rogers TV Broadcast Schedule May 2, 2019 8:00 AM ADT Finally, SUMMER IS COMING... (Enough of this winter white walking stuff!) And to celebrate, we have late spring football to get you in the mood! Follow our coverage of the Maritime Football League, as we present 5 regular season games starting Saturday, May 4 at 4pm. There are three NB-based teams in the hunt this year, including last year's champions Saint John Alpine Wanderers, the Moncton Mustangs Football, and a new team for 2019, the Southern NB Ducks Football. We're looking forward to opening kickoff! Watch all games on #Rogerstv Ch10, or streaming on our website at rogerstv.com
Saint John region ushers in a new era of senior football May 3, 2019 8:44 AM ADT Wide receiver Kirklin Burchill (left) and defensive back Matthew Davis (right) don the Southern NB Ducks’ jerseys as head coach Layton Peck (centre) prepares the team for its first-ever Maritime Football League game Saturday against the Island Mariners at Usher Miller Field in Quispamsis. Photo: Courtesy of Southern NB Ducks SAINT JOHN • At one end of the Maritime Football League spectrum is the reigning champion Saint John Wanderers. At the other end is the new kid on the line of scrimmage – the expansion Southern NB Ducks. What happens Saturday when these teams host season openers is anyone’s guess. But whether it takes one quarter or one season, the inevitable is going to happen. A rivalry. “Hey, it’s great for football – for the fans, the teams, the city and the league,” said Saint John president Scott McNamee, a former all-star defensive lineman during his Wanderers’ days in the trenches. “More guys will get to play and as the Ducks continue to grow, the rivalry will become a bigger deal. The Wanderers’ plan is to always be the top team in the league – that mindset’s not going to change. I don’t care who we’re playing - we will not take any team lightly, not the Bucs, the Ducks, no team. We will never take our foot off the gas.” The Ducks will actually open the new campaign by hosting the Island Mariners at Usher Miller Field in Quispamsis in a 1 p.m. kickoff. The Wanderers entertain the Moncton Mustangs at the Canada Games Stadium in a 4 p.m. start between teams that squared off in last summer’s Maritime Bowl. One other game, also a 4 p.m. kickoff, pits the Halifax Harbour Hawks against the reinstated Nova Scotia Buccaneers in Bedford, N.S. MFL teams will pair up for a home-and-home series against one opponent and single games against the other four entries for a six-game regular-season. The top four finishers will advance to the semifinals on June 15, leading to the Maritime Bowl on June 22. Former Wanderer Darcy Barker is the Ducks’ president and can’t wait to help launch this new era of football in the region. “Everything is going well,” said Barker, giving props to the job another former Wanderer, general manager Clifton Richards, did to get the franchise off the ground. “He’s the guy doing all the heavy lifting – he’s pushing us to be better.” The Ducks’ coaching staff will be led by Layton Peck. While Barker understands there will be growing pains in the team’s baptism by fire, he asserts they will bring skill to the gridiron. “We want to make sure teams know they’re in games with us,” said Barker, noting the Ducks have good depth with a 40-man roster. “I don’t think we’re expecting to win every game, but we’re not expecting to lose every game, either. We want to be fast to the ball on defence - overall, we seem to have good team speed. We also want to be a good community team that puts a fun product on the field.” McNamee describes his team’s opener as more of a game-day event with Wanderers’ merchandise available and full-blown concessions anchored by Domino’s Pizza. What happens on the field will also be a treat for football fans. “I know the Mustangs will be coming to town to take back what they think belongs to them,” he said, referring to Saint John’s 42-23 Maritime Bowl victory over a Mustangs’ team that was 7-0 heading into the 2018 title match. “They better be ready for a dogfight. It might be the season opener, but I want fans to know they’re coming to a championship-calibre game – it’s a battle of the top dogs in this league. It will be a tough, tough game. “We’re the team with the bullseye on our backs – teams begin their seasons with the goal of upsetting the Wanderers, whether or not we’re the champs. That’s fine, but we see ourselves as the hunters – always.”
Mix of youth and veterans add up to winning formula for Wanderers May 10, 2019 8:00 AM ADT Saint John Wanderers running back Evan Arnold (49) is among a youth movement that is expected to make an impact with the Maritime Football League’s reigning champions this season. Photo: Courtesy of Josh Wells The Saint John Wanderers learned a few things in their Maritime Football League season-opening 15-8 victory over the Moncton Mustangs last Saturday. First, the Mustangs are thoroughbreds who will be in the MFL championship conversation come playoff time. Second, the Wanderers’ defence can hold the fort when their high-octane offence isn’t chugging on all cylinders. And third, the team’s ideology that covets youth and experience will not be compromised with an unprecedented eighth consecutive Maritime Bowl appearance in the offing. “All that’s so true,” said Wanderers’ president Scott McNamee. “There is a reason why we have played in seven straight finals and are gunning for an eighth – football is built into our lifestyles and has become a year-long proposition. You will lose a game here and there, but we’re not going to give anything up easily – that’s not the Wanderers’ way. What we do on the football field is no accident.” Next up for the Wanderers (1-0) is a 1 p.m. Saturday matinee against Halifax Harbour Hawks (1-0) at the Canada Games Stadium. Other games feature the Southern NB Ducks (0-1) at Moncton’s Rocky Stone Field to play the Mustangs (0-1) on Friday at 8 p.m. and the Island Mariners (1-0) visiting Cole Harbour Turf Field to play the Nova Scotia Buccaneers at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The season opener against Moncton was a prime example of how the Wanderers employ a mix of young players and veterans: · Third-year running back Evan Arnold scored both touchdowns, including a fourth-quarter TD with Saint John trailing 8-7; · The game ball went to veteran linebacker and defensive captain Dan Oliver while player-of-the-game honours went to defensive back Alex McGarvey, a perennial MFL all-star who had an interception and 11 tackles, including a game-saver when he brought down Moncton wide receiver Leslie Greene two yards from end zone with 1.7 seconds on the clock. “I say this over and over: our success is attributed to the veterans who mentor the younger guys,” said McNamee, “and you see the impact that has in practices and games. “It all circles back to head coach J.J. Joudry and assistants Mike McGarvey and Chris Gallant. These guys go above and beyond to ensure everyone is where they need to be come game day. They do an unbelievable job getting this team ready from one season to the next. They make the decisions on who starts and that’s the most difficult thing for us - we have some veterans who aren’t starting, at times, because of the young talent on our roster. We put the best product we can on the field each and every week.” McNamee is most excited about a youth movement that includes Arnold, Colin Sleigh, Daniel Bell and others who benefit from the advancement of provincial youth and high school systems. “Football players are getting better,” said McNamee. “Their knowledge, at a comparable age, is broader than in past years. By the time these kids reach the MFL, they are game ready and will make a difference for years to come.” McNamee said the Wanderers’ mix of youth and veterans will be ready, able and willing to man up against the Harbour Hawks. “Halifax… Halifax will be good, but I assure you we won’t take our foot off the gas until the final whistle blows,” he said. “We want players running to the ball, running through the ball – we want to be the top dogs this year and for years to come. It’s an attitude we have developed and it’s starting to show in the young guys.”
Mariners win opening game of Maritime Football League season May 10, 2019 9:34 AM ADT Island Mariners running back Dillon Fortune throws a stiff arm to a Southern New Brunswick Ducks defender during recent Maritime Football League action in Quispamsis, N.B. Tracey Barker/Special to The Guardian - Contributed QUISPAMSIS, N.B. — Chris (Tex) Mutch hooked up with Allister Nicholson for a touchdown as the Island Mariners scored 29 unanswered points to defeat the Southern New Brunswick Ducks 43-13 to open the Maritime Football League regular season. The second quarter drive came after the host Ducks had cut the lead to 14-13 but missed the extra point Saturday in Quispamsis, N.B. The Mariners responded with a 40-yard bomb from Mutch to Nicholson and a 15-yard run by Dillon Fortune. Then Nicholson beat the defensive back off the snap and Mutch found him for the major. After the Ducks punted and the Mariners turned the ball over on downs, Diangelo Woodside forced a fumble and Mitchell Osmond recovered it for the visitors. Mutch found first-year wide receiver Omzie Fortune for the score to make it 28-13 heading to the fourth quarter. Richard Lush blocked the Ducks field-goal attempt on the next drive to set up Dillon Fortune’s rushing touchdown. Paul Amba capped off the scoring with a rushing TD. The Mariners defence played a critical role in the victory with about eight sacks and multiple turnovers. And it started early. Lush forced a fumble on the Ducks’ first play from scrimmage with Brennan Davis recovering the ball for the Mariners on the Ducks’ 15-yard line. Dillon Fortune leaped into the end zone for the first score of the season.The offence wasn’t on the sidelines long after the play. Cornerback Dennis Brown picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards, but a mishandled handoff by the Mariners gave the host squad the ball back. Consistent tackling by Shayne Nelson, Diangelo Woodside, Rupie Stubbs and Osmond forced a punt and the offence went back to work. Wide receivers Omzie Fortune and Jayden Reid had a few completions and Dillon Fortune’s 40-yard run put the Mariners in scoring position. Mutch called his own number on a fourth-and-goal and hit pay dirt, following a hole created by centre Justin Chandler to make it 14-0. The Ducks took the ensuing kickoff all the way back for a major to cut the lead in half. On the home side’s next possession, the quarterback called his own number multiple times in a drive that led to another score to cut the deficit to 14-13. But that’s as close as the Ducks would get. Brennan Davis converted five of his six extra point kicks for the Mariners. The Island squad travels to Cole Harbour, N.S., Saturday to play the Nova Scotia Buccaneers (0-1) at 4 p.m. Their home opener is Saturday, May 18, when they host the Saint John Wanderers at 4 p.m. at the Terry Fox Sports Complex in Cornwall. The six-team league plays a six-week schedule with the top four teams playing in the semifinals on Saturday, June 15. The championship game is Saturday, June 22.
Youth-laden Ducks set sights on landing first-ever MFL victory May 16, 2019 8:00 AM ADT Running back Nick Lignos and quarterback Jared Laming (8) are among a large group of young players suiting up for the Southern NB Ducks of the Maritime Football League. Photo: Courtesy of Tracey Barker SAINT JOHN • Every game is a big one for an expansion team. That cliché holds true for the Southern NB Ducks as they prepare for their third Maritime Football League game when the Nova Scotia Buccaneers visit Usher Miller Field in Quispamsis on Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff. In a six-team league that calls for a six-game regular season and limits the playoffs to four berths, the Ducks-Bucs matchup is a big deal for the MFL’s newest teams: not only are post-season aspirations in jeopardy, but these 0-2 teams have the opportunity to get into the win column for the first time. “It is a big game – it’s important, in that you don’t want to go winless,” said Ducks’ president Darcy Barker. “And, it’s a must-win if you want to make the playoffs. I’m excited for the game and our young players are excited for the game.” In other Saturday fixtures, an early-season battle for first place will occur in Charlottetown when the Saint John Wanderers (2-0) visit the Island Mariners (2-0) in a 4 p.m. kickoff while the Halifax Harbour Hawks (1-1) visit Moncton’s Rocky Stone Field to face the Mustangs (1-1) at 3 p.m. The youth-laden Ducks have experienced a baptism by fire in the opening two weeks, falling 43-13 to the Mariners and 55-7 to Moncton. The boys have plenty of fight in them, said Barker, but the physicality of the MFL game needs to be experienced as the players go through growing pains. “We are where we thought we’d be – 80 per cent of our players are 25 or younger,” he said. “When you step up to this level and play against men, there’s a physical component that many of our players haven’t experienced before. The guys are coming around though – they are competing every down and I’ve told them a thousand times, ‘you’re going to get better every play’. There have been times in our two games that we’ve really held our own. It’s a physical game and it will take time, but we’ll be fine.” Case in point: in last week’s loss to Moncton, running back Nick Lignos gobbled up chunks of yardage against one of the MFL’s elite defences. “Nick made a heckuva difference - our offensive line was opening holes and he was running well,” said Barker. “He’s only 23 but he’s played rugby for the Saint John Trojans – he’s used to playing against men and you could see it in his style where he was running through tackles.” As Barker continues to watch the development of players such as Lignos, quarterback Jared Laming, slot receiver Kirklin Burchill and defenders Keanan Ganong, Jordan Betteridge and Pudge Miller, he believes the presence of veteran offensive lineman Kurtis Nicholson has been a blessing. “He’s leading the team in the locker room and he’s leading the team on the field,” said Barker, noting the centre is a three-time MFL offensive lineman of the year during his days with the Wanderers. “He calms the guys down in the huddle – it’s great having an all-star like him around.” Barker isn’t certain if the Buccaneers will travel with a full roster, especially on the Victoria Day long weekend, but said the game will provide a measuring stick of where the Ducks are at the mid-point of their inaugural campaign. “They call themselves an expansion team, but a lot of their players have MFL experience,” said Barker. “They’re going to be athletic and from what I understand, they’re going to play hard-nosed football – they run the ball and bring it right to you. We want the boys to have fun, but we want them to battle – we want other teams to respect us. Most of all, we want to build for the future.”
Island Mariners, Saint John Wanderers meet Saturday in first-place showdown May 16, 2019 8:00 AM ADT Quarterback Chris (Tex) Mutch talks to his Island Mariners offence during Saturday’s game in Nova Scotia against the Buccaneers. Tracey Barker/Special to The Guardian - Contributed Both teams have won their first two games of Maritime Football League season CORNWALL, P.E.I. — The Island Mariners are 2-0 as they prepare for their home opener Saturday in Maritime Football League play in Cornwall. The competition gets tougher this week as the undefeated Saint John Wanderers (2-0) come to town for a first-place showdown at 4 p.m. at the Terry Fox Sports Complex. The Michael Miller-coached Mariners ran their record to 2-0 with a 35-6 win over the Nova Scotia Buccaneers on the road Saturday. The visitors held 7-0, 15-0 and 28-0 quarter leads and didn’t punt until the fourth quarter. Veterans Matthew Bruce and Donnie Mitchell recovered a fumble on the Buccaneers first offensive snap of the game. Mariners quarterback Chris (Tex) Mutch found wide receiver Brennan Davis for a 20-yard and the two hooked up again as Davis hauled in a one-handed reception for the major to give the visitors a 7-0 lead. Second-year players Joey Murphy and Jarvis Simmonds combined for tackles for losses on multiple plays on the Buccaneers next drive before Diangelo Woodside and Simmonds sacked the quarterback on third down to force a punt. After an interception gave the ball back to the home side, defensive back Jayden Reid flew through the line of scrimmage and laid a big hit on the Buccaneers quarterback while setting the tone for the rest of the game. In the second quarter, Mutch connected with Nicholson twice and ran for 20 yards behind the blocking Dave Clark before Davis’s field-goal attempt went wide right for a rogue. The Mariners D got the ball right back for the Island squad with rookie J.J. Bernard and Simmonds tackling the running back for a seven-yard loss and forcing a punt. Rookie quarterback Michael Petroschke entered the game for the Mariners and called his own number for 20- and 15-yard gains before hooking up with Davis for the touchdown. Mutch intercepted a pass while playing defence to end the half. Petroschke ran the ball in from 10 yards out to make it 22-0 in the third quarter. The score came after Clark and Davis hauled in 30-yard passes with Davis being taken down on a shoelace tackle on the five-yard line. The defence continued to play well with linebackers Mitchell Osmond and Michael Varis stopping the running backs for losses and linebacker Richard Lush tipping a pass that Simmonds picked off and ran back for the major to make it 28-0.
Speedy receiver/returner brings playmaking abilities to Mustangs June 14, 2019 9:18 PM ADT Receiver/returner Akeem White and the Moncton Mustangs host the Halifax Harbour Hawks in a Maritime Football League semifinal on Saturday. PHOTO: Tanya Everett Photography Akeem White makes the spectacular run look routine. The Moncton Mustangs' speedy receiver/returner has been a regular in the end zone in the Maritime Football League this season. He's one of the reasons the Mustangs are one win away from returning to the league final for the fourth consecutive year. White posted three touchdowns as a returner and also caught three TD receptions in five regular-season games. Not bad for a player who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury. White is coming off scoring three touchdowns - on two receptions and an 87-yard kickoff return - in Moncton's 27-21 win over the defending champion Saint John Wanderers in its regular-season finale last weekend. The 26-year-old - born in Jamaica and raised in Toronto - has returned two kickoffs and one punt for majors this season. "I follow my elite blockers, and as soon as a hole opens up, that's when I go for it. The rest is behind me, I guess," said White, who came to Moncton to play on a basketball scholarship at Crandall University. "The only thing that goes through my mind is taking it to the end zone every time. It's a really exciting feeling." The Mustangs, who finished second in the six-team league with a 5-1 regular-season record, host the third-place Halifax Harbour Hawks (4-2) in a semifinal on Saturday 5:30 p.m. at Rocky Stone Memorial Field. The winner advances to the MFL championship game next week. Moncton won its final five games of the regular season after dropping its opener to Saint John. White is in his third year playing with the Mustangs, but sat out all of last season due to an Achilles injury suffered in a men's league basketball game. He could only watch as rival Saint John recaptured the league title, defeating Moncton 42-23 in last year's final. "I really wanted to be there last year, so that was really difficult, and so was the rehab process," said White, who rejoined the Mustangs for the second game of this season. "I've just tried to take it game by game. The more games I play, the more comfortable the leg gets." While basketball is his first love, White played two seasons of high school football in Toronto and two seasons of CEGEP football at Champlain College in Lennoxville, Que. He met members of the Mustangs while playing flag football at the Moncton SportsDome, and they encouraged him to join the team. Head coach Jason Terris is happy he did. "With his hands and his ability to move well, he's a playmaker for us," Terris said of White. "He's very explosive, and his speed and his mobility are almost unmatched. If you give him an inch, he can take a mile, and he did so last weekend." White said his Mustangs squad is deeply motivated following last year's championship game loss, but won't look past the Harbour Hawks on Saturday. Moncton beat Halifax in a Week 3 regular-season matchup, turning a 9-6 halftime lead into a 23-6 victory. "They're very athletic and the first time we played them, it was pretty close in the first half," said White, a member of the Mustangs' 2017 MFL championship-winning team. "The playoffs are a different atmosphere, and I feel both teams are going to come out strong." First-place Saint John (5-1) is home to the fourth-place Island Mariners (3-3) in Saturday's other semifinal.
Wanderers want to make most of home-field advantage for playoffs June 14, 2019 9:22 PM ADT The late-season return of perennial defensive all-star Josh Brown has boosted the Saint John Wanderers’ chances of repeating as Maritime Football League champions. Photo: Courtesy of Josh Wells SAINT JOHN • Of the 911 points scored in the Maritime Football League this season, there’s a single point that matters most and it belongs to the Saint John Wanderers. Here’s why: Saint John and the Moncton Mustangs finished the MFL’s regular season with 5-1 records. The arch-rivals held serve at home in their head-to-head series – 15-8 in Saint John for the Wanderers and 27-21 in Moncton for the Mustangs. The first tiebreaker is points for-and-against and the math favoured Saint John, 36-35. Translated, the Wanderers became regular-season pennant winners and most importantly, secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Mustangs have designs on avenging their 42-23 loss to the Wanderers in 2018 Maritime Bowl XVII, they will have to do so in Saint John. All because of that one very important point. “Yep, the value of one point - the whole dynamic of these playoffs is centred around that one point,” said Wanderers’ president and hall of famer Scott McNamee. “There’s nothing like home-field advantage, and I do mean nothing. We get great crowd support and we’re tough to beat when we play at home.” When the semifinals open Saturday, the Wanderers will look to reach their eighth consecutive championship game when they host the Island Mariners (3-3) in a 2 p.m. kickoff at the Canada Games Stadium. The Mustangs will try to punch their ticket to a fourth straight final when the Halifax Harbour Hawks (4-2) make a house call to Moncton’s Rocky Stone Field in a 5:30 p.m. date. The winners will meet in the trenches for Maritime Bowl XVIII on Saturday, June 22. McNamee isn’t trying to downplay the Mariners’ ability to give Saint John a run for its money, but acknowledges that first place affords the Wanderers an easier path to the final. The numbers agree: Saint John beat the PEI gridders 35-9 in Charlottetown in their only meeting this season. If the Wanderers hadn’t won the pennant tiebreaker, they would be facing the Harbour Hawks, who tested their mettle in a 27-25 victory in Saint John last month. “Things worked out in our favour, but don’t think we will look past the Mariners,” said McNamee. “They were throwing the ball on us in our first game against them, so we’ll want to make sure we cover all the bases in the buildup to the playoffs. We will take a business-like approach into this game – the guys will be focused.” Wanderers’ head coach J.J. Joudry and assistants Mike McGarvey and Chris Gallant have a bunch of veterans to lead this playoff run, including the late-season return of defensive gem Josh Brown – he’s a 13-time all-star who has earned five most outstanding defensive player awards, four selections as top linebacker and a spot on the MFL’s All-Decade team. “Josh has been a monster for us, just a monster,” said McNamee. “Having Browner back… he’s been playing d-line, he’s been playing linebacker, he’s done some stuff on offence. Most of all, he brings the Josh Brown demeanour – he rallies our team like nobody else in the history of the Wanderers. He leads by example and it’s great to see.” Toss in MFL defensive all-stars such as lineman Rob Fox, linebacker Danny Oliver and halfbacks Chris Freake and Alex McGarvey and it’s easy to see what unit will lead Saint John. “Rob Fox is having a great season – he’s creating all kinds of havoc with his strip-tackling and sacks,” said McNamee. “The defence will lead our charge. Of that, I have no doubt.”
Mustangs Reclaim Maritime Football Championship June 24, 2019 7:52 AM ADT Moncton Mustangs defensive back Israel Ilunga returns one of his three interceptions during the Maritime Football League final against the Saint John Wanderers on Saturday in Saint John. PHOTO: David Chapman The Maritime Football League championship has returned to Moncton. The Moncton Mustangs held off the rival Saint John Wanderers 34-27 in the Maritime Bowl league final on the road on Saturday night. The victory gave the Mustangs their second MFL title in three years and avenged last year's 42-23 loss to the Wanderers in the championship game. The powerhouse teams met in the league final for the fourth consecutive year, with Moncton also winning in 2017. The Mustangs lost to the Wanderers in the opening week of the regular season, but never lost again. They reeled off seven straight wins and beat Saint John twice in a span of three weeks, including in Saturday's title game on the road. They were determined to not let the championship slip away this time. "After we lost in the final last year after going undefeated, there was nothing we wanted more than to win the championship," said Moncton head coach Jason Terris. "To be the champions of our league is something our coaching staff and our players have worked tirelessly on since the last championship game on June 22nd, 2018. "We work really hard in practice. We had extra practices, extra film sessions, and we did all we could to ensure we were as prepared as possible." Turnovers were a huge story in Saturday's game. The Mustangs forced eight turnovers, including three interceptions apiece by Israel Ilunga and Chris Brown. Moncton was leading 10-7 in the second quarter when it received back-to-back big plays from its defence. First, Ilunga returned an interception 64 yards to the end zone for a score. Not long after that, Brown picked off another Saint John pass and returned it 50 yards for a major - and a 17-point Mustangs lead at halftime. Ilunga finished with three interceptions - totalling 112 return yards - and added 2.5 tackles and one fumble recovery. He was chosen the game's most valuable player. Brown posted three tackles to go with his three interceptions, and was named the game's defensive MVP. "Our defence started the game on fire. We brought a lot of pressure, we got to the quarterback and we forced them to make a lot of mistakes. We've got some fantastic defensive backs who were able to get the ball when our defensive line forced (Saint John) to get rid of it," Terris said. "Our whole defence played as a huge cohesive unit. It's been a long time since I've seen a defence execute so well. Scoring those two touchdowns was huge and a big momentum shift for us." The clubs exchanged third-quarter touchdowns - with the Wanderers' Nick Bynkoski tossing an 18-yard strike to Joel Seale, and Mustangs QB Dan Comfort countering with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Leslie Greene - as Moncton took a 31-13 lead into the final quarter. Ben George kicked a 36-yard field goal, his second of the night, to push the Mustangs' lead to 21 points, but the defending champion Wanderers still had a lot of fight left. Bynkoski scored on a five-yard run and later hooked up with Daniel Bell on a 60-yard touchdown pass to bring Saint John within 34-27 with 59 seconds left on the clock. The comeback ended there. The Mustangs recovered the Wanderers' onside kick, and ran out the clock, before celebrating another Maritime championship. After Moncton opened the scoring on a 47-yard field goal by George, Evan Arnold caught a 19-yard TD pass from quarterback Sean Galbraith to pull Saint John in front 7-3. The Mustangs took the lead back later in the first quarter on quarterback Brady Newcomb's 20-yard touchdown pass to Greene, and the visitors never relinquished the lead. Greene caught three passes for 72 yards and two scores for the winners. Alec Pellerin tallied nine tackles, including two for a loss, and four sacks, Kam Bell also had nine tackles and Jerome Tshimpangila contributed 8.5 tackles and one interception for Moncton. "The cliché is defence wins championships, and that really spoke loud and clear," said Terris. "From our defensive line to our linebackers to our defensive backs, everybody showed up to win a championship, and they played like champions."