X-Men repeat as AUS Loney Bowl champions

Courtesy Nick Pearce
Courtesy Nick Pearce

Antigonish, N.S. - The StFX X-Men are the 2016 Subway AUS Loney Bowl champions. Led by game MVP Christian Ridley (Dubai, UAE), the X-Men made it back-to-back conference titles with a 29-8 victory over the Mount Allison Mounties Saturday afternoon at StFX Stadium.

The teams battled in the championship contest for the second consecutive campaign.

X-Men head coach Gary Waterman, the AUS coach of the year commented, "We are very excited to win the Loney Bowl championship here on our home field. I am very happy."

Ridley, with two touchdowns in the game for the X-Men, echoed his thoughts, saying "It was exciting. It was my first year at X last year so to be a part of that first championship win in 19 years was surreal, and to now win it at home is just again surreal. It is momentous for the school, for the community and I couldn't be happier to be a part of this family."

Ridley was quick to give credit to his teammates, commenting "The momentum was up and down in the first quarter, but we were able to stick it out. My touchdowns were scrappy plays, one off Kaion [Julien-Grant]'s huge return and the other off Dejuan Martin's nice run, but really it was the whole offense coming together for those plays."

It was the visitors who opening the scoring in the game. On the opening possession, Ryan Lambert (Grimsby, ON) capped a 12-play, 55-yard drive, with a 40-yard field goal to give the Mounties a 3-0 edge. Quarterback Jakob Loucks (Cornwall, ON), the AUS rookie of the year, keyed the almost five-minute march with two rushing first downs on third-and-short plays.

After the X-Men went two-and-out, on offense, conference all-star punter Kieran Burnham (Cambridge, ON) penned the Mounties deep in their own zone. Led by a coverage sack from defensive lineman Mete Konya (Osnabrueck, GER), the X-Men forced a punt. On that play, Lambert conceded a safety to make it 3-2 for the Mounties. 

On the next Mount Allison possession, Loucks was injured and left the game. He was replaced by Graham Kelly (Burlington, ON) at quarterback.

With the X-Men driving to put more points on the scoreboard, Donovan Glave (Brampton, ON) thwarted that effort with a sack of AUS MVP Tivon Cook (Scarborough, ON).

The Mounties went back to the offense, from their own four-yard line, after another terrific punt from Burnham. After the Mount Allison offense stalled, Lambert conceded another safety, which gave the home team their first lead - 4-3.

Early in the second quarter, the X-Men offense started to put some first downs together, but the Mounties' defensive line pressured Cook, which led to an errant throw and interception from defensive back Avery Maloney (Ottawa, ON).

On the following StFX offensive series, Cook connected with Kaion Julien-Grant (Toronto, ON) for a 42-yard pass and catch, but defensive back Devante Sampson (Mississauga, ON) stripped the receiver. Mountie lineman Jesse Myers (Burlington, ON) hustled more than 60 yards to make contact with the loose ball, before it rolled out of bounds, giving the visitors possession and a first down.

After the Mount Allison offense could not capitalize, the X-Men took over with Cook connecting on a 46-yard play with receiver Dejuan Martin (Scarborough, ON). On the next play, Ridley soared for a TD reception. With a Jonathan Heidebrecht (Camrose, AB) point after, StFX took a 11-3 advantage.


With another conceded safety by Lambert, the X-Men lead increased to 13-3.

Late in the first half, keyed by a highlight reel punt return from Grant, the X-Men went back to the offense deep in the Mountie end of the field. On the next play, Cook found a wide open Ridley for their second TD connection of the first half. With another Heidebrecht point after, the X-Men took a 20-3 advantage to the locker room.

In that first half, the Mounties lost their second quarterback, with Kelly not returning after an injury. They ended the second quarter with running back Quinn LeBlanc (Calgary, AB) playing quarterback.

Early in the third quarter, Lambert hit a 41-yard field goal to trim the X-Men lead to 20-6.

Heidebrecht responded, from 48 yards, to give the X-Men a 23-6 edge.

On the final play of the third quarter, the sophomore placekicker hit an 18-yard chip shot to make it 26-6 for the home side. A screen pass from Cook to Tyler Wilson (Edmonton, AB) was the key play of the drive.

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Mounties received a spark from the return of Loucks, who had been taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons. On his first play from scrimmage, he connected with Malik Richards (Brampton, ON) on a deep pass, which put the ball at the X-Men's one-yard line. StFX's defense stood tall, on the ensuing three plays, and took possession back on downs.

A short time later, the Mounties got the ball back, when a deflected Cook pass landed in the arm of Myers, who made a return deep into the X-Men's zone. Led by a third-down tackle of Loucks by linebacker Mike Miller (Ottawa, ON), the X-Men created another turnover on downs.

After the X-Men couldn't engineer anything, on offense, Burnham conceded a safety to make it 26-8. StFX wrapped up the scoring on a 12-yard field goal from Heidebrecht, with less than two minutes left in regulation.

Coach Waterman noted, "It wasn't one of our cleanest games, we had two challenges we thought we were faced with; being off for the bye week and playing a team who we had beaten soundly the week before, as we knew they were going to make some changes. The first half we couldn't get any rhythm, I was hoping to get more rhythm for the second half but the game seemed to be an odd game with their quarterback going down, then their second quarterback going down and the quarterback coming back, so there was a lot of outside drama in the game. But you've got to be happy with a win, you go in trying to win games and win championships and it's not easy, beating a tough team like Mount A again wasn't a simple thing."

The X-Men outgained the Mounties 363-219 in total offense.

Cook finished 20-for-29 for 264 yards, while Jordan Socholotiuk (Fort McMurray, AB) carried the ball 19 times for 102 yards for the X-Men.

Through the air, Julien Grant and Greg Nugent (London, ON) had six catches apiece, for 67 and 53 yards, respectively. Martin collected 76 yards, on three catches, while Ridley added 48 yards, also on three grabs.

On seven total returns - both kickoffs and punts - Martin finished with 152 yards. His longest scamper, on special teams, was 57 yards. 

For the Mounties, Loucks - his team's player of the game - completed five of 16 passes, for 100 yards, while Chris Reid rushed for 110 yards on 27 carries. Richards had two catches for 42 yards.

Defensively, Kyle Forde (Ajax, ON) led StFX with eight tackles, while Dylan Bell (Brockville, ON) and Hayden Peters added 7.5 and six, respectively. 

For Mount Allison, Kyle Horsman recorded a game-high 10 tackles, while Sampson and Glave added 6.5 apiece.

With the win the X-Men advance to the Mitchell Bowl where they will play at the Canada West champion's school on Saturday, Nov. 19. They await the winner of Calgary and UBC.

The winner of that match-up will play for the Vanier Cup on Saturday, Nov. 26 at Tim Horton's Field in Hamilton, Ontario.