Football battle shapes up
Moncton, Riverview, Tantramar will all rely on mix of new, experienced players
Published In the Times-Transcript on Sept. 2, 2008
Appeared on page B4
With a big returning class and a promising new crop of rookies, Moncton High Purple Knights are approaching this year's high school football season with a sense of optimism and a very simple team focus.
"Just get better everyday," said head coach John Allanach. "That's our team's goal."
It's a simple mantra and one the club hopes to follow as they aim for a playoff spot following a 2-4 campaign last season that saw them miss the postseason.
The coach says veteran linebacker Brett Gray and defensive back Colin Irving will be called upon to bring experience and leadership to this year's Purple Knights squad.
On the other side of the ball, Allanach points to offensive lineman Shawn Clements and wide receiver Same Zeid as players he expects to have big seasons.
With a team strength likely being their offensive line, Allanach adds that the team weakness might be simply mental.
"Our team weakness is our past record and thinking about the past. If they think about the past we're just not moving forward. We want to get better every day and I think a weakness of ours might be when players focus on previous year's records and kind of set their minds on it," he said. "We want to get away from that."
Moncton got off to a good start in their season with a 21-16 exhibition victory last weekend against the Hampton Huskies of the western conference. With a first week bye, Moncton will have to wait until Sept 12 to begin its season, when they host the Mathieu-Martin Matadors at Rocky Stone Memorial Field at 4 p.m.
Football is as popular as ever at Riverview High and the Royals are hoping it translates into another playoff berth this season.
Head coach Guy Messervier says for the first time he can remember, the team had to make cuts this season.
"I think it's a good sign. It's a sign that football is popular and is growing. You hate to cut people, but you can't keep 50 players because it just makes too many people unhappy," he said.
"We're trying to keep a good number but also we'd like them to play as well and not just sit on the bench."
Messervier hopes his older players can help out those making the jump to high school play.
"(Experience) is very valuable, it makes a big difference. The step from bantam to high school is huge, even though we have great programs here in Riverview. The coaches do a real good job at the lower level, but it's still a big step when you come to high school," he said.
Grade 12 linebacker Nevarre Sokolowski is expected to be a key part of the Riverview defensive corps, as well as third year safety Cameron Wilson.
The team will also put the offensive onus on new quarterback Jon Stevens, who is a converted wide receiver.
"He's never played the position before, but we thought he had the mental capacity to play there and the demeanor. He's somebody that won't lose his composure if things don't go right," Messervier said. "He's taken on the challenge and he's up for it."
Riverview also boasts one of the league's top kickers in Matt Archibald, who was an all-star last season and according to his coaches has kicked field goals as far as 55 yards in practice.
The Royals finished with a 3-4 overall record last season and while perhaps not considered favorites to win a provincial championship, the team has the playoffs in mind.
"The kids don't practice two hours a day, five days a week to lose the game. Ultimately it's about winning but sometimes it doesn't always come out that way," Messervier said. "But we're focused on winning some football games this year and I know next year we'll probably be in a better position, but we're not going to wait until next year."
Head coach Scott O'Neal says it's the same old story for the Tantramar Titans this season.
"Our goal is always to play tough football and try to pound some teams -- that's kind of always been our thing," he said. "You play physical football and good things usually happen. "We had a tough camp, we beat these guys up and made them hit a lot and they're ready to finally hit someone else."
Tantramar finished 5-1 last season and beat Harrison Trimble in the first round of the playoffs before being eliminated by Fredericton.
For a repeat of last season's strong performance the team will have to rely on quarterback Zach Fisher, running back Tyler Nadolyny and receiver Chris Wheaton on offense. On defence it will be linebacker Max Milner, as well as contributions from many first year players on both sides of the ball.
"We have a very young crew. We're going to have a lot of rookie starters, but it's rookies that are ready to play. It might take a couple weeks to get these guys going, but I think what we have coming in is good talent," O'Neal said.
A big factor for the team will be avoiding injuries, as the team has low numbers and is shooting to have a dressed roster of 25 for each game.
The team's head coach adds that he hopes some of the new players will add not only skill, but intangibles to the Titan's playoff push.
"I think we're actually bigger this year than we've been in a long time. We usually can't intimidate teams with size, as we're usually one of the smaller teams, but we have a couple of big kids out that are aggressive," he said. "I think our only weakness is just our inexperience. It's hard to go into any game having nine guys on defence and maybe six guys on offence who haven't played before."
Despite the inexperience, O'Neal says the team's goal is simple.
"We want to win. We play Riverview Friday and we want to send a message that we're here to play. That's kind of our early season goal," he said.
Riverview and Tantramar lock up Friday at 4 p.m. in Riverview to open the season. Other week one games on Friday include Mathieu-Martin hosting Harrison Trimble at 4 p.m. and MacNaughton hosting Odyssée at Rocky Stone at 7 p.m.
MacNaughton aims to keep high school football title
Highlanders open season Friday against L'Odyssée
Published In the Times-Transcript on Sept. 2, 2008
Appeared on page B4
Expectations are high and with good reason.
The Bernice MacNaughton Highlanders will set out to win their third straight provincial high school football championship this season, despite losing roughly half the players from last year's championship team.
"You try to win every game, but realistically we're just trying to make the playoffs. We lost a lot of guys on our team from last year and our goal is to try to finish first in our conference," said Highlanders head coach Ed Wasson. "Whether that's 6-0 or 4-2, it doesn't matter as long as we're fighting for one of the top spots in the conference. Record doesn't really matter as a goal."
Last season, Bernice MacNaughton played to a perfect 9-0 record and capped off the year with a 23-0 provincial championship victory over the Fredericton High Black Kats. It was a rematch of the 2006 provincial final, when MacNaughton downed Fredericton 10-7. For the team to continue its success, Wasson says a lot of new players will be forced to pick up the slack, with roughly half of the team comprised of new players -- including most of the defensive corps.
"We've got a lot of good kids up from bantam and the coaches are earning their pay cheques at the moment," Wasson said.
The coach points to third year player Scott Kelly, who will be called upon to provide veteran leadership and lead the team at quarterback.
On the defensive side of the ball, Wasson says veteran Ben Legere will play a big role with the team.
As all teams in the eastern conference work out kinks and settle on final positions, Wasson says he doesn't necessarily anticipate the team being as dominant as last year, where the club routinely shutdown and shutout their opponents.
"It's very difficult to tell at this stage what our strengths are going to be. We'll work hard to put kids in the right places and be competitive at all parts of the game," Wasson said. "I don't think we'll have any one shining unit this year."
Since entering the 12-man division in 2002, the Highlanders have never missed the playoffs and have won three provincial championships. While the team may have lost many of its veteran leaders, those who oppose the Highlanders still very much see them as the province's top threat.
"The big green and white boys are the team to beat, there's no doubt about it -- MacNaughton is the team," said Mathieu-Martin head coach Shane Mosher. "MacNaughton is still the team to beat, they've got a good culture going over there and just rolling new guys in. It's just a great system rolling there and that's half the key."
Harrison Trimble head coach Mark Teed says their club prefers to only worry about themselves, but concedes that a trip to the top of the Eastern conference will likely have to go through the Highlanders.
"Until someone steps up and proves themselves, they're obviously the top of the league for good reason," Teed said. "They're two time defending champions and there's a lot of things going right for MacNaughton. They are to be commended for it."
As training camps wrap up and teams prepare for the first week of play, Wasson says the Highlanders have a specific plan in mind.
"Our goal is to get 98 per cent of the kids in the positions they need to be in on the team. There's always little tweaks as you go through your season, but you should have the foundation for what you need in place at the end of camp," he said. "We just need time to develop these kids and everything will be fine."
MacNaughton begins its title defence Sept 5 when they host L'Oddyssée at 7 p.m. at Rocky Stone Field. Other week one games on Friday include Harrison Trimble visiting Mathieu-Martin at 4 p.m. and Riverview playing host to Tantramar at 4 p.m. Moncton has a week one bye.
High school football divisions realigned
Published In the Telegraph-Journal on June 24, 2008
Appeared on page B5
FREDERICTON - There is a new look for the Southwest conference football in the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association.
And that means some intense competition for two new faces to the league from last year's lineup.
Kennebecasis Valley, back after one year away from the 12-man loop, and newcomer Sussex are grouped with Hampton, Fredericton, Leo Hayes of Fredericton and Oromocto in Section 1 of the 12-team Southwest conference next season.
St. Stephen, the 10-man champions in 2007, will join Saint John, Simonds, Rothesay, St. Malachy's and Harbour View in Section 2.
Each team will play a single round-robin schedule during the regular season and have the option for an exhibition contest before the season starts.
The provincial championship is slated for Nov. 8.
JMA Armstrong of Salisbury folded its program earlier this year.
Moncton, MacNaughton, Harrison Trimble and L'Odyssee of Moncton, Mathieu-Martin of Dieppe. Riverview and Tantramar of Sackville make up the Eastern Conference.
The changes were prompted by the demise of the 10-man football league last year because not enough teams (eight) registered for that sport. All teams are playing 12-man football in 2008.