Kâté Braydon photoTelegraph Journal

New season brings new goals for Greyhounds

by RON BARRY - Friday, September 12, 2014

This article is courtesy of TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL

In the 51 years that the New Brunswick High School Football League has had a 12-man division, no Saint John-area school has ever hoisted the Ed Skiffington Trophy as provincial champions.

Not once.

In the 1990s, the Simonds High Sea-bees played in five finals and got close twice - they lost 21-17 and 28-21 in back-to-back title games in 1990 and '91 against the Fredericton High Black Kats.

In 2003, the Hampton High Huskies moved up to the 12-man conference after two consecutive provincial championships in the 10-man division, but lost 17-7 to the Black Kats in the final.

Saint John High is the last southern New Brunswick school to reach the 12-man final. The Greyhounds did so in 2008, but fell 33-14 to the Bernice Mac-Naughton High Highlanders of Moncton.

The 'Hounds also reached the final in 1979 and 1981, but the mug named after the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame member who led the charge to organize a provincewide high school football league in the early 1960s remains as elusive then as it does today.

As teams prepare for Week 2 of the 2014 season, it's premature to make the call whether a southern high school is a title contender. Already though, the Greyhounds have achieved one of their goals: they ran roughshod over the Leo Hayes St. Mary's Lions 53-13 last week in their season opener, erasing the stench of a 30-19 playoff setback to the Lions in 2013.

Running back MacGregor Knox, who was a wrecking ball on offence with touchdown runs of 35, 15 and 15 yards, said it was a promising way to begin the 2014 campaign.

"The boys came out ready to play," said the five-foot-seven, 180-pound athlete. "We had a few mistakes, but we pulled through and had a big win. We were eliminated in the playoffs by Leo Hayes last year and we wanted to beat them this season, so we achieved that goal."

It's likely the Greyhounds will get a better feel for where they stand in the league's hierarchy on Friday when the Moncton High Purple Knights (1-0) come to town for a 7 p.m. kickoff at the Canada Games Stadium.

"Moncton High looks good - I think they're ranked number one coming into the year," he said of the Purple Knights, who opened their seasonal account with a convincing 35-0 victory over MacNaughton."We have a great group of guys - we have had a great turnout and everyone is working hard in practice. We're going to give it our best shot."

The 12-man conference features two divisions of six teams. Joining Saint John in the Southwest Division are the Seabees, two-time reigning champion Black Kats, Leo Hayes, the Oromocto High Blues and the Kennebecasis Valley High Crusaders of Quispamsis. Eastern Division teams besides the Purple Knights are MacNaughton and the Harrison Trimble High Trojans of Moncton, the Tantramar High Titans of Sackville, the Riverview High Royals and the Mathieu-Martin Matadors of Dieppe.

Teams play divisional opponents once and have two crossover contests for a seven-game regular season. The top four teams in each division advance to quarter-final playoff games, setting the stage for crossover semifinals and the big enchilada - the 52nd Ed Skiffington Trophy championship game Nov. 8.

The Greyhounds-Purple Knights' fixture is one of six crossover games on tap this weekend. Other 7 p.m. starts Friday have Kennebecasis Valley (1-0) in Moncton to face the Highlanders (0-1) and Harrison Trimble (0-1) at Fredericton's Scotia North Field to play the host Lions (0-1). Three games have 1 p.m. kickoffs Saturday - the Blues (0-1) visit Sackville to play Tantramar (1-0), the Black Kats (1-0) visit Riverview to play the Royals (0-1) while Mathieu-Martin (1-0) travels to Simonds High School in Saint John to face the Seabees (0-1).

Meanwhile, the 10-man conference will field six teams after Rothesay High bowed out for 2014. Teams play six regular-season games with the top two schools earning byes to the conference semifinals as the remaining four schools play sudden-death games in the first round - third place versus sixth place and fourth place versus fifth place. The 13th annual Nick Desilets Memorial Trophy final will be played Nov. 8.

Action kicks off this weekend with three games - St. Malachy's Memorial High Saints travel to Moncton's Rocky Stone Field for a 7 p.m. date Friday against L'Odyssee Olympiens while Sussex Regional High Sonics hit Saint John to battle the Harbour View High Vikings at 7 p.m. at Millidgeville's tri-field complex. On Saturday at 1 p.m., the St. Stephen High Spartans visit Hampton to play the Huskies, who are the reigning champions after they pounded L'Odyssee 66-13 in the 2013 10-man final.

As a 17-year-old Grade 12 student, Knox is one of many players expected to provide veteran leadership for the Greyhounds. He's a multi-sport athlete and is versatile on the gridiron, as evidenced by his selection to the 2013 league all-star team - not at running back but as a defensive back.

"I play on both sides of the ball sometimes," he said. "When the games are close I'll play defensive back and help the guys out. It can get tiring, but I'll do it as much as I can. I'd have to say that offence is my number one choice, but I don't mind playing defensive series."

Saint John head coach Dave Grandy liked what he saw against Leo Hayes and understands that it's especially important to have veteran leadership on the field at the high school level. Joining Knox on offence are players like brothers Gordon (quarterback) and Matt Brown (receiver), who hooked up for two majors to complement Knox's ground attack against the Lions. The defence is anchored by linemen Jerrad Fawcett and Jarred Price, along with linebackers Louis McCluskey and Adam Hachey.

"This core group in the defensive box are Grade 12 players … we're pretty happy with the way they played last week," said Grandy. "They are the veterans on the team, so this is their time to step up. Coming into the season we knew we had a couple of key players coming back, but we're still a young team."

As for Knox, the head coach likes what the young man brings to the field.

"MacGregor is a good athlete and has pretty much played everything at the varsity level," said Grandy. "He'll play football, hockey, soccer and rugby - he's a well-rounded athlete. He has decent speed and he plays physical. He is a good technical tackler on defence and he can run with the ball. He likes the physical style of football, which is what we like to play."

In conversation, it's clear that Knox places team goals ahead of personal accolades.

"We want to achieve our goals," he said."We want to make the playoffs and go as far as we can this season. We have veterans on offence and defence leading the younger guys, who are shaping up to be good football players. This is our last year as Grade 12s and we are motivated to give it all we have, as veterans. And, we know the younger players want to help out. It will take a complete team effort to succeed."