Kâté Braydon photo/Telegrah-Journal

Saint John gridders looking to make history this weekend

by RON BARRY - Friday, November 7, 2014

This article is courtesy of TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL

SAINT JOHN It's a tale of two schools separated by a few city blocks within the south- central peninsula boundaries, but with a similar goal in mind.

Closer to the harbour is Saint John High School, whose football team - the Greyhounds - will attempt to become the first-ever Southern Conference team to win the New Brunswick High School Football League's AAA 12-Man Division.

Closer to the historic King's Square and Loyalist Burial Ground is St. Mal-achy's Memorial High School, whose football team - the Saints - have an opportunity to capture their first-ever 10-Man Division provincial championship.

Those are the stakes as the curtain comes down Saturday on another scholastic grid season at Moncton's Rocky Stone Field. First up are the Saints, who have a high-noon showdown against the undefeated Goliath that is the hometown L'Odyssee Olympiens.

Next up are the Greyhounds and their rematch against the Moncton High Purple Knights. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00p.m.

Ever since Saint John High held its first summertime practice, head coach Dave Grandy had a hunch the 2014 version of the Hounds might have opportunities for special moments. None match what the team can achieve Saturday.

"The writing has been on the wall for some time that it could come down to these two teams," said Grandy.

"We are well aware of the history attached to this game - I'm getting calls from former players saying 'no pressure, no pressure,' but it's all good."

The Greyhounds won the teams' only meeting this season - 34-27 in September .

The loss is the only scar on an otherwise solid campaign for the 8-1 Purple Knights, who advanced to the final by eliminating two-time reigning champion Fredericton High Black Kats 35-16.

It also marks the 21st appearance in the title game for MHS, which has 12 league banners - two behind both FHS and intercity rival Harrison Trimble High Trojans.

Saint John High has been to the championship dance three times, but never won.

Its last appearance came in 2008 when it fell 33-14 to another Moncton school, the Bernice MacNaughton High Highlanders. Southern Conference teams are 0-9 overall in 12-Man AAA title games - joining SJHS are the Simonds High Seabees (0-5) and the Hampton High Huskies (0-1). Grandy would like nothing more than to end that drought.

"We were also undefeated when we went against MacNaughton," said Grandy, whose Greyhounds dominated the Riverview High Royals 35-3 in semifinal action last Friday."It's similar to this season in that we also beat Riverview in the 2008 semifinal. We'd like to change the final outcome this time around."

An interesting quirk is the fact that Saint John High, the province's top-seeded team with a perfect 9-0 record, will nonetheless take on the persona of road warriors since the Purple Knights will be playing what amounts to a home game at Rocky Stone.

"The showcase was put in Moncton years ago during a time when other cities did not have turf fields," said Grandy.

"Although that has changed, we haven't been able to get enough people on board to get it all together and bring the showcase to Saint John.

"It's nice to have home-field advantage, but it doesn't matter if we're on the road or at home.

We've had a one-game-at-a-time approach all season and we're looking to have our best game of the year on Saturday."

Although Saint John High has not won the AAA 12-Man title, it did go to the AA championship game three times from 2001-03, winning once with a 19-6 triumph over Harbour View High Vikings in 2003.

For Grandy, this is a different team, a different season and a different title.

"The kids are excited - they can't wait to play," said the coach. "We're looking forward to playing some smash-mouth football. It's a historic weekend, not only for us, but for St. Macs, too. We'll give it our best shot."

Meanwhile, St. Malachy's head coach Travis MacKenzie understands the task at hand in the 10-Man Division final: keeping the Olympiens ' offensive juggernaut in check. L'Odyssee High is 7-0 and has racked up 495 points - just shy of 71 per game.

When the two teams met Sept. 12, the Saints were on the receiving end of a 58-19 spanking. MacKenzie said they have improved since the early-season encounter.

"We are a completely different team than we were two months ago," said MacKenzie.

"That was the first game at the high school level for a lot of guys. We've improved by leaps and bounds as a team. I think we'll see that on Saturday."

A cursory glance at the numbers support MacKenzie's assertion: the Saints are 6-1 in their other seven games, averaging 38 points an outing.

Most impressive has been their defensive body of work - they have allowed only five points per game over seven outings and are coming off a stingy 19-1 triumph at St. Stephen against the Spartans in semifinal playoff action last Saturday, avenging an earlier 14-13 loss to the border gridders.

One thing is for certain - one of these schools will raise their first-ever NBIAA football banner. The Olympiens appeared in their first 10-Man final last year, but were drubbed 66-13 by the Huskies. They evened that score last weekend, beating Hampton High 64-6 in semifinal play.

The Saints have also played in one previous Nick Desilets Memorial Trophy final, falling 33-18 to the Spartans in 2007.

"We've put in perspective for the players just how much they are writing St. Malachy's football history,"said MacKenzie.

"They are well aware of it - it's huge for the football program, and the school."

So, the questions begs to be asked: how do the Saints beat this Goliath?

"L'Odyssee is extremely well coached - it's a well-run program," said MacKenzie. "We need to play a sound game and take care of the football.

"We need to outwork our opponents. And, we are definitely letting the boys know they need to play with their heart on every down. "When the final whistle blows, the boys have to feel like they left everything on the field. "That will be the difference between winning and losing."