|Logan Legere of the Bliss Carmen Eagles (in yellow) battles a couple of Lancaster players for a loose ball during provincial pee wee semifinal football action recently at Chapman Field. The Eagles went on to win this game 26-24 enroute to beating Sackville Titans 14-12 last weekend in Moncton to win the provincial title for the second straight year. As a result, the Eagles will travel to Dartmouth, N.S. on Sunday to face the Timberlea Titans for the Maritime pee wee title. The Fredericton Jr. Black Kats are also making their way to Dartmouth to compete for the Maritime bantam title against the Dartmouth Destroyers.|
|Maritime pursuits for local footballers
By Bruce Hallihan
The Fredericton Junior Black Kats couldn't have scripted a better start to the New Brunswick bantam football final last Sunday.
On the first play from scrimmage, Derrick Nickerson raced 75 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and the Kats went on to clobber the Moncton Highlanders 46-0.
"That helps a lot with the confidence of the team," Kats coach David Knott said. "At the same time, for the opposing team that's a big strike. That's not a confidence-booster for any team.
"We had a game plan to come out strong and make them react."
The Kats hope to take one last step on Sunday when they head to Nova Scotia to face the Dartmouth Destroyers for the Maritime championship. In last season's final, the Kats lost 15-14 in overtime to the Antigonish Valley Bulldogs.
Knott, who took over head coaching duties from Mark Dee, has enjoyed coaching the Kats "immensely."
After posting a 5-0-1 regular season record (tying the rival Northside Junior Lions 32-32 on Oct. 2), Fredericton shut out the Lions 25-0 in the Capital Area Minor Football Association final, then downed Hampton 24-14 in the provincial semifinal.
"We're the true definition of a team," Knott said. "Every game we've had a different player or players step up and be huge factors for us. We don't rely on any one player. Our whole offensive line has been outstanding.
"We have good running backs, receivers, defensive backs and linebackers and our defensive line has been solid."
Quarterback Kyle Arsenault fired four touchdown passes against the Highlanders, including a pair to Weston Durling as the Kats opened up a commanding 32-0 halftime cushion.
"Kyle had a slow start to the season, but he's really come on strong," Knott said. "He's making smart decisions."
Nova Scotia teams have a three-month advantage in the age category, so most of their players will be older and, by extension, bigger and stronger.
"It will be our toughest game of the season," Knott said. "Do we have a chance? I'd like to think we do."
What's helped the Black Kats get this far, the coach said, is the push the players on the 12-man squad have received from the backups.
"They've made all of our starters better by pushing them every practice," Knott said. "They've forced our starters to stay focused all the time."
The Kats won't be the only team representing the CAMFA in a Maritime final. The Bliss Carman Eagles will battle the Timberlea Titans in the peewee showdown preceding the bantam title tilt.
The Eagles, who last won the New Brunswick championship in 2002 when they still called Albert Street home, had to work hard to get this far.
They went 4-3 in the regular season, but beat the Nashwaaksis Nordics 30-0 in the city quarter-final, downed the Devon Wildcats 36-0 in the semifinal, then defeated the Oromocto Panthers 30-18 in the final. The Panthers and Wildcats both went 6-1 in the regular season.
In the provincial semifinal, the Eagles trailed the Lancaster Abbies by 10 points with three minutes remaining but rallied for a 26-24 victory.
"We caused a fumble and went about 40 yards for a touchdown," Kenney said, "then, with a little over a minute left, we did an onside kick, recovered it and scored the winning touchdown with 24 seconds left."
That's when Greg Francis got into the end zone on a 14-yard sweep and Bennett Wilson kicked the two-point convert.
The provincial final at Rocky Stone Field in Moncton turned out to be tight, too. Bliss Carman built a 14-0 halftime lead and held on to edge the Sackville Titans 14-12.
"We have no interlocking play," Kenney said, "so they knew about as much about us as we did them. They had one kid, Cody Weeks, who's a really good athlete and he scored both of their touchdowns."
Kenney figures the Eagles will be in tough in the Maritime final.
Francis, who plays middle linebacker and fullback, broke his arm with three minutes left in the Sackville game and will have to watch from the sidelines.
The biggest obstacle, though, is Timberlea's depth and experience.
Bliss Carman is a city team with 25 players whereas the Titans are a club team that traditionally has 50-60 players try out.
"They're 8-0 in their league and they have a lot of older players," Kenney said. "It won't be easy."
The Eagles have two quarterback choices in Adam Marion and Ryker Brennan.
"Adam isn't as mobile but he's a real student of the game," Kenney said. "Ryker gives us some different options with his running abilities. Really, though, it's been a total team effort to get this far. We may use certain players in key situations but, unlike some other teams, everyone gets to play."
Kenney, who's been coaching for 34 years, lauds the support he's received from Bliss Carman principal Peter Steeves, vice principal John Hamilton and athletic director Jamie Chiasson.
"They've been tremendous," he said.