Maritime grid titles at stake
Football: Panthers take on Saints in pee wee with Kats vs. Destroyers in bantam at Knowledge Park Sunday

By Bruce Hallihan

The Maritime peewee and bantam football championship games have been moved to Knowledge Park Drive Field.

The Capital Area Minor Football Association teams hope the trophies don't end up in Nova Scotia.

The Oromocto Panthers will take on the Bedford-Sackville Saints in the peewee final Sunday at noon. The Fredericton Southside Junior Black Kats will battle the Dartmouth Destroyers at 2 p.m. for bantam boys supremacy.

The Maritime championship games were originally slated to be played in Saint John, but were switched when two CAMFA teams made it through.

"Economically it made little sense to have the teams travel to Saint John to play the games," Football New Brunswick president Arliss Wilson said in a release.

Wilson said the Nova Scotia teams didn't care as it's the same distance to either location for them.

The Oromocto team, made up of students from Harold Peterson Middle School, finished the CAMFA middle level league regular season with a 5-2 record, good enough for second place. The Panthers defeated the Northside Nordics from Nasis Middle School 34-0 in the CAMFA semifinal to earn another shot at the undefeated Devon-Pointe Ste. Anne Wildcat-Gladiateurs, the only team to beat them during the season.

The Panthers collected their first CAMFA middle level championship with an 18-6 upset of the Wildcat-Glads, a team composed of students from Devon Middle School and Ecole Sainte-Anne.

With the victory, the Panthers became the first recipients of the newly minted Dan McCullough Trophy named after the third-year B.C. Lions player who began his football career in CAMFA in 1996.

The Panthers weren't done there.

Last Sunday at Canada Games Stadium in Saint John, they beat the Fundy Minor Football champion - and previously undefeated - Lancaster Abbies 22-0.

Riley Spear led the Panthers with two receiving touchdowns. Samuel Brassard ran for another TD and Tyler Feltis rounded out the scoring by kicking two converts.

Jake Riley was named by the Abbies coaches as the Panthers defensive MVP of the game while they gave the offensive MVP award to Spear.

Spear, whose father Steve is Oromocto's head coach, said receiving that honour "was pretty cool," but he takes greater pride in how far the Panthers have come.

"It's been a pretty amazing season," Riley Spear said. "We beat two undefeated teams to get this far. In the game against Lancaster, our first half was really good. We got our three touchdowns and the big lead."

Spear, said he's heard the Saints "have done really well this year, but it's a whole new ballgame Sunday. We don't know what players they have or who's their best, so we'll just try to do the best we can. It's going to be a great atmosphere."

Spear, 13, has been playing football for six years - none more enjoyable than this one.

"When the season started I didn't think we'd make it this far," Spear said. "But our teamwork and our strong bond have made the difference. We really enjoy playing together."

The Junior Black Kats have won the Mike Dollimore Trophy as Capital Area bantam champions eight times since their inception in 1999. They've appeared in seven provincial bantam finals and came away as winners of the Samuel Babb Bowl six times.

The Kats have made it to four Maritime bantam championship games, winning the Ed Edmonds Cup on two occasions.

This season, however, Fredericton travelled a bumpier road to get this far.

The Junior Black Kats dropped their first two games and were 2-4 before ending up with a 4-4 record and second place.

In the CAMFA semifinal, the Kats led the Northside Junior Lions 19-0 at one point but needed a blocked convert with 18 seconds remaining to escape with a 27-26 victory.

The Kats blanked the Oromocto Area Junior Blues 6-0 in bone-chilling, driving rain in the CAMFA final, then shut out the Fundy Minor Football champion St. Stephen Silverados 23-0 in last Sunday's provincial final in Saint John. Fredericton led 9-0 at the half.

"They were one of the most-disciplined teams that we've played," Kats coach Steve Drisdelle said. "Having only 20-22 players on their roster makes it easy to coach. They all knew their job and they all knew it well. But I think in the long run, with our depth and our ability to pass effectively - and balance it with the run - we were able to wear them down."

Fredericton and Dartmouth squared off in last year's Maritime final, which turned out to be a thriller.

"It was a 28-21 overtime victory for us," Drisdelle said. "They're like we are: they tend to play a very balanced game. We anticipate them to be fast and very skilled. Our offence should be used to their defence or at least familiar with their defence. Us coaches are creatures of habit, so I would assume we're going to look very similar again this year."

Drisdelle says some of the players are familiar with each other "from playing spring ball and stuff, but they're largely unknown," he said. "I would assume they're kind of like we are: half returning players and half not."

With consecutive shutouts, the Kats "have been playing some lights-out defence," Drisdelle said. "We've had some of the provincial champion varsity Black Kats coming out to a few practices and giving back to the program. The boys are soaking it all up and taking advantage of it all."

Drisdelle is pleased to have home-field advantage.

"Having both teams playing at home is very nice," he said. "We're excited about this. We just know that the hometown crowds are going to be out in full force, so we're hoping to make it a noisy day."