History clash
Football: Seawolves meet Red Bombers in inaugural Moosehead Cup championship

By Jon MacNeill
Published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday November 21, 2009
Appeared on Page C14

SAINT JOHN - As the battle for the Moosehead Cup unfolds today at Millidgeville field, both squads in the first-ever Atlantic Football League championship game have one thought dominating their minds.

They want to make history.

"For us, this is a brand new league and this is a brand new program," University of New Brunswick Saint John Seawolves head coach Dave Grandy said.

"So we're looking at making a mark for ourselves. That's our motivation."

The Seawolves host the UNB Fredericton Red Bombers today at 2 p.m. for the inaugural AFL championship game.

For the Red Bombers, the historical significance of the match weighs heavy in head coach Mike Dollimore's thoughts. A former Red Bomber himself, the day marks the first time in 30 years the squad will take to the gridiron to play for a championship.

And while his players appreciate the rich past endowed within the jerseys they wear, Dollimore said this contest is a chance for his players to carve their own identity as Bombers.

"(The club's history) is part of our motivation, but this is a new crop of kids playing for their own pride and their own school," Dollimore said.

"It's now the new version of the Red Bombers and we're trying to establish our own traditions and our own history, so I think they'll be playing with that in mind."

Also fresh in the Bombers' minds will be their regular-season encounters with the Seawolves, where Saint John pulled out two fourth-quarter victories in heated battles.

They first squared off on Fredericton's Chapman Field where the Seawolves eked out a 16-14 win with a field goal that came with less than 30 seconds on the clock.

In their second match, nearly a month later, Saint John prevailed 10-6 by using a fourth-quarter touchdown from star running back Justin Cavan.

Far from discouraged, Dollimore said the tight games only signify another 60-minute duel where either side could emerge on top.

"There's been a very small margin of difference between the two teams, so I'm looking forward to an exciting game (today)."

Due to the cancellation of the AFL semifinal between Fredericton and the Moncton Junior Raiders, who went 1-3 in the regular season, the Bombers haven't played since dropping a 36-26 decision to Moncton Oct. 30.

"The extra time off is a double-edged sword," Dollimore said. "Nobody wants three weeks off but it does give us some time for guys to heal."

Namely, star wide receiver Andrew Hubbard was able to recoup from a groin injury he sustained against Saint John Oct. 25.

The Seawolves are coming off a two-week break since dropping the Raiders 36-12 earlier this month and are likewise healthy and prepared.

Grandy said it wasn't hard to keep his squad focused during the downtime.

"This is a one-game championship, it's win or lose. The boys know what's on the line and they stay focused on what we have to do," Grandy said.

Having won both matches against Fredericton, Grandy said he knows the law of averages swings in the Bombers' favour.

"We've been using that as motivation for us, though," he said. "We're really emphasizing playing physical football; we've prided ourselves in that all year long from the opening whistle to the closing whistle."

That's an aspect of the Seawolves' game which Fredericton is more than aware of and ready to deal with.

"Certainly they've got a big strong offensive line and they can push people back," Dollimore said. "We have to try to nullify that.

"But what we've relied on in the last two games is our quickness. We've really shut down some things simply through our quick-footed defensive playing."

Grandy said the Seawolves have also benefited from the cool-headed leadership of veteran players such as Cavan, quarterback Jeremy McAulay and defensive backs Bruce MacMillan and Lee Maloney.

He's counting on the vets to keep spirits high and nerves in control while playing before a home crowd today.

"These guys keep everyone composed; they've really set the tempo for us on both sides of the ball."

Regardless of the outcome, Dollimore said the AFL championship game will mark a successful and historical return of the Bombers, which he played and coached for from 1970 to 1980.

"For me, what's most important is having the team back, giving the old Bombers a chance to get out and see us play and bring something back to the campus at UNB after 30 long years."

Barry Ogden, who spent four years engineering the AFL, shares a similar outlook on the final. While the president and general manager of the Seawolves is obviously rooting for his team, he said today's match - win or lose - represents a new era for sport in Saint John.

"Part of it is that Saint John is now telling the world that it's there. We're here, and we're very proud to be here, and if you come to play in Saint John, you better be prepared," Ogden said.

"It's become kind of surreal," he said of the new league. "It's something you've been talking about for so long and then it becomes real, but you still have people asking is (this league) really happening?"

"You've got to touch it and feel it, and tomorrow will be hopefully very tangible."