Saint Mary’s poised to stop Mount Allison’s hot streak

New AUS champion guaranteed after Acadia's three-peat dashed last week

Saint Mary’s quarterback Jack Creighton runs onto the field for practice Friday afternoon. The Huskies will host Mount Allison in the AUS championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. (Photo: Ian Froese)

On paper, Saturday’s Atlantic University Sport football championship is a tantalizing contest.

The Loney Bowl will come down to Saint Mary’s league-best defensive corps, which conceded only 267.1 yards per game this season, and a talented Mount Allison offence that averaged a conference-high 20.8 points.

Saint Mary’s head coach Perry Marchese doesn’t flinch when he hears of the classic offence versus defence matchup. He wants his team to do the talking.

“We’re worried about statistics, absolutely: wins and losses,” says the second-year head coach. “It would have been great to score a lot more points, but this is where we are and we’re pretty confident about what we’re doing.”

The Huskies are perhaps the favourites thanks to decades of perpetual conference dominance, but the visiting Mounties are in the conversation, surprising many doubters this fall.

After all, this is a team that languished as the AUS’ worst for most of the last decade — seven of 10 years, in fact.

“For this team, this year, it’s been a season of firsts,” says head coach Kelly Jeffrey on the phone from the team bus. “We won in Halifax for the first time since 1998, we had a four-game winning streak for the first time maybe ever.

“If things hold true to the season, there’s no reason we can’t go out and compete really well tomorrow,” he says.

Momentum is what this Mounties squad has in abundance.

After losing four of their opening five games, Mount Allison won four straight, including last weekend’s 19-10 ousting of the two-time defending champion Acadia in the semifinal.

Jeffrey attributes much of their success to running back Jordan Botel, named the conference’s most outstanding player Thursday.

“We really got him rolling second half of the season,” says Jeffrey. “Once he’s going, it really opens up the passing game, everything else we have.”

Botel finished the season with 758 yards on 170 carries and added six touchdowns.

The top-seeded Huskies are optimistic of their chances when they hit the field Saturday at 2 p.m.

Coach Marchese says his team is playing its best at the right time. They enjoyed an automatic bye to the championship because of their top record.

“We had a very, very good week of practice, probably our best practices of the year,” he says, “and we’re the healthiest we’ve been. Those are all good things for us.”

Another positive is the development of Huskies starting quarterback Jack Creighton.

Creighton is blessed to even be in the pocket after a serious neck injury in 2012 nearly ended his playing days. He mounted a comeback this season, split quarterback duties in the early going, but eventually won the job to lead the Saint Mary’s offence.

If Creighton has his wish, his Huskies will play next weekend in the Uteck Bowl, a bout between the best team in the AUS and Quebec’s conference.

The graduating senior wants to be there.

“I don’t really think about my last season, but there is maybe a little more effort in there subconsciously,” he says. “There’s something more inside of me, for sure, that’s pushing myself.”

Saint Mary’s is searching for their fifth AUS championship in seven years.

Mount Allison last made a title appearance in 1998. They won the championship a year before.