Game of the week PREVIEW (NB): Rematch of last year’s Provincial final, will the Lions finally best the Titans?

New Brunswicks twelve man football season kicks off Friday night with games being hosted in: Fredericton, St. John, Riverview and Moncton. Saturday the Leo Hayes Lions are traveling to Sackville to play the 2015/16 undefeated Tantramar Titans.

The game, a rematch of last seasons final, was originally slated to be played Friday, in Fredericton. Unsure exactly what prompted the switch, Vince Sturgeon, the Lions head coach, jokingly accused Titan’s head coach, Scott O’Neal, of influencing the move.

“I assumed Scott made a call and got it switched, but he protested his innocence.”

Being the visiting team always comes with disadvantages, and playing at the Titan’s home field, referred to as ‘the marsh’ comes with it’s own unique conditions.

Titan’s home field under a typical “Marsh” sky

TRHS sits on the edge of a tidal saltwater marsh that connects New Brunswick to Nova Scotia. Stretching between the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic coastline, the marsh is subjected to extreme weather patterns and always seems to be windy. The stretch of highway that crosses the marsh has signs warning of winds strong enough to flip transport trucks, which makes passing and kicking a ball a challenge.

“Anytime you get into the wind it makes it difficult the throw. I emailed Scott to ask about locker rooms, he wrote back and told me the wind machines get turned on at 130,” laughed Sturgeon.

The Lions gave up a ten point half time lead in the final, losing 30-10. A contributing factor some veteran Lions have commented on was the distraction of having had a  large and boisterous crowd. Unaccustomed to larger crowds some players felt distracted by the stands, where a fair share of the Titan’s faithful yelled and banged despite the freezing temperature. Saturday there is no travel required for Tantramar’s fan base, and with decent weather there should be a big turnout.

“There’s no other game in town that day, the Mounties have a bye, so I expect a big crowd with lots of people, the guys are going to be jacked up and ready to play,” predicted O’Neal.

With this factor, travel and weather, coach Sturgeon is looking forward to gauging how his young team deals with these added conditions.

“Fredericton to Sackville is as far a ride as you’ll get in 12-man football, it’s a disadvantage getting off the bus, but our guys will be ready. We’re expecting a decent crowd, it’s opening day. It will be the first time playing on that stage, so it’s an adjustment.”

All variables aside, the game will come down to who scores more points. For the Lions to win, Sturgeon knows they have to shut down the Titans infamously tough run game, which means stopping sophomore RB Jarod Prescott. Paving the way for Prescott will be an aggressive and fast line, being led by seniors Riley Tower and Ryan Cadman.

Traditionally a pass first team, the Lions are planning on running the ball more to break in rookie QB Jonah Rawlines. Rawlines, a FHS transfer battled in camp to win the job. Being coached by former Lions QB Hunter Sturgeon, Rawline’s teammates already noticed improvements in his game. Cautiously optimistic about facing the Titans,  Rawlines is looking forward to the opportunity of facing the reigning champs.

“As a team if we play to our full capability, if we play hard and fast, I think we have a pretty good chance of pulling away with the win,” he said.

Certain the Titan’s will field a solid Defence, Rawlines is paying extra attention to Titan’s safety Lucas Cormier.

“I’ll be looking out for him at safety. He’s a great defensive player, it’s going to be hard reading what he’s doing and keep it away from him as much as possible.”

Sturgeon plans of easing the  rookie signal caller in slow by running the ball more. Getting the bulk of the carries in camp has been home run threat Thomas Shepard.

Jonah Rawlines, Lions QB

Concerned with the the Lions’ plan on being more balanced between run and pass, O’Neal is focusing on shutting down their run to force the Lions to take to the air.

“Leo Hayes trademark is a passing offence, but I believe this year they will have a much better run game, so that’s a bit more scary. It’s easier to shut down one dimensional teams.”

To do this, O’Neal is counting on his young defence, featuring senior’s Ryan Cadman and Riley Tower on the line, and a line backing corp featuring Jacob Estabrooks, Lucas Cormier and Zach Lyold, are as good as any O’Neal has had.

“I’m excited to see how our LB’s are going to manage their (Lions) run game. They have to shut it down by committee to force them to the air,” O’Neal remarked.

Approaching the game Sturgeon isn’t concerned with individual match up’s, nor the new crop of studs stepping up for TRHS, but is focusing on how his team meets the challenge.

“I want to see how they execute their game plans and do their jobs. I want to see which guys play better when they practice, once the bullets start flying they can come out differently, so seeing how they react on the road against a quality opponent with an enthusiastic crowd.”

The Titan’s are infamous for being a physical program. The team prides itself on being able to run the ball, and to shut down opposing teams run games thru an in your face stop us if you can mentality. To compete with this Sturgeon has prepared his team to fight fire with fire.

“They’re a physical team that will come out and hit you in the mouth, we want to match that physicality and intensity right from the start, we need our guys to play hard and smart, and to be ready from the first snap.”

The Titan’s, who went undefeated the past two seasons are entering each week of the season with a target on their backs. Besides their usual rivalries in the area, the rematch against the Lions is a game O’Neal is not taking lightly.

“We’re not taking them lightly. We’re working hard on scout teams and on offensive install. We’re approaching it like the championship game, because they want us and why wouldn’t they? We beat them on their own turf and they want revenge,” he said.

Depth is always a concern for coaches, but for the Titan’s this includes finding suitable fill in’s for the teams two way athletes. Although conditioning is a staple of the Titan’s program the ironman players will need some rest to maintain their effectiveness in all three phases of the game.

“We need to find out who can go in and take reps to get those guys off the field, at least a bit,” commented O’Neal. Presently, he is looking to Mason Prescott, Riley Estabrooks, and Trevor Delante to fill these support roles for the team.


#52 Ryan Cadman

One of the Titan’s who will be needing someone to fill in for him is OL/DL Ryan Cadman. The senior has stepped into the role of team leader thru camp and is itching to square off against the Lions and the rest of the league.

“Everybody want’s a piece of us,” commented the street brawling thug “which is awesome, because I want a piece of all of them.”

Proficient at both Guard and DT, one of Cadman’s favourite aspects of OL is hitting LB’s.

“They’re the dogs, they’re the aggressive ones wanting to go and fight. You never walk into a fight underestimating anybody, but I’ll tell you waht, Alec Ferris (Lions LB) is a guy I’m looking forward to meeting, I want him to blitz down the middle and run into me, and then see if he does it again.”

Ferris, a 265-pound LB played on the provincial squad with Cadman and other Titans. Although they bonded and remain friends, Ferris assured me he will be able to distance himself from any inhibitions of squaring off with any of them.

“I’m really excited, depending on the outcome this game is going to determine my mood for the rest of the season. I’ll be perfectly ok blocking or hitting one of the guys I played with, I want to show them I’m not to be messed with, and hopefully blow some people up, it’s going to be a clash, but I’m playing to win.”

Kickoff is Friday, Sept. 8th at 5:00pm. You won’t want to miss this one folks!

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