Citadel Phoenix script historic storybook ending with dramatic championship game win

The storybook ending for the Citadel Phoenix couldn’t have been any more dramatically scripted than the one which took place on Remembrance Day at Saint Mary’s Huskies Stadium in Halifax.

Down 13-0 at the half, the Phoenix mounted a remarkable comeback in the second half to win their fifth consecutive Tier 1 championship title in the Nova Scotia Student Athletic Federation Football League (NSSAFFL). AJ Case successfully booted a 12 yard field goal with under a minute remaining of the game to lead the Phoenix past Sir John A MacDonald Flames 17-16.

With this win, the Phoenix is in a class of its own.  The team is the only one in league history to ever win five successive championship titles.  Moreover, the Phoenix remains undefeated with a 44 consecutive game winning streak since 2008 and has an impressive overall record of 61-3 since 2007.

After the first quarter, the Flames had a 3-0 lead after a successful field goal attempt.  At 12:55 of the second quarter, the Flames would strike on the scoreboard when pivot Lorenz MacDonald connected with Nick Hartling for a touchdown reception.  With 4:06 remaining in the half, the Flames booted another field goal to give them the 13-0 advantage.


However, the Phoenix made some adjustments and as a result rose to the challenge.  At 6:52 of the third quarter, quarterback Darius Lameire passed off the ball to running back Scott Baigent who blitzed into the end zone to get the defending provincial champions within striking distance.   With 4:38 remaining in the game, the pivot connected with running receiver Drew MacIsaac for a major.

Subsequent to that, the Phoenix relinquished the lead as the Flames were successful on a field goal attempt to go up 16-14.  With about three minutes left in the final frame, the defending provincial champions capitalized on the opportunity presented to them by running down the clock while making a push to get into prime field goal range.  Within the last minute of the game, Case would come out and boot the successful 12 yard field goal attempt that would catapult the Phoenix into the history books.

“I’m going to wake up tomorrow, read the paper and the paper is going to say we lost because I’ve got to be pinched,” said Phoenix co-head coach Mike Tanner after the win.  “I’ve been involved with high school football for 42 years, this might be my 30th provincial championship and I can’t remember anything as exciting as this game was today.”

“There were no losers today; we had one more point than their team, but I have to say I’m glad it was us with the extra point and not Sir John A.”

However, the Phoenix gave full credit to the Flames competitive effort on the field.

“It’s a tribute to Alan Wetmore and the kids,” commented the Phoenix co-head coach.  “They just played their hearts out.”

The Phoenix clearly has difficulties in the first half.  However, Tanner said that the players rose to the challenge successfully.

“We got a little bit lucky today in the second half,” explained Tanner.  “We didn’t play well in the first half but the kids responded when they had to and they showed a lot of character and a lot of class.”

When asked what he did to motivate the team at halftime, the legendary coach said he was brutally honest with the players.

“You don’t want to know,” answered Tanner.  “I don’t swear in front of the kids.”

“I told them how bad they were and how they were playing like a bantam team in the first half and they can’t play like that.  I said “you’re representing one of the best programs in the country and you’ve playing like that,” so that and a few other choice phrases.”

As the game progressed, the Phoenix became increasingly more confident in their ability to execute their game plan on both sides of the ball effectively.

“The keys to the win were to come out in the second half, start to move the ball, not be stymied and not get frustrated,” assessed the Phoenix co-head coach after the win.  “We didn’t score but we were able to move the ball and then we got more confident.”

“When we scored our first touchdown, you could sense the momentum change.  Our kids now had the eye of the tiger; now they thought they could win, before they didn’t think they could win.  Once we had the first one, the defense starting playing well and I think that was the difference.”

Lameire had 15 completions in 25 attempts for 290 passing yards, 1 touchdown and also rushed for 30 yards.  While this was not one of his best outings, he managed to get the job done on the field.

“He didn’t have a great game, but he had some great plays,” added Tanner.  “That broken play that scored the second touchdown on was great pocket presence on his behalf and great adjustment by Drew (MacIsaac) because you are taught if you are running the short pattern and it breaks down, go long,”

“If you are running the long pattern, come back, because we went long and Darius found him.  That was it in a nutshell.”

Offensively for the team, Baigent amassed 135 rushing yards on 11 carries, 30 yards on two catches and scored a major.  Wide receiver Byron Kavanagh had a 70 yard punt return and also registered 125 receiving yards on 10 catches.  MacIsaac accumulated 65 yards on five catches and one touchdown while running back Liam Johnston rushed for 90 yards on eight carries.  Ian Farrell had two catches for 75 yards and Brad Petrie contributed with a 20 yard rush in the victory.

“Scott Baigent got hurt early in the first half,” said Tanner.  “They thought it may have been a concussion but they checked him, rechecked him again so he was cleared to go back in and he ran the ball really, really well.”

“He gave us that “oomph” with our offense.  The offensive line-the five guys, two of them are seniors just said in the second half if they are going to lose, they’re going to play their best.  Our offensive line was the difference.”

Like the offense, the defense too has their struggles in the first half but came around later in the game.

“The defense wasn’t great in the first half either; they ran the ball and everything,”‘ explained the Phoenix head coach.  “They made some adjustments at halftime that really worked.”

“They only got three first downs in the second half and that was the difference.  They were able to make those adjustments, not be concerned, execute what they were asked to do and they did.”

Clearly the Flames were disheartened by being on the losing end of this thrilling game.  After the first half, the provincial runner-ups had the defending provincial champions on the ropes.  However, the Fames saw their lead evaporate and let their opportunity to win their first provincial championship title slip away.

“We’re disappointed and we let it get away from us,” lamented Flames head coach Alan Wetmore in his postgame comments.  “I’m very proud of my athletes and my kids.”

“I never had any doubt that I’d be proud of them.  Once we get over this, in another day, we are going to feel proud of ourselves because we put on a hard game.  We fought hard in the game.  It’s unfortunate the score didn’t show it in the end but it was a close game.  It’s good to give Citadel a challenge isn’t it?  We let it get away from us a little bit, which is a little disappointing.”

Wetmore gave his assessment of what the turning point was in the game.

“They made their defensive adjustments at the half and they made some good defensive adjustments,” assessed the Flames head coach.  “I thought we picked up their adjustments pretty good and I felt like we should have gotten a little bit more out of it than we did but we didn’t.”

“We threw that quick interception off of play action that they went down and scored a touchdown I believe off of that so that didn’t help us any.”

The Flames gave full credit to the Phoenix for pulling out the victory in the hard fought battle.

“That’s Citadel,” added Wetmore.  “Great coaches, great organization and a great team.”

In spite of the loss, there were some players that shined for the Flames.

“Keith Langille, Hayden Clarke and Nick Hartling played a great game,” reflected the Flames head coach.  “The whole offensive line played a great game.”

“It was a great game and all my players played great.”

Now that the season is over, the focus for the Flames in the offseason will be how to crack the Phoenix and finally be successful against a team that had their number twice this past season.

“We’ve got to keep working,” explained Wetmore.  “I’d like to have a lot more players on my team, but we don’t because we’re a small community.”

“We always have to keep working out, keep lifting hard in the offseason, keep doing what we’ve done all along and the cards will fall our way.”

A significant reason the young Phoenix team have succeeded in this 2012 campaign is in large part due to the coaching staff.  Tanner said the staff have played an instrumental role in the players to rally around the tradition of excellence and winning.

“I don’t think I’d be doing this if I didn’t have the guys on the coaching staff,” reflected Tanner.  “They’re all young guys except Jeff (Lawley).”

“They all played for me and they’re great young men.  I really don’t know if I’d be coaching today if I didn’t have the support and didn’t have those guys on the staff because they’re so much fun to be around.  They’re so keen and so great to be around the young kids.  It’s just a great experience for everybody, including me.”

Aside from Tanner, the other Phoenix coaches felt fortunate to be part of an epic battle while helping to etch the team’s name into the league’s history books.

“Speaking on behalf of our coaches, that was the most exciting football game we as an entire staff have been involved in,” commented Phoenix co-head coach and defensive coordinator Jeff Lawley.  “We have the utmost respect for the Sir John A coaches and their team; that game could have gone either way and they battled hard.”

“We are extremely proud to achieve this historical milestone and have a long list of thank you’s to all the people that have been involved but the list needs to start and end with our coaches.”

While the team will take this time to soak in this hard fought victory, the Phoenix are already focused on striving to achieve their future goal for the 2013 campaign.

“There’s no question our next goal is to get into this position again and be in the finals,” explained Tanner.  “That’s always our goal.”

“The fact that we’ve got 46 or 47 kids coming back; we are losing Darius (Lameire), losing some key members but we’re only losing 11 and some guys are going to have to step it up.  We’re so excited we’ve already pencilled in the championship game next year in our minds.”

Photos courtesy of Cathy Connell



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