NSSAFFL: Phoenix seek historic storybook ending in Championship Final against Flames

“It’s no easy task against Citadel; everybody in football across the country knows who they are and what they stand for. It is no mystery why they are so successful. We feel like we are the Spartans in the mythical story of 300.”

Those are the sentiments of Sir John A MacDonald Flames head coach Alan Wetmore on the eve of the Nova Division Tier 1 Championship Game in the Nova Scotia Student Athletic Federation Football League (NSSAFFL).  The Flames will face the only team that handed them a defeat in the regular season, four time defending provincial champions Citadel Phoenix on Sunday afternoon at Saint Mary’s Huskies Stadium.  Kickoff is 1:00pm.

“The Flames community is very excited to be a part of the NSSAF Championship Football Game,” adds Wetmore.  “We are very pleased to be the other team in Citadel’s Football Finals!”

This will mark the Flames second trip to the Championship game.  Previous to Sunday’s, the team made their only other appearance in 2010.  For the squad from Upper Tantallon, the championship game will be a time to savour the experience while realizing a goal in the process.

“For us, it is not an every year thing so we are definitely trying to maximize the whole experience,” explains the Flames head coach.  “I know everybody involved is truly looking forward to the day and regardless of what happens we will enjoy every moment of it.”

“Our team and players are definitely a special group of kids and I can say for certain that they have given everything they had to be in this game on Sunday. Most of them started working for this dream back in December and they have exercised levels of character, discipline and determination that would be hard to match. They sacrificed greatly for this and I can say that as people, they deserve to win. They have definitely earned my pride and my respect.”

Not only will the 2012 Nova Division Tier 1 Championship Game will be one of the most competitive yet exciting games in a long time in the Nova Scotia high school football, but history could be made in the process.

Should the four time defending provincial champions, the Phoenix be victorious on Sunday, they will be the only team in NSSAFFL history to win five consecutive titles.  Moreover, the Phoenix are coming into the championship game with a 43 consecutive game winning streak since 2008 and have an overall record of 60-3 dating back to 2007.

However, going in to the 2012 campaign, there was some question of whether the Phoenix would make it all the way to the championship final.  With many players moving on due to graduation, the defending provincial champions were fielding a much younger, inexperienced team at the start of the season.

Knowing that, Phoenix co-head coach and defensive coordinator Jeff Lawley says the team set a realistic goal with the hope of achieving it.

“At the beginning of the season, we had a goal to be in the mix of the top four,” explains Lawley.  “We figured that if we could get four regular season wins and make the Tier 1 semi-finals that our coaches would help our young team get older.”

“Goal achieved, we are very excited to be in the final game!”

In the first week of the regular season, the Phoenix would begin the road to five with what would end up being their stiffest challenge of the regular season:  the Flames.  While it wasn’t pretty, the Phoenix pulled out a 6-0 victory over their opponents.

“Last time we played them was the very first game of the season,” adds Lawley.  “They have a great coaching staff and have guided them to improve steadily.”

“We have also improved; it should be a terrific game!”

As for game execution plans, the Phoenix will key in on ball security.  However, there are two key things that need to work for the team in order to be successful in their “road to five.”

“We will need to play 60 minutes of disciplined football to have a chance and that’s all we can ask to be in the game,” explains the Phoenix co-head coach and defensive coordinator.  “This will be the last game for the grade 12’s that we have on our team.”

“We expect them to play at a high level and get the grade 11’s and 10’s to play for them. I believe these two teams push each other to be at their best.”

Furthermore, the defending provincial champions know what to expect from the Flames on the field.

“Sir John A runs a very balanced offensive attack, they love to pound the rock and have a myriad of formations to deceive opposing defenses,” assesses the Phoenix co-head coach and defensive coordinator.  “They will likely win the special teams field position game as they have great returners and an excellent kicker.”

“Their defense is filled with hungry and talented competitors-they come to play.”

Moreover, Lawley believes the Flames will be a tough opponent because of the familiarity he has specifically with Wetmore.

“Alan (Coach Wetmore) and I played together at Acadia and I know firsthand the ferocious competitor he is,” comments Lawley.  “He is a phenomenal athlete, terrific strategist and a competitor to the bitter end.”

“Football teams typically take on the traits of their head coach.  Sir John A is a formidable opponent!”

Equally, Wetmore is familiar with the Phoenix pedigree of tradition of winning and excellence.  Both himself and his brother Paul went through the QEH Lions football program (merged in 2007 with the St. Pat’s Fighting Irish to form Citadel Phoenix). Overall, he’s indebted to the program and Phoenix co-head coach Mike Tanner.

“Cut us and we bleed “Blue and Gold” even though both of us have worn many colors since then,” explains Wetmore.  “Mike Tanner saved my life as a teen and is responsible for many great things in my life that has occurred since then; I love him for it.”

“He is the greatest mentor and youth worker that Nova Scotia has ever had.”

However, the past nostalgia must to be put aside as there is a task at hand for the Flames on Sunday.

“With that said we are not going there on Sunday “to kiss any rings”…well maybe the seven rings that me and my brother won,” says the Flames head coach.  “Once the ball is kicked off there is no past.”

“Our players do not have to play against all the other Provincial Championship teams that have gone through there; they just have to play the team that is in front of them that day on that field.”

Consequently from his time being instructed by Tanner, Wetmore learned one key thing that has served as his own coaching mantra and will guide the Flames in their quest to dethrone the defending provincial champions.

“Tanner always taught us that if you can look your teammate in the eye, if you can look yourself in the eye, then you have won,” says Wetmore.  “He also told us that he needs guys that he can go down a dark alley with.”

“Our kids always give everything they have, they can always look each other in the eye and I know I can go down a dark alley with them without reservation. The dark alley is the Phoenix and we are we are entering that alley.”

While Wetmore is confident that the Flames will mount a strong challenge to the Phoenix, he hopes that that the experience of playing in the championship final will have a longer, lasting effect for the players.

“I know Citadel will receive our best effort,” comments Wetmore.  “Regardless of who wins the game we will walk away Champions.”

“Sunday is something that these kids can carry with them all their lives and I am happy that they have the opportunity. Sports are great.”

Quick Facts:

Season Records and Seedings in NSSAFFL:

-Citadel had regular season record of 6-0-0 (12 points); finished 1st in Nova Division

-Sir John A had regular season record of 5-1-0 (10 points); finished 2nd in Nova Division


-Citadel is the four time defending Tier 1 NSSAFFL Provincial Champions

-Citadel and Horton played each other in the regular NSSAFFL season Week 1 with Citadel pulling out a 6-0 win.

-This championship is a rematch of 2010 Championship finals and Citadel won their third title that season.


2012 Record:  6-0-0 (first seed)

Coaching Staff:

Head Coaches:  Mike Tanner (42 years) Jeff Lawley (23 years and also defensive coordinator)

Assistants:  Michael Hopper (receivers), Will Tanner (receivers) Erik Nowak (running backs), Gordon Beattie (offensive line), Greg Knight (offensive line), Anthony Vincer (offensive line), Dan Parker (defensive line), Harrison Petropolis (defensive line), Jamie Fudge (linebackers), Ted Richard (linebackers), Matt Wheeler (defensive backs), Mike Thomson (defensive backs), Emile Milton (defensive line)

Players to Watch:  Nick Giacomantonio (defensive end), Matt Nettle (linebacker), Chris Folkins (defensive back), Liam Connell (defensive back), Dequan Skeir (offensive lineman), Liam Johnston (running back), Ian Farrell (receiver), Jonathan Harvey (defensive tackle), Nate Adams (defensive back), Darius Lameire (quarterback), Scott Baigent (running back), O’Neil Barton (right tackle), Ian Farrell, Drew MacIsaac (receiver), Sean Reardon (offensive lineman), Liam Connell (defensive back)


2012 Record:  5-1-0 (second seed)

Coaching Staff:

Head Coach:  Alan Wetmore (7th season, also backfield coach)

Assistants:  Dan Campbell (offensive line), Paul Moore (linebackers), James White (receivers), Mark Haggett (defensive line), Lou Huelin (offensive line), Peter Fitzgerald (defensive backs), Jeff MacIsaac (defensive line), Arne Anderson (defensive backs) and Dave Naugler (defensive line)

Players to Watch:  Keith Langille (linebacker), John Perrott (defensive back), Nick Hartling (receiver, Hayden Clarke (running back), Lorenz MacDonald (quarterback), Thomas Hoyt (receiver), Chandler Tufts (receiver) Hezekiah Armstrong (running back), Brian Leader, Mark Nelson (offensive lineman), Brennan Turner (offensive lineman), Donovan Blue (defensive lineman), Nick Bartolacci (offensive lineman), Josh Bordage (defensive lineman), Mitchell Janes (linebacker), Brayden Culligan (defensive back)

PREVIOUS 2012 MEETING:  It was not only dubbed as the game of the week, but one of the most anticipated games of the season in the NSSAFFL.  The Citadel Phoenix kept their consecutive winning streak alive by squeaking by the Sir John A MacDonald Flames 6-0 in a matchup in Upper Tantallon, Nova Scotia.

It was a game which was clearly a defensive battle.  The only points of the game came in the second quarter when Phoenix pivot Byron Kavanagh connected with running back Liam Johnston for a one yard touchdown catch.  However, it was clear what dictated the outcome of the game.

“Our defensive line won us this game today and the defensive line was led by Shaun Robinson and Nick Giacomantonio,” comments Phoenix co-head coach and defensive coordinator Jeff Lawley.

Robinson was the defensive star for the Phoenix on Sunday as he registered four sacks and 15 tackles in the game.  Linebacker Matt Nettle also caught an interception in the game.

On the offensive side of the ball for the victors, quarterback Darius Lameire had seven completions in 15 attempts and amassed 120 passing yards. Kavanagh had three completions in seven attempts and 22 passing yards.

“This was a truly hard fought battle and we have all the respect in the world for the Sir John A program,” adds Lawley.  “We consider ourselves very fortunate to have this victory as this was an extremely close game that could have easily gone either way.”

“Sir John A has a fine team with talented athletes and a terrific coaching staff.”

Pulling out a huge victory in one of the most hyped up games of the season is a significant feat for a defending championship team who’s young, inexperienced and vulnerable.  The Phoenix co-head coach explains what this victory means for the team.

“This victory simply means that if both teams advance to playoffs and have identical records, Citadel would host,” explains Lawley, who’s in his 23rd season coaching with the Phoenix.  “That’s it, nothing more.”

“We hope to be in a position that we can play them again as this was a great experience for our team to be involved in such a high calibre game.”

One weakness that was evident on the field for the Phoenix was their offensive game.  Lawley says that the team will need to make adjustments in order to have more success.

“I believe our inexperience on offense reared its head today and we will need to refocus our efforts to have a better showing for next game,” assesses Lawley.  “We need to work on pass protection, timing with our running backs and eliminate mental mistakes.”

“If we can take care of these items we hope it will lead to more sustained drives and consequently more points.  We have some great coaches on offense that will continue to point our kids in the right direction.”

As for the Flames, Hayden Clarke led with the way on offense with 18 carries for 110 yards and two catches for 60 yards.  Quarterback Lorenz MacDonald had six completions in 15 attempts and also threw an interception in the loss.

Defensively, linebacker Keith Langille recovered a fumble, registered a sack and accumulated 11 tackles.  Nate Rostek and Donovan Blue each had seven tackles a piece.

“It was a very disappointing loss for our team and a great win for theirs,” comments Flames head coach Alan Wetmore after the loss. “Both teams fought very hard and I was proud of my teams’ commitment to the game but was disappointed that we could not generate points.”

“Our players gave everything they had.”

While there were some positives to take away from the game for the Flames, Wetmore says that it was clear that the offense struggled throughout the entire game.

“Our offensive coach did not have an answer for their defensive game plan,” reflects the Flames head coach, who is in his seventh season with the team.  “Our defense played great but our offense needs to adapt better to situations.”

“This is more a responsibility of the coaches than the players.”

Even though the Flames came up short, it doesn’t mean they will change their goals.  Overall, Wetmore is impressed by the effort put forth by the team.

“Regardless of what happened, we are going to do the same thing either way which is to come out every day and try to get better in all areas of our game,” explains Wetmore.  “We here to make them better day in and day out, win or lose.”

“All in all it was a great day for the development of both teams and I was very proud of our guys.”


The Citadel Phoenix will host the Sir John A MacDonald Flames on Remembrance Day, Sunday November 11th, 2012 at Saint Mary’s Huskies Stadium in Halifax.  Kickoff is 1:00pm.

Photos courtesy of Cathy Connell

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