Four second-half touchdowns by Jaylen McRae carried the Holland College Hurricanes to a 29-27 comeback victory over the Dalhousie University Tigers in Atlantic Football League action in Halifax on Saturday.
For the first-place Hurricanes, the win capped off an undefeated (6-0) regular season campaign. The Tigers fell to 2-4 and ended up in a three-way tie for second place. Point spreads among those three teams will determine playoff matchups.
On their Homecoming Weekend and in front of a throng of student supporters, the Tigers came roaring out of the gate determined to pull off the upset of the year. They led 3-0 after the opening quarter by virtue of a Hurricanes safety and a single from a missed field goal attempt. The ‘Canes gave up another safety in the second quarter, putting Dalhousie up 5-0, as both offenses struggled to make first downs. Late in the quarter, the Tigers capitalized on a Holland College turnover and QB Nick Hunsley found the open man in the end zone for the touchdown. The Tigers added a single on the ensuing kickoff and took a 13-0 lead into the half.
The rabid Tigers fans could smell the upset. But in the second half, it was the eye of the Hurricane, not the eye of the tiger, that rose up to the challenge of its rival. The 'Canes struck with a fury in their opening series. Quarterback Christian Hackney connected with wide receiver McRae on a 50-yard touchdown pass to make the score 13-7. The momentum shift was palpable. Minutes later, Holland College recovered a botched punt attempt on the Dalhousie 45-yard line. Hackney found McRae again on a short pass and he shed several tacklers on his way to the end zone, putting the ‘Canes up 14-13. Punter Jay Dearborn added a single to the lead at the end of the quarter.
The Tigers threatened early in the fourth quarter, but the Hurricanes defense came up with a huge block on a field goal attempt. Once more, Hackney hooked up with McRae, this one good for a 45-yard touchdown, which gave the 'Canes a 22-13 lead.
The Tigers were not done yet. An interception deep in Hurricanes territory set up a 4-yard TD pass from Hunsley to Robbie Tufts and suddenly the Tigers were breathing down the visitors' necks. It was up to McRae to go the distance, and he did, ripping off an 85-yard punt return to put the Hurricanes up 29-20.
But the tug of war continued. With two minutes to go, Hunsley connected with Trae Colley for the TD and the Tigers were back in the hunt. In the last minute of play, and with the hometown crowd whipped into a frenzy, it was the 'Canes defense that delivered the kill, stopping a promising Tigers drive at midfield. The Hurricanes survived with the 29-27 victory.
The AFL playoffs commence next weekend, with the Hurricanes hosting the UNB Red Bombers at UPEI Canada Games Place on Saturday, October 25, at 1 p.m. In the other semi-final matchup, Dalhousie will play the UNB Saint John Seawolves.