For the UNB Fredericton Red Bombers, it was a happy Homecoming Day as they defeated the UNB Saint John Seawolves 48-20 at BMO Center field. The Bombers found repeated success on offense, defense, and special teams for all four quarters of a contest that looked to be decided by halftime. “I just wanted to make sure that we played a smart, complete football game. We talked about executing, not taking anybody for granted and I thought we did a good job of that in all three phases of the game. We’ll look at the film and see where we can improve for next week,” said head coach and offensive coordinator Vince Sturgeon.
The Bombers’ first score came within the first two minutes of the first quarter when quarterback Will Hicks hit receiver Jake McKay in stride on a long touchdown pass that took the offense from their own 38-yard line to the endzone. The Seawolves answered back on their first drive, with quarterback Jared Laming hitting three consecutive deep passes near the left sideline resulting in a UNBSJ score. With 2:57 to go in the first, the UNBF offense performed a perfect re-enactment of their first drive when Hicks once again hit Jake McKay deep down the field for a touchdown. McKay, an impressive athletic talent and Bombers veteran, has proven to be a formidable deep threat: this was the second week in a row in which he scored two touchdowns.
The Bombers diverged from the heavy reliance on the running game that has characterized their offense thus far. Out of the team’s seven touchdowns this week, five came through the air. Sam Phillips’s first came with 19 seconds left in the first, when he caught a short pass near midfield and weaved his way through the defense on his way to the endzone. He then one-upped himself inside the last three minutes of the first half, catching another short pass—this time, from around the Bombers’ own 20-yard line—and outrunning the entire secondary for a score. “We came out as a team and we played hard,” stated McKay after the game. “We want to keep hitting the ball deep but we want to open up the run game for the deep ball. I’m trying to lead by example and we spread the ball out to all our receivers, because we have a bunch of athletes, every single one of them. And I think that showed today.”
Receiver Brady Manderville also added a receiving touchdown en route to one of the most outstanding individual performances of the season. Manderville has fashioned himself into the Bombers’ special teams ace, racking up close to ten tackles on punts and kickoffs after recovering an onside kick the previous week against the Dalhousie Tigers. With 2:05 to go in the second, Manderville stripped the ball from the Seawolves’ kick returner, taking it to UNBSJ’s 15-yard line. Runningback Garrett Doucette would run it in for a touchdown on the ensuing play. Later in the game, Manderville appeared to have once again stripped the ball on a kickoff, but the play had been blown dead by the referee a mere second prior. “Everyone did their assignments, everyone played very well,” said Manderville. “We ran the ball good, we passed the ball good. Could not have asked for a better game.” Regarding his own inspired effort throughout the contest, Manderville stated: “I was just feeling good today. I filled my assignments, followed my lanes, made sure to fit up and tackle guys. Just followed the assignments.”
After a lopsided victory and a 3-0 start to the season, the Bombers have good reason to feel good about where they stand. This is the second week in a row where the offense eclipsed 45 points, and the second time the defense has allowed 20 or fewer points. At this point in the season, the Red Bombers are also the only team in the AFL with a victory against every other team. Consequently, expectations are high: “Our first goal was to win the first three home games,” said Manderville. “Now we have three away games and we’ve got to go on to win those too. It should be no different. We’ll go down there, we’ll beat them, and we’ll come home.”
Middle linebacker Turner Sturgeon—who gave the UNBSJ offense fits by clogging up the passing lanes—echoed Manderville’s optimism: “Our goal is to win two of the three away games and host the playoffs. That’d be the end goal.”
The undefeated Red Bombers will travel to PEI next Saturday for a rematch against the Holland College Hurricanes.