ANOTHER EPIC AFL FINAL, UNB 31 DAL 28
Weather wise it was another typical Remembrance Day, somewhat dreary and cold as the 2023 edition of the Dalhousie Tigers gathered to have their team photo taken before leaving for the Atlantic Football League final in Fredericton.Needless to say there was excitement around this happening!I can imagine a lot of the players and coaches were keen to three peat and have the Moosehead Trophy photo shopped into that morning team photo.“2023 AFL Champions”
Over half of the team was excited while reflecting on last year’s 2022 final in NB’s capital, where Dal scored three TDs in the last 8:25 to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.
In the midst of those 100 players and coaches was another group, the young student team executive which brought new found energy as they keenly worked on all things Dalhousie Tiger football during this year’s regular season.They were now being treated to a road trip to the AFL championship where they would act as sideline cheerleaders for the team with a growing number of Dalhousie fans.
The first quarter did not go very well for the Tigers as the University of New Brunswick Reds/Red Bombers took the opening kickoff and scored 6 minutes in.Reds’ QB, Jonah Rawlines connected with Jace Taylor for the first major of the championship.Justin Remillard converted.The following kickoff saw Dal fumble and the Reds recover on the Black and Gold’s 30.Safety Logan Hillier made a number of great defensive plays during the game but non bigger than the one on this UNB possession preventing a Reds’ TD.The Dal D held and the Red and White had to settle for a field goal.The Tigers first points came on a long impressive FG of 43 yards by Okyay Kepenek.Minutes later the scoreboard looked more dire as Sebastian Brown intercepted a Dante Gabrielli sideline pass and sprinted for a pic six.The end of the Q saw the Tigers down 17-3.
But as in past, one quarter of poor play does not a game make.The Tigers outscored the Reds 14 to 7 in the second Q.Caden Quong, Dal’s outstanding running back, had 101 yards on 14 carries and a 2nd Q touchdown.Among the 101 were two long runs of 34 and 28 in the second half which kept the Tigers in the hunt.Plaudits again to the O line, especially in the 2nd half.Gabrielli had 60 yards on 8 carries while Ben Coates swept for 51 yards on 5 attempts.Again, the big guys in the trenches provided the power plus technique giving Dal over 200 rushing yards in the game.
Talk about excitement, this game was filled with everything a football fan wants to see:big hits causing lost fumbles, interceptions, great catches, elusive and power running, turnovers on downs and long passes.In the second Q, Dal missed taking advantage of UNB miscues.The Reds’ punter fumbled the snap but ended up running for a first down.Another saw the B&G not benefit on a UNB turnover on downs at midfield.
Two spectacular long passes in the last three minutes of the 2nd Q, one by each team, had the fans on their feet.Rawlines hit Matt Lafleur who sprinted for pay dirt but was stopped on Dal’s one.White helmeted power RB, Cam Hayward scored from there, making the score 24-10 Reds.
But the highlight of the game came on Dalhousie’s last possession of the half.Gabrielli on the drive completed a number of short passes to Ben Coates, who was 5 for 61 in the game, improving the Tigers field possession.On the last play of the half, #7 eluded the rush and launched a Hail Mary which was caught 42 yards later by Ethan Lord for the score.Excitement was everywhere you saw Black and Gold fans.Dal was now just one TD down and ready to receive the 2nd half kickoff.Would this be another year of the Tiger?
Dalhousie could not take full advantage of first possession in the second half, having to settle for a single from a 40-yard attempted FG by Kepenek.But the UNB squad countered with an aerial six as Rawlines found Remillard for the TD which he converted.Reds 31, Tigers 18. The Tigers’ D hung tough for the remainder of the 3rd Q.Aron Brooks stopped a Reds’ drive by intercepting an errand UNB pass.Again, no scoring response from the B&G.
The Tigers entered the last quarter down 13 points and with the D bending but not breaking.Dal’s defenders were lead by Yassine Yassine, having his biggest game of the season with 10 tackles, Logan Steeves 7 Ts and two sacks, Nathan Johnson 7 Ts, Luke Smith 6 Ts and a sack, and Owen Hamilton-White 7 Ts.Dalhousie’s defence shutout the UNB team in the 4th quarter!
The Reds on their first possession of the fourth Q surprisingly turned over the ball on downs, giving the Tigers the ball near midfield.Could the B&G capitalize?Yes!Gabrielli’s legs found another gear and he ran 35 yards deep into the red zone.The next Tiger play saw sweep type action to the right side of the field and Tigers’ “C. J. Stroud”, #7, sprint left for the 12 yard major with 11:24 remaining in the championship contest.Dalhousie excitement reined!B&G thunder sticks applauded!
On the next Dal series, the Tigers punted, hemming the Reds deep in their own end of the field.The Dal football gods shone as the tenacious tacklers caused a fumble which Hamilton-White recovered.The Black and Gold settled for a Kepenek 23-yard FG.Score, UNB 31 Dal 28.
What could happen next?
Some fans cheered uproariously, while some probably held their breath and still others may have said a little prayer to the football gods.But a rare lack of contain by the Dal D saw the Reds’ QB run for a long first down with under 3 minutes remaining in regulation time.Would this be the Tigers’ final fate.No!
“It ain’t over till it’s over”, that famous Yogi Berra “ism” comes to mind.A huge hit by Yassine on Lafleur and another Reds’ turnover on downs, gave the team another chance and the fans more to get excited about!A 28 yard sprint by Quong added another thrill, better field possession and possibly another Hail Mary?But with under a minute remaining in regulation time, successive pass attempts went incomplete.Our B&G Dalhousie Tigers dream of a three peat came to an end!
A number of fans were heard to say, “It’s too bad someone had to lose this game”.Yes, that is how entertaining and excitingwas the fan experience.This would not be the “Year of the Tiger” but our players and coaches can walk away with their heads held high for their efforts in the championship game and a season well played!
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE UNB RED BOMBERS ON THEIR 5TH AFL TITLE!Dalhousie and Holland College both have four and will be looking for a 5th in 2024 in this incredibly exciting three team rivalry.
A huge THANK YOU to the over 100 strong in the Dalhousie football family for their continued commitment!And a special acknowledgment to the WILSON FAMILY, Lisa, Rob, Kati, and Angus.Oh, and let’s not forget the most dedicated football Tiger, JIM, who in 2010 dreamed of bringing FUN AND FOOTBALL back to Dalhousie University.You have succeeded 13 fold. One for each year of the New Era Dalhousie Football Tigers. Thanks for asking me to be a part of the excitement!