AUS Thoughts - Week 1
St FX dominated the trenches
While the rushing yards don’t stand out for St FX, it was not an accident that they were able to establish the ground game with Caleb Fogarty early on. On the flip side, Saint Mary’s more or less abandoned the run after a lack of success establishing it early.
In terms of pass protection, St FX used quick passes and timing routes to minimize the Huskies’ pass rush, while the Huskies’ Offensive Line struggled to protect Kristian Stembridge. Six sacks, two of which were fumbles leading to a key turnover in the second quarter. In fact, the second quarter saw the Huskies with five possessions and surrendering a sack on each of those possessions. The dynamic blitz designs the X-Men threw at Saint Mary’s seemed to confuse and disorient the Huskies especially in that second quarter stretch and was a huge reason the X-Men were able to tie the game up going into halftime.
St FX was prepared for Shedler Fervius
Shedler Fervius perfectly encapsulates the old saying “You cannot stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” He’s an electric receiver who will be the focal point of the Huskies offence. However, his stat line from week 1 is somewhat perplexing at first glance: 6 catches, 44 yards, long of 48. You read that correctly. Aside from a 48-yard reception in the 1st quarter, here are the results of his five other receptions: -5, 0, -1, 0, 2.
The X-Men were prepared defensively to contain Fervius – he’s going to make at least one big play per game, but aside from that they contained him extremely effectively.
The Huskies’ special teams are very good
Allow me to toot my own horn for a moment; in a column I wrote on August 25, I predicted the Huskies would lead the conference in special teams touchdowns. With two touchdowns in week 1, it would seem that prediction is off to a roaring start. A strip-recovery fumble on a punt by Adrian Bah was the highlight of the first half, while Justin Julien made his mark as a returner with an impressive 66-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.
These special teams scores swung momentum, albeit briefly, for the Huskies and I think it’s only a flash in the pan in terms of what their specials units are going to be capable of in 2021.
Mount A might have the three best players in the conference.
…And they all play defence. With Reece Martin at tackle, Daniel Bell at half and Lucas Cormier at safety, those are three superstar-quality players the Mounties can build a defence around. Martin is familiar to AUS fans, having earned an all-star selection in 2019, and Bell and Cormier were impact players in their 2019 rookie seasons. Hard-hitting, intelligent, and extremely large and athletic players all three, this trio may just be the best pound-for-pound, best trio at their positions in the entire conference.
Martin spent most of the afternoon in the Axemen backfield on Saturday, while Cormier and Bell were all over the field defensively. In a stretch during the first half it seemed like one or both of them were in on every tackle, and I would expect them to continue to be around the ball from their respective positions no matter where the play is going.
The really scary thing? The other nine starters on the Mounties’ defence are pretty darn good, too.
Both Mount Allison and Acadia offences need to be more dynamic
Yes, this was a game ruled by the defences. But the offences didn’t show much in terms of trying to do things to make their opponent uncomfortable. Acadia continually tried to establish Cole Estabrooks on the ground even when it was obvious that the Mounties’ run defence wouldn’t have any of it, and Mount Allison’s passing game was fairly uninspiring. Aside from a 35-yard fade to Cody Barton (who looks very impressive), the Mounties’ longest completion was 13 yards. This target depth will have to change especially if they want to maintain drives and move the chains on 2nd and long.
What is inspiring for the Mounties at least was the “thunder and lightning” duo in the backfield of Jack Estabrooks and Dan Francis; with 98 and 37 yards respectively, the Mounties’ ground attack is certainly something to build off of, especially with this showing against a very solid Acadia front seven.
From Acadia’s perspective, I think their passing game will be fine against a lesser secondary, and I would expect quarterback Duncan Patterson to be let loose (Let Duncan cook?) a little more in terms of looking down the field, as many of his pass targets were at or near the line of scrimmage. Matthew Gledhill is a tall, speedy target who can stretch the defence so I’d look for Acadia to get him more involved down the field moving forward.
Don’t sleep on these special teams units, either
I know it now seems like I’ve talked at length about Saint Mary’s special teams (and rightfully so), but Acadia and Mount Allison both have something to say about that, at least in the kicking game. Between kickers Ben George (Acadia) and James Parker (MtA), they averaged 66 yards per kickoff, and an impressive 41.3 yards per punt. The punting in particular was extremely effective, with both punters unleashing some 50+ yard bombs, and each placing two inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
While I think each kicker would want to make some corrections in the field goal game (both missing a pair of key field goals), their punting abilities were on full display on Saturday – something that is not easy to do in the windy maelstrom of Sackville, NB.
The punt and kickoff cover from both teams was impressive as well – neither team broke a big return, meaning the week two matchup of Acadia and Saint Mary’s will be one to watch.
Overall, a fascinating week one with a pair of tight matchups is exactly what I hoped for to kick off the 2021 AUS season. As usual, the AUS appears wide open, and with Bishop’s, the Coaches’ Poll favourite to win it all, yet to play, I expect our expectations will be flipped on their heads once again as week 2 unfolds.
Saint Mary’s visits Acadia at 2:00pm Atlantic, while Bishop’s hosts Mount Allison at 3:00pm Atlantic on Saturday, September 25. Both games are available for free streaming at aus.yaretv.com.
Wray Perkin is a former staff member with the Mount Allison Mounties and Ottawa Redblacks, now Offensive Coordinator for the Tantramar High School Titans based in Sackville, NB.