Red Bombers Stay Undefeated After 27-22 Nail-bitter vs. Holland College
The UNB Red Bombers picked up their fourth consecutive win in their first away game of the season. The contest was a rematch of UNB’s week 1 tilt against the Holland College Hurricanes—a game the Bombers won 28-17—this time ending with a much closer score and continuing the trend of dramatic late-game surges by the Bombers.
Down 22-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, UNB rallied to score 20 unanswered points and remain the AFL’s sole undefeated team. “I’m very satisfied with the way our guys fought and battled the whole game,” said head coach Vince Sturgeon. “There are a couple calls I’d like to have back, but otherwise, I thought our guys did a great job of overcoming adversity, making plays when we needed it. I’m really pleased with how our defense picked up our offense in the second half, really pleased with the entire effort.”
Facing cold, windy weather and noticeably uneven field conditions, both offenses came out to slow starts culminating in a scoreless first quarter. The Bombers finally found the endzone in their first drive of the second quarter, when quarterback Will Hicks threw a touchdown pass while rolling to his right. The score remained 7-0 in UNB’s favour until the final four minutes of the first half saw things take a disastrous turn for the Bombers. After a quick two-and-out, UNB punted from midfield and watched Holland College’s return team weave its way to the endzone to tie the game. With just over a minute left in the second half, UNB punted only to have the Hurricanes once again return the kick for a touchdown.
Regarding the Hurricanes’ success on special teams, coach Sturgeon stated: “[At halftime] we just talked a little bit more about the fundamentals of where we needed to kick the ball and where we needed to cover. They’ve got some talented athletes back there. Their return guy is an outstanding football player.”
The Hurricanes built upon their first half success by scoring on their second possession of the third quarter. The Bombers defense was in man-to-man coverage with no safety playing the middle of the field, allowing a Holland College receiver to catch a short pass and run into the endzone. Holland College followed the touchdown with a 1-point rouge at the end of the third, widening the margin to 15 points in a quarter that saw the Bombers once again go scoreless.
Either the clouds breaking away and revealing the first rays of sunshine of the afternoon or the realization that their undefeated streak was in serious jeopardy seemed to rejuvenate the Bombers in the fourth quarter: quarterback Jonah Rawlines connected deep down the field with rookie receiver Jackson Greene to bring the ball within one yard of the endzone, where workhorse runningback Dylan Waugh would run it in for a score on third down. After preventing the Hurricanes’ offense from gaining a first down, the Bombers forced a punt and returned it to their own 35-yard line before handing the ball off four straight times to Waugh, who brought them to Holland College’s 51-yard line. The Bombers were almost met with disaster again but would not be denied a score: a Jonah Rawlines pass was tipped in midair and almost intercepted before receiver Sam Phillips caught it without breaking stride and ran into the endzone, bringing the score to 22-20 after a failed 2-point conversion.
The Bombers’ fourth quarter comeback was fueled by their defense’s best performance of the season. Defensive end Morgan Martin proved to be a game wrecker by consistently giving the Hurricanes fits when UNB desperately needed a stop. Martin had several clutch sacks and run stuffs in the game’s final quarter, while also drawing enough attention to allow UNB’s Alec Ferris and Gabriel St. Germain to repeatedly disrupt the Holland College offense. “We never got down on ourselves. We’re a good team like that, we don’t get shaken.” said Martin. “We definitely just want to go out and dominate every game. I can’t take all the credit. It’s all about the other boys on the D-line who make it easy for me. Our entire defense, we’re just starting to realize our full potential right now, so I have high hopes for the future.”
The defense line saved its best for last: a Dylan Waugh fumble during a 20-plus yard run looked to have sealed the win for Holland College before Martin and St. Germain stripped the football from the Hurricanes’ quarterback in the backfield, where UNB’s Justin Ellingwood would pick it up and return it for a touchdown. In addition to bringing the score to 27-22 and giving the Bombers their first lead since the second quarter, Ellingwood’s touchdown was also UNB’s first defensive score of the season. . “I feel like it was our best defensive game of the year, only giving up one touchdown,” he stated. “Mental toughness is a big part of that win. It’s pretty hard for teams to come down in away games in this league and be down early and fight to comeback like we did.”
For his part, Ellingwood echoed what many Bombers players have reiterated throughout the season: that winning football games is a team effort. “What happened to me is what happens when you have great teammates. [The defensive line] got to the quarterback quickly and I was just lucky enough to get back there at the same time as them and pick up the ball for the win.”
The day after the game, the Bombers organization showed their love for the community, with several members of the team’s board of directors participating in the CIBC Run for the Cure.
UNB will face the Dalhousie Tigers next Saturday in Halifax in a rematch of their 46-45 week 2 victory.