Red Bombers Win Season Opener 28-17 vs. Holland College
The UNB Red Bombers captured their first win of the season at UNB’s BMO Center on Saturday against the Holland College Hurricanes. Head coach and offensive coordinator Vince Sturgeon assailed the Hurricanes’ defense with a varied attack, scoring two touchdowns on the ground and two through the air. “I’m satisfied. I thought we played pretty well, some mistakes we’ve got to clean up. It was an intense game, I thought a lot of our guys played really well but we’ll look at the film and see where we go from there,” said Sturgeon after the victory.
The team leaned heavily on veteran running back Dylan Waugh, who picked up over 200 yards rushing. Waugh repeatedly gashed Holland College’s defense for big gains with his speed while also fighting for tough yardage on 2nd and 3rd down. “The O-line killed it,” said Waugh after the game. The Bombers’ offensive line consistently mauled the Holland College defensive front, winning at the point of attack for all four quarters and opening huge holes for UNB’s backs. Holland College only registered one tackle-for-a-loss the entire game. The offensive line has the fortune of having experienced veteran players at every position such as star left tackle Luke Saunders, who returns to the team after being sidelined for the entire 2018 season by a knee injury suffered during the 2017 season’s championship game.
UNB carries two rookie quarterbacks on its roster this season: Fredericton High School grad Will Hicks and former Leo Hayes Lion Jonah Rawlines. Sturgeon has yet to decide on who the starter will be and opted to alternate the two throughout the game; Hicks played the first and fourth quarters while Rawlines took snaps in the second and third. Rawlines was responsible for both passing touchdowns, connecting with receiver Jackson Greene in the endzone on a 23 yard pass in the second quarter, and again on a 38 yard pass in the third. Hicks also flashed his explosive dual threat play-making ability: during the UNB offense’s third drive of the game, Hicks evaded the sack and threw a 12-yard strike to Jackson Greene while rolling left and stiff-arming a Holland defender. Later, on their first drive of the fourth quarter, Hicks once again evaded the pass rush by spinning to his left, reversing field, and rolling right for a 12-yard gain and a 1st down.
“We wanted to give both guys a shot,” stated Coach Sturgeon. “I thought both of them played very well, did different things well. Throughout camp, they competed and it was really hard to distinguish between a 1 and a 2 so we decided to give them both a chance, and we may continue to do that or we may play the hot hand. We’ll see how it evolves.” When asked if he had set himself a deadline to decide on the starter, Sturgeon replied, “No, and I think in a season like this, we’re going to need two quarterbacks, so it’s good to have two guys that we can count on.”
The Bombers also sport an athletic and fundamentally-sound receiving corps: in addition to scoring the two touchdowns through the air, UNB’s receivers served as instrumental blockers for the running game throughout the contest. “Receivers did really good,” said receivers coach Jason Cowperthwaite. “I’m super happy [with the team’s two passing touchdowns]. We just ran the concepts we’ve been running all week and they hit them, they made the right reads, and the quarterbacks did a great job hitting the receivers.” Cowperthwaite is confident that the team’s decision to play two quarterbacks is not making life more difficult for the receiving corps: “I don’t think it’s a big deal at all. Both quarterbacks are throwing the ball in good spots for the receivers to catch it. I mean, honestly, our receivers are pretty good this year and we’re going to be able to catch pretty much anything thrown our way.”
Defensively, the Bombers employed a bend-don’t break strategy that held the Hurricanes to 17 points: in both the first and third quarters, Holland College drove the offense to UNB’s redzone before the Bombers forced two missed field goals. The Hurricanes scored their first points of the night with a field goal early in the second quarter, following up with touchdown pass with 21 seconds left in the first half, and another touchdown through the air on the last play of the third quarter.
Every level of the Bombers’ defense found success at some point in the contest: safety Bryn Davies intercepted a Holland College pass in the third quarter, the defensive line registered two sacks—both by defensive end Morgan Martin—while consistently pressuring Hurricanes quarterback Michael Petroschke, and, led by middle linebacker Turner Sturgeon, the linebacking corps looked solid and physically-imposing against both the pass and the run. This is Sturgeon’s sixth season as a Red Bomber and his first at middle linebacker: he spent the previous five as an every-down running back. For his part, Sturgeon is confident the transition will be a success: “My background as a defensive coach at the high school level has prepared me to step in and immediately excel at the position,” he stated during the team’s first practice on September 1st. On a 2nd down with just under two minutes left to play in the first half, Sturgeon followed a Hurricane receiver all the way across the field before undercutting his route and almost coming up with the interception. Morgan Martin got the sack on the following play, forcing the Hurricanes to punt.
“Defensive performance was definitely good at times, but can definitely tighten up,” said defensive coordinator Jamie Edwards. “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense and keeping us off the field, they did a great job of that on offense.” Regarding the success UNB’s pass rushers found during the game, Edwards stated, “I’m very happy. That’s the strength of our team right now on defense, the D-line. We have a lot of people who can get to the quarterback and cause a disruption in the backfield, and we’re leaning on that early in the season.”
The Red Bombers’ next two games are also at home: Saturday the 21st against Dalhousie, followed by their homecoming game on the 28th against UNB Saint John.