When Saturday’s Atlantic Football League (AFL) championship game was getting ready to begin, Tigers head coach Mark Haggett was on tuba accompanying the small band playing the national anthem. When the final whistle sounded at the end of the game, Haggett was drenched in Gatorade and a leader of champions.
The Dalhousie Tigers have defeated the Holland College Hurricanes 29-11 to claim their first football championship in over 60 years! Having avenged last season’s championship loss to the Hurricanes, the Tigers’ perfect season is now complete.
The 2016 Tigers have secured their place in history, wrapping up an incredible 8-0 championship season that will never be forgotten.
The Tigers opened the scoring after the Hurricanes punter fumbled a bad snap. The Tigers recovered the ball in the end-zone for the touchdown, taking a lead that would never be relinquished. Rob Wilson would add two field goals to put the Tigers up 14-1.
The Hurricanes’ defence did all they could to make this a close game. Momentum would shift when a Nick Hunsley pass was picked off and returned for a long touchdown the other way. This huge play breathed life into the struggling Hurricanes, allowing them to narrow the score to 14-8.
One thing that was business as usual, was the performance of star running back Zack Leger. The ‘Zack Attack’ was on full display once again in this match-up.
Leger would run the ball effectively and physically for four quarters, wearing down Hurricane defenders and breaking tackle after tackle like he has all season. The workhorse Leger would even be called on to take some direct snaps for part of a series, after Hunsley checked out briefly due to an injury.
The Tigers passing game was effective during this championship game as well, with big plays coming across the board from Guillaume Bernier, Spencer Muise, Chad Kirkhus and Darcy Chant.
The biggest moments in the Tigers passing game came on a pivotal drive when Hunsley found Muise and Bernier on consecutive plays. In what was undoubtedly the offensive play of the game, Hunsley delivered a beautifully accurate touchdown pass over the shoulder of an out-stretched Bernier as he ran by the corner to put the Tigers up 21-8. Bernier would have a major impact all day long, reeling in catch after catch and taking big hits to sustain drives and move the chains through the air.
In a season where Steve Majury’s impenetrable defence only gave up 22 points in the games leading up to the championship, it was fitting that the Tigers defensive unit never surrendered a single touchdown in Saturday’s final.
The Hurricanes’ running and passing attacks were held in check all game long, and Dal’s ferocious defensive front would cause multiple fumbles and tackles for loss. The Hurricanes were stuffed nearly every time they tried to run the ball.
Holland College’s bid at a comeback was silenced when Kenzie MacNeil made what was perhaps the biggest play of the game: a pick-six for the ages. The Hurricane quarterback’s pass sailed high over his intended target and MacNeil made a brilliant play on the ball to reel in the interception. It was what followed though that made the crowd lose their minds with excitement.
MacNeil turned into a runner with the Tiger defenders becoming lead-blockers, as he fought his way to daylight and juked his way to the end-zone for a game-changing touchdown, giving the Tigers a commanding 28-11 lead.
GM Rick Rivers called the game from the sidelines in front of a crowd packed with cheering fans. You could hear the joy in his voice as the final seconds expired and the Tigers were officially crowned as champions for the first time since 1954.
Coach Haggett shared a special moment with chairman Jim Wilson during the presentation of the Moosehead Cup, as this was the goal everyone involved with the program had dreamed of since the Tigers football team was brought back in 2010.
The ultimate goal of a championship has been realized, and with their tremendous coaching staff and recruiting success, this is truly the start of something special for Dal Tigers football.