For the first time since 2018, the Dalhousie University Tigers football team is an Atlantic Football League (AFL) champion.
The win was powered by three touchdowns from running back Dylan Waugh. Dal pulled away from the University of New Brunswick Fredericton Red Bombers in the second quarter of the league championship game on Nov. 6.
With the 40-14 victory, the Tigers capped off a near-perfect season, winning seven games (one due to a forfeit) and losing one this fall.
“It’s just as special. It feels pretty good, man,” Waugh said when asked if he could compare Dal’s 2021 championship with the one he won in 2019 with UNB Fredericton, his former team.
Asked whether playing against his old team boosted his desire to win the 2021 title, Waugh said, “Yeah. A little bit. But it did.”
The teams were evenly matched out of the gate, but the Tigers grabbed the upper hand in the first quarter. Through a field goal and a rouge, they led 4-0 after the first 15 minutes.
A couple of strong drives by Dal in the second quarter turned the game more decisively in the team’s favour. The Tigers scored a pair of touchdowns in the quarter to head into halftime up 19-0. Waugh had the first of them.
“Scoring first was huge,” he said. “The game plan going in was to get up early. And doing that was a big part of the result.”
UNB Fredericton threatened Dal offensively a number of times in the second quarter, including a long offensive run after intercepting a Dal pass. When it looked like the Red Bombers were on the verge of punching through, Tigers defenders like linebacker Nathan Whidden came through big for their team.
“This is the second time I’ve won. The first one, I wasn’t as much a part of the team. Being at the forefront is such an unbelievable feeling,” Whidden said. He finished the game with at least two quarterback sacks and four tackles, according to the Gazette’s tally. Full game statistics weren’t available as of Nov. 8. “I must thank my [defensive] line. They opened up everything for me. I couldn’t do it without them.”
UNB Fredericton began the second half with a few good drives but was unable to crack the home side’s defence. There would be two more Dal touchdowns in the third quarter before the Red Bombers finally got on the scoreboard.
With Dal leading by almost 30 points by the final quarter, the game became about time management. With Dal killing time by rushing the ball, UNB Fredericton couldn’t establish a base to build a comeback on. The teams traded touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to finalize the 40-14 score and the Tigers’ Moosehead Cup victory.
“It’s our third [championship] in five years, since I’ve been here. You can’t ask for much better results than that,” Tigers head coach Mark Haggett said post-game. “It’s been different this year because of the pandemic and the players have been through a lot. I’m just happy they got to lift that trophy at the end of it all.”
UNB Fredericton was the only team Dal lost to this season, by a 35-24 score on Oct. 2. That game proved to be a turning point in their season. It helped them realize they needed to focus on team play heading into the end of the season. They beat UNB Frederiction at Wickwire Field 25-8 on Oct. 16, before facing them again in the championship.
“We kind of got caught up in the hype and there was too much chaos,” Haggett said of that early-season loss. “I’ve preached all year about all three aspects of the game [offence, defence and special teams] coming out strong and we didn’t feel we captured them all at once. Today, we did that.”
Whidden said that first loss should have never happened. “That game, we travelled five hours and things just weren’t right. That was an anomaly,” he said. “The two we won [at home] proves we’re the best team in the league.”