“The Bubble” #2: StFX strong across the board, football and XC underway, and more from AUS

Halifax, NS – After two weeks of AUS competition, contenders in most sports have become clear. In others, we got a first glimpse of who the most exciting student-athletes and squads could be in 2021-22.

The CBU Capers women and UNB Reds men, under their new coach, have been the particularly impressive teams through two weeks of play, putting together some dominant performances against some solid teams. The STFX X-Men and X-Women have rolled along just fine on the pitch too, putting together identical 4-0-0 records in the first thirds of their regular seasons.

The football X-Men showed last Friday they aren’t messing around by taking down a feisty SMU team. And the Mount Allison Mounties, fresh off a win over the defending champion Acadia Axemen, are on their way to proving my rankings wrong.

In rugby, we are on our way to the most competitive, even season in years as Acadia defeated UPEI, who beat powerhouse STFX last week. Could the cycle of teams beating each other continue this weekend?

In AUS cross country, the two most dominant teams in recent history from STFX and Dal captured the top two team standings spots following the first race of the season, the STFX Invitational, on Saturday. The hosts won both team divisions, getting off to an early season lead over the defending champions in both divisions from Dal.

These are some good stories from the past week. But the U SPORTS community is facing a tragic one right now, having been hit with devastating news on the weekend. 

uOttawa Gee-Gees football student-athlete Francis Perron passed away hours after the team’s season opener at U of T Saturday. Perron, a fifth-year defensive lineman, was close to completing his degree in mechanical engineering and had already racked up multiple Academic All-Canadian honours. 

The circumstances leading to the 25-year-old’s passing are unknown, but his death is far, far too soon for a person of his calibre and nature. Everyone at 49 Sports send their thoughts to Perron’s family, friends, the Gee-Gees and all close with him.   

WSOC: Women’s Capers raising eyebrows

Capers open AUS women’s soccer regular season with 7-2 victory over Huskies
(Cape Breton Capers)

Sixteen goals in three games. I don’t think I can rave enough about that, but I’ll try to get it all out here. 

Yeah, maybe the women’s CBU soccer team’s played some struggling teams from Moncton and SMU, but not just anybody puts up those numbers over a stretch like that. How about another wild stat: CBU has five players with two or more goals this season, led by MVP frontrunner Ally Rowe with four. The next closest team? Memorial, with three. And it took them an extra game to achieve that.

Given UNB’s strong start to the season, featuring a one-goal loss to Dal and a win over 2019 AUS finalists Acadia, CBU was all over them. Outshooting the Reds 12-3, the Capers had five different goal scorers in a 5-0 win as they killed the host team’s comeback hopes late in the game. 

With another game within 24 hours, CBU didn’t run out of gas. Nor did they allow a Moncton shot on net Sunday afternoon. Their 4-0 win also featured a balanced attack up front, including a Moncton own goal.

I thought CBU’s sixth-place national ranking this week was a bit low but hey, that’s just an opinion. What I see is a team getting scarier by the week and (no pressure on anyone) are in a good position to keep the good times rolling in their next two games, at home against Memorial and Acadia. After that, they travel to STFX on Oct. 1 to play fellow undefeated team, the X-Women. Mark your calendars. And your scoresheets.

WSOC: Way-too-early-to-say playoff race

CBU, STFX and Dal have jumped out as teams to beat early this season. Memorial has gathered a trio of wins, although two of them came against the lowly Mounties. Acadia is not far behind with two wins. The UNB Reds and UPEI Panthers each have one. 

That is a rough guess at what seven teams will compete for the six spots in the AUS championships at this point. I never like counting teams out but right now, Mount A and Moncton have scored too little to win, while SMU has been scored on too much.

Pending late-season meltdowns from the top three, the Sea-Hawks, Axewomen, Panthers and Reds will battle for the last three spots. The former two will have tougher schedules down the stretch; MUN, as mentioned, already played Mount A twice and Acadia’s faced them once and then Moncton this weekend. But both of them play CBU this weekend so they can’t let off the gas pedal just yet.

For UPEI and UNB, it’s a must-win weekend. The Reds travel to Mount A Friday and the Panthers host SMU Saturday, before both converge on Saint John Saturday to battle for an upper edge in the standings. With only eight or nine games left depending on the team, every three points will matter more as the schedule inches into October. 

MSOC: UNB men make statement on the weekend

REDS fullback Bilal Mehran intercepts a Capers pass during Saturday's 4-2 UNB win over Cape Breton. (PHOTO: James West/for UNB Athletics)

Last weekend was a fun one in Fredericton, except for the threat of thunder mid-match Saturday. Three of the AUS’s top teams were in town. CBU and STFX were there as visitors, each sporting undefeated records. UNB hosted them, also with no losses of its own.

UNB/CBU on Saturday was as tight a match as could be, despite the run-up in the score. Especially in the first half, where it took until just before the halftime whistle for UNB’s Tom Pheulpin to break the ice. That was enough to launch a UNB onslaught in the first five minutes of the second half. Goals from Grant Takacs and Joe Hamilton gave UNB a 3-0 lead over the defending champs. All six goals in UNB’s 4-2 win came before the 70th minute, which worked out well as thunder and lightning forced an essentially hour-long pause around the 80th

On little rest, UNB hosted STFX in the battle of the final remaining perfect teams. The X-Men got up early with a sixth-minute goal from Kyle Cordeiro. It was relatively even after that, at least in terms of shots on goal and overall opportunities on either side. There weren’t a ton either way but was to be expected of two of the stingiest defensive teams in the AUS. STFX and UNB rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the country now. CBU sits third.

UNB has likely played the toughest schedule in the league, having already faced those two teams along with improved Acadia and Dal teams from 2019. Yes, their defence has been rock-solid, but one key thing for me has boosted them to the top echelon of the AUS: timeliness. It started with Pheulpin’s penalty kick goal at Dal on Sept. 10. He knew he had to score that with the Tigers sneaking back into the game in the second half, and he did so. Same with the next day at Acadia, where Takacs jumped on his first opportunity and put UNB at an advantage. He did the same against CBU, killing the Capers’ hopes with an early second-half goal that snowballed his team’s momentum.

As rookie coach Barry Morrisson and the Reds take on lower-standing teams like Mount A and UPEI this coming weekend, they will have an important job to do in staying focused chasing first place in the AUS.

MSOC: Huskies bounce back

SMU had it tough in week one. A road trip to STFX and CBU to start the season isn’t easy and although they battled hard in both one-goal games, they came out of it 0-2. I keep bringing up this team because, as a team looking to build off an unexpected 2019 playoff run, they’ve had a start to the season they can be happy with. Other than the misfortune of those two games.

Regardless, they pulled it together in week two. Much like in 2019, they stunned the favoured Dal Tigers in a high-scoring affair at home. Then as they welcomed Emmanuel Dolo and the MUN Sea-Hawks later last weekend, they pummeled them too by a 3-1 score. All of a sudden, they’ve become the second-highest scoring team in the conference despite their low-scoring first weekend.

Rookie Ahmed Ibrahim and fourth-year Sumit Malik, who’s third in AUS scoring with three goals, both struck twice over their two home games last weekend. They’re making their case that they can hang around with the Takacses and the Dolos of the conference as not only consistent scorers, but timely ones. It was Malik who got the comeback against Dal going, while Ibrahim did the same against MUN. Heading into matches against UPEI and Mount A this weekend, we’ll see if the Huskies can gain more ground on the league leaders.  

FOOTBALL: Mount Allison defence shines

Mounties open season with Homecoming win over Acadia
(Mount Allison)

Bravo, Mounties. Bravo.

In my football season preview, I harped about how this conference would be too close to call. 49 Sports football guru Ben Browne feels the same. Someone had to be picked first and last in my predictions and the last-place designation from me went to Mount A. Then they went out and beat the defending AUS champs. 

I didn’t consider one thing as much as I should have: defence. The Mounties had the best defence in the AUS in 2019 and very well could have it again this year. They certainly showed that last Saturday, holding the Axemen to just a touchdown and two rouge points. 2019 rookie of the year Daniel Bell was strong with seven tackles, while Vincenzo Frangione and Reece Martin chipped in 1.5 sacks each. Terrell Connell came up with a huge interception, accompanied by a 22-yard return. Oh, and they forced an Acadia safety. That sounds like a top defensive unit to me.

The Acadia defence was good too, led by Kameron Bell’s 8.5 tackles and Franck Kemayou coming up with 5.5. But even though Acadia had the game’s lone touchdown, Mount A held them to just 206 total yards and 65 rushing yards. The Mounties had 245 of their own total yards, but all they needed was kicker James Parker. His two field goals and two rouge points, plus the safety, made up the Mounties’ scoring. As they head to Bishop’s this Saturday to face the Gaiters and their potentially high-octane offence, we have a heck of a game lined up this weekend.

FOOTBALL: X-Men start strong

Speaking of offence, there wasn’t a ton in that Saturday game. STFX and SMU probably squeezed all of the offence out of the football as they could the night before. They combined for 56 points as the X-Men dragged out a hard-fought road win in Halifax.

STFX came out of the gate the strongest, but Saint Mary’s put together a consistent and commanding first half. The Huskies saw themselves up 16-6 at the three-minute warning. But the X-Men charged down the field twice before half-time with a field goal and a touchdown. Tied at the half, the momentum had clearly shifted to STFX’s side and the visitors held off the opponent in a dominant second half. 

In terms of offence, this was X-Men rookie Silas Fagnan’s coming-out party. Throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns, the highlight of his debut was, by far, the 45-yard touchdown pass he threw to brother Isaac early in the third quarter, putting the team up by a touchdown. Silas ran another in himself a few minutes later. 

The X-Men also dominated on the defensive side too. SMU had great bouts of offence but that couldn’t compete with STFX’s six (!) sacks and five fumbles forced, one of which the visitors stole. But on both sides, there were good defensive games; the X-Men’s Brandyn Martin and Jay Turnsek, plus the Huskies’ Isaiah Okoli, each had five solo tackles apiece. STFX has this coming weekend off but SMU will need to come up big against Acadia this Saturday to avoid falling to 0-2. 

RUGBY: Acadia won’t be taken for granted

Axewomen pull off a 22-5 win in hard fought game against Panthers
(Acadia Athletics)

The U SPORTS world was shaken last week by UPEI’s win over STFX in rugby last week, the first time the Panthers defeated the X-Women since 2004. Acadia knew they would be contending with a different team than the Panthers they’ve played (and usually beat handily) in years past. They finally crossed paths in week two and we got a great rugby game out of it. 

The rivals battled to a 5-5 tie at the half. The teams scored on opposite ends of the half; Acadia’s Kenzie Cecchetto got the scoring going about a minute into the game, while UPEI’s Maddy Clements ran in a try with less than two minutes left in the half. Emilie Merilainen restored the Axewomen’s five-point lead sixteen minutes into the second half. It was back and forth for the most part but, thanks to two late Acadia tries and a convert, the home team ran up a 22-5 scoreline and now remain the last undefeated team in the league. 

That sets up the Axewomen with a heck of a match against the X-Women in Antigonish this coming Saturday. STFX rebounded from their opening day loss with a huge 64-5 win over SMU, featuring four Sarah Hoerig tries and three from Hannah Ellis. Even with that offensive tally from X, Acadia remains the highest-scoring team through two weeks with 104 points. This weekend will once again have some exciting rugby.

XC: STFX runs circles around competition

Last but certainly not least, cross-country was the second sport, after football, to get going in the conference last weekend. Just like STFX ran up the scoreboard in rugby, they seemed to do the same thing in the STFX Invitational last Saturday. It’s been essentially just them and Dal has the top two AUS cross country teams in recent history (by recent history, we mean since the 1990s). 

But STFX came out absolutely flying in meet number one. On the men’s side, big performances from second-place finisher Jacob Benoit, fourth-place finisher Graydon Staples and fifth-place taker Luc Gallant was the boost the X-Men needed, edging out longtime cross-country rivals the Tigers by three points to win the team competition. As for individuals, SMU’s Andrew Peverill came first, while Dal’s Will Cox captured third.

The X-Women, meanwhile, were on another level. Siona Chisholm, Mairin Canning, Allie Sandluck and Eileen Benoit finished first, third, fourth and fifth, respectively, which helped STFX dominate on the team level. With the X-Women’s 22 points, second-place Dal and their 65 points were closer to last-place UPEI and their 101 points than they were to X. 

While STFX has recently succeeded on the men’s side, winning seven of the last nine AUS championships, they haven’t won since 2018. Dal won in 2019. The Tigers women, meanwhile, have won every year since STFX’s last title in 2012. Both winning teams from Wednesday have now set a new tone though, so keep your eyes peeled as to whether STFX continues its domination or another team or two finds another gear down the stretch.

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