It was a hard-fought game in cold, mucky conditions in “the swamp” - making the championship win that much sweeter for the Titans.
The Central Kings (CK) Gators hosted the Northeast Kings Education Centre (NKEC) Titans for the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation Division 2 high school football championship on Nov. 12. This was a rematch of last year’s final.
The Gators were first to put points on the scoreboard and played a competitive game but couldn’t overcome the Titans. The final score was 18 to 14 for NKEC.
Nathan McNeil of the Titans said it felt great to win his first championship, especially on CK’s home turf, and he’s already got his sights set on preparing for next season.
“We didn’t let them get very far when we were on defence and our offence was unbelievable today,” McNeil said. “We had good running and everything, so I think that was a big factor of it.”
McNeil said it was difficult to get the right footing because of the muddy field conditions. The players’ cleats kept getting clogged with muck.
“You had to really plant and you couldn’t take off too fast,” McNeil said.
He hopes next year’s championship will be played on the artificial turf at Acadia University’s Raymond Field in Wolfville.
Dyton Blackett of the Titans said winning the championship in CK’s house during his Grade 12 year was “a nice way to end it.” Blackett said they kept CK’s offence to a minimum and they won the running game.
He said it felt good sharing the win with his teammates, who have been working hard toward this goal all year, and the coaching staff.
Blackett said the muddy conditions impacted the game with players struggling to get traction but this was the case for both teams, so it was a level playing field.
Head coach Reg Ogilvie said his players “worked their butts off” all year. The Gators had their number the past two years and this was the first time NKEC won the championship in Cambridge.
“To win here in this type of game is a credit to the coaching staff and these kids,” Ogilvie said.
The season began and ended on the same field for both teams but the opening game saw a much different result than the championship. CK won the season opener 22 to 0. However, following the opening loss, Ogilvie said the Titans would “be there at the end.”
When asked following the championship win why he had been so confident of a spot in the finals back in September, Ogilvie said it’s the way they train their players.
“We have a standard that we set, it’s called the Titan standard,” Ogilvie said. “It takes a long time to get installed, so we don’t build them for September, we build them for October and November and that’s what the result is.”
Defensive co-ordinator Andrew Hartnett said it was a long season but the players came together and he believes it came down to the NKEC players wanting it more.
“We told them to play it play-by-play instead of worrying about the entire outcome of the game and that’s how they played it, play-by-play,” Hartnett said. “They came out and they rose to the challenge.”
He said that, throughout the season, the coaching staff found out that “different guys could play different positions.” The last time NKEC played CK, it was only the third week of the season and the Titans had yet to be defined.
Offensive co-ordinator Bennett Gaskin said a lot of their players are young, so hopefully NKEC will have them for a couple of more years - and win another couple of championships. He said the players looked “amazing” and the win came down to defensive and offensive execution.
“It was a great team win today, everyone played their role and they did a great job,” Gaskin said.
Reflecting on the loss
Gators head coach Larry Priestnall said they made a number of mistakes, such as incurring several penalties, perhaps more than in any other game this year. He said the Gators started out rather flat but came on stronger in the second half and the game could have easily gone the other way.
Priestnall gave kudos to NKEC for playing “a hell of a game” and said the two teams that should have been in the final were there.
“It was a dog fight and that’s what we expected, so congratulations to NKEC and to the coaching staff,” Priestnall said.
He said it could have been a mistake choosing to play the game in the mucky conditions at Central Kings instead of on the artificial turf at Acadia but “we’ve got next year.”