WOLFVILLE, N.S. – A 33-23 win over the visiting Saint Mary's Huskies was enough for the Acadia Axemen to clinch first place in the AUS football standings.
The win by 10 points gave the Axemen the highly sought berth and hosting of the AUS Subway Loney Bowl – the conference championship game on Saturday, November 11.
The Axemen took a commanding 23-0 halftime lead on points scored in the second quarter.
A team safety at 12:05 of the second frame was followed by a Eugene McMinns three yard touchdown reception that capped off a three play, 27 yard drive initiated by a Johnny King fumble and recovery by senior defensive lineman Gabriel Bagnell.
Gaining good field possession on a pair of stalled Huskie drives, the Axemen launched a six play, 48 yard drive that was wrapped up by Cordell Hastings' eighth touchdown of the season, pushing the Acadia lead to 17-0.
On the next drive, a completed pass from Huskies' pivot Kaleb Scott to Rick LeMoignan was quickly coughed up for the second fumble recovery of the game by the Axemen.
Spotted on the Acadia 42-yard line, Cody Cluett and the offense went to work, converting the turnover to seven more points on a one yard rush by Cluett. Cluett's touchdown would be the last points scored in the opening half, giving Acadia a 23-0 lead.
The Huskies quickly went to work on gaining some ground, when backup quarterback Cameron Valardo stepped into a long pass to Archelaus Jack for a 72-yard touchdown reception.
Valardo, named the Saint Mary's Player of the Game, rushed for a six-yard touchdown that capped off a five play, 30-yard drive, closing the deficit to 23-15 after a two point convert scored by Johnny King reception.
Just under a minute remaining in the third frame, Jaden White-Frayne posted his sixth league leading interception and added 'salt to the wound' with a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Comfortably ahead 30-15 heading into the final quarter, the Axemen were unable to add their fourth touchdown of the day from the three-yard line and settled for a 11-yard field goal.
Saint Mary's quickly replied with an interception touchdown of their own. Antoine Lyte-Myers raced 36 yards after intercepting a Cluett pass. Johnny King was good on the two-yard reception for a two point convert.
Trailing 33-23, the Huskies put together an eight play, 76 -yard drive that was stifled by a forced fumble by Brandon Johnson, his third of the day. While the fumble was recovered by Saint Mary's, the ball was turned over on downs.
"Those guys are phenomenal. They battled back. I tried all I could to give them the game with that interception. I am lost for words and super excited. We should have had them early but they kept on fighting and they don't give up," said Cody Cluett following the win.
We want to get healthy but we want to keep going and we can't change anything now since this is what got us here now this season. Every day is process and we want to keep doing what we do,"
The Axemen held onto 33-23 lead into the closing minute of the game, giving them an important 10-point win that pushed them into first place in the AUS standings by beating the points differential scored between both team's two meetings this season. The Huskies won the first game on September 15 by seven points.
With three weeks off until the AUS championship game, Cluett noted the need to keep doing what they do best.
"We want to get healthy but we want to keep going and we can't change anything now since this is what got us here now this season. Every day is process and we want to keep doing what we do," said Cluett.
The Axemen edged Saint Mary's in total offense with 442, compared to the Huskies' 371.
Valardo completed 11 of 28 pass attempts for 208 yards, while starting Huskie pivot Kaleb Scott was five for 16 for 74 yards. Cody Cluett threw for 209 yards in the air with 15 of 23 passes completed.
Dale Wright was the force on the ground again, added 157 yards to his 1030 yard season total on 161 rushes. Wright becomes the second Axeman to excede 1000 yards in a season. Brian Walling has the current record of 1122 yards. Scott and Valardo had a combined 78 yards on the ground.
Caleb Ryder stood out on the receiving end for the Axemen with 104 yards on three receptions. Touchdowns came from Hastings and McMinns who posted 17 and 6 yards respectively.
Once again, the Axemen dominated the possession clock with 38 minutes handling the ball, while the Huskies had 22 minutes.
The Axemen will now have three weeks off that includes a last week of the AUS season bye and the semi-final bye. Acadia will host the AUS Subway Loney Bowl on Saturday, November 11 starting at 2:00 p.m. on Bell Fibe TV1.