X-Men clinch AUS playoff berth with win over Gaiters

Photo courtesy Bryan Kennedy
Photo courtesy Bryan Kennedy

ANTIGONISH - The two-time defending Atlantic University Sport football champion StFX X-Men will have an opportunity to keep their crown. With a 27-14 victory over the Bishops Gaiters Saturday afternoon at Oland Stadium, the X-Men clinched a playoff berth.

They also secured the fourth Bigg Bowl - a trophy that goes to the winner of the Gaiter-X-Men football match-up.

The X-Men defense led the way as they took the lead after the first quarter. After an open-field tackle by linebacker Kadel King penned the Gaiters deep in their own zone, punter Vincent Dube conceded a safety that gave the X-Men a 2-0 edge.

After another strong defensive stand by StFX, the Gaiters surrendered another safety to make it 4-0 for the home side.

Early in the second quarter, on a drive keyed by a Dylan Fisher 37-yard pass to Kaion Julien-Grant, Jonathan Heidebrecht gave the X-Men a 7-0 lead with a 28-yard field goal. A few minutes later, after an X-Men drive stalled on a sack by Jeremy Magan-France, Heidebrecht connected from 35 yards to make it 10-0.

With the Gaiters trying to cut into the deficit, X-Men defensive back Nathaniel Fermin intercepted Dylan Tucker. On the subsequent drive, StFX tacked on a single point off a missed Heidebrecht field goal attempt from 27 yards.

The X-Men led 11-0 at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the visitors got on the board with a 103-yard drive in just more than two minutes. A couple plays after quarterback Stephen Casey connected with receiver Cecil Belanger for 65 yards, running back Trey Millings scored on a seven-yard scamper. With a Dube point after, the Gaiters trailed 11-7.

The X-Men answered on their next drive, with Fisher scoring, from two yards out, on a quarterback sneak. The key play was a reception over the middle from Greg McDonald. With a Heidebrecht conversion, the X-Men led 18-7.

Shortly after, defensive back Jonah Williams returned an interception to the Gaiter 10. After a big sack by Charles Belanger, the X-Men had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Heidebrecht to make it 21-7. On the next Gaiter possession, Williams soared to intercept a deep pass attempt.

Early in the fourth quarter, Heidebrecht split the uprights from 33 yards to make it 24-7.

Keyed by a 33-yard pass from Casey to Zach Graveson, the Gaiters responded with a 12-yard TD run from Eric Gagnon. With the Dube point after, Bishops trimmed the StFX lead to 24-14.

On another Heidebrecht field goal, from 39 yards, the X-Men went up 27-14.

Late in regulation, with the Gaiters trying to rally, Justin Holland intercepted a Casey pass. On a second-and-15, from deep in their own zone, Jordan Socholotiuk rushed for a key first down on a 20-yard dash. The All-CanadIan help kill the clock with several carries, as time wound down in the game. Socholotiuk, the Subway player of the game, finished with 121 yards on 25 carries.

Fisher finished 27-for-39 with 291 yards, while Julien-Grant was the top receiver with eight catches for 86 yards. Casey, who replaced Dylan Tucker at QB, finished six-for-15, for 143 yards, and three interceptions.

Ryan David had a team-high three receptions (25 yards) for the Gaiters, while Cecil Belanger collected 72 yards on two catches. Bishops running back Trey Millings rushed for 76 yards on 14 carries.

Defensively, Tyler Cordeiro led the X-Men with seven tackles and one sack, while Maxx Toutant - the Gaiter player of the game - chipped in with 8.5 tackles and one sack.

With the win, the X-Men secured third place in the conference and a playoff berth. They will kick-off against the Saint Mary's Huskies Saturday, Nov. 4 in Halifax in the AUS semifinal. The winner of that match-up will travel to Wolfville to face the Acadia Axemen in the Loney Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 11.

The Gaiters have been eliminated from playoff contention.

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