Antigonish, N.S. – The defending AUS football champion StFX X-Men rallied from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to earn a razor thin 18-17 exhibition win over the visiting Mount Allison Mounties Friday night.
The key play of the comeback came with less than two minutes remaining in regulation time, when quarterback Quinn Stewart connected with fellow freshman Chuck Wall on a 61-yard pass-and-catch to knot the contest 17-17.
The longest offensive play of the game, for either team, came on a second-and-short from near midfield.
With the extra point from Jonathan Heidebrecht, the X-Men had their margin of victory.
In the first quarter, StFX took a 1-0 advantage when punter Keiran Burnham sent a kick through the Mount Allison end zone.
After veteran defensive back Hayden Peters intercepted Mountie quarterback Troy Downton, the X-Men put together an offensive drive, keyed by back-to-back catches by Kaion Julien-Grant from Tivon Cook.
With the StFX marching deep into the Mount Allison zone, linebacker Kyle Horsman collected a key sack, which forced the home side to settle for a 25-yard Heidebrecht field goal to make it 4-0.
After the next offensive drive stalled, the X-Men stretched their edge to 7-0 on another three-pointer from Heidebrecht.
Keyed by the rushing and receiving of Chris Reid, the Mounties put their best early drive together, but the X-Men defense stiffened. Kicking into a stiff wind, Ryan Lambert came up short on a 41-yard field goal try.
Following a big punt return from Paolo Lach-Edwards and a throw from quarterback Josh Millar to Dejuan Martin, the X-Men threatened to add to their lead, but Heidebrecht misfired on a 29-yard field goal attempt.
With the rouge, off the missed field goal, StFX led 8-0 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Mounties scored their first points, after Heidebrecht conceded a safety to make it 8-2.
On offense, quarterback Jakob Loucks clicked with Ian Carty on 32 and 19-yard passes. On consecutive rushes from Nathan Jones, including a five-yard TD scamper, the Mounties found the end zone. With a Lambert conversion, the Mounties took their first lead at 9-8.
With the visitors looking for more a short time later, Loucks sailed a pass deep in the corner of the end zone, but X-Men defensive back Michael Adetola deflected it away from the intended receiver and into the arms of defensive back Jeremy Pike.
Back on offense, Millar started another StFX drive, but a Jake Spence interception snuffed that effort.
After the Mounties penned the X-Men offense deep in their own end, for a second time in the quarter, Burnham conceded a safety, giving the Mounties an 11-8 lead.
On the strength of a 21-yard Lambert field goal, Mount Allison took a 14-8 advantage to the locker room at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, the Mounties were back in the X-Men zone, but that pushed ended on a fumble recovery from free safety Jacob Zivolak.
A short time later, Julien-Grant electrified the X-Men faithful with a nifty 35-yard punt return, but the X-Men offense could not capitalize on the quality field position.
On another drive, running back Meech Lamirande was stripped, with Spence making the fumble recovery.
The only points of the third quarter came off the foot of Lambert, who boomed a 49-yard field goal, with plenty of distance to spare, giving the Mounties a 17-8 edge.
In the fourth quarter, the X-Men trimmed the deficit to 17-11 on a 41-yard field goal from Burnham, which helped set the stage for the Stewart-Wall heroics.
After the late TD, the StFX defense stymied a last-minute Mount Allison rally, which fell short with a turnover on downs.
Both teams used deep benches during the game, providing many players with an opportunity to hit the field.
On offense, the Mounties held a 30-23 advantage in first downs, while outgaining the X-Men 425-338 in total yards.
As for the quarterbacks, Loucks led the Mount Allison trio, going 12-for-21, with 124 yards passing. Downton also collected 12 completions, for 105 yards, with two interceptions, while Graham Kelly was 7-for-18, for 84 yards.
For the X-Men, Stewart capped a 4-for-7, 108-yard effort, with an interception, by completing the game-winning touchdown pass. Millar was 7-for-15, for 71 yards and an interception, while veteran starter Tivon Cook completed five out of seven passes, for 47 yards, in limited duty. Dylan Fisher chipped in two completions for 18 yards.
On the ground, Lamirande of the X-Men led all rushers with 65 yards on nine carries, while Jones topped the Mounties with 11 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Wall, on the strength of the game-clinching TD catch, led all receivers with 96 yards, on four catches, while Martin also nabbed four receptions, for 56 yards.
For Mount Allison, veteran Idahosa Yorke led the way with six catches and 60 yards.
Defensive back Phillip Thompson and Horsman, who added one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss, led the Mountie defense with six tackles apiece.
The teams will clash again Saturday, Sept. 10 to open the AUS regular season. Game time is set for 2 p.m. at MacAulay Field in Sackville, N.B.