Antigonish, NS - Led by a five-touchdown passing performance by quarterback Tivon Cook (Scarborough, ON), the first place StFX X-Men (3-1) scored a 37-17 victory over the visiting Saint Mary's Huskies (1-3) Saturday afternoon in AUS football action.
The game, in front of 5,600 fans at StFX Stadium, served as part of Homecoming 2016 festivities.
The X-Men jumped out to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter, starting with a touchdown on their opening offensive possession.
Keyed by three catches from Christian Ridley (Dubai, UAE), including a 25-yard TD grab from Cook, the X-Men led 6-0. With the Jonathan Heidebrecht (Camrose, AB) point after, which capped off the eight-play, 65-yard drive, the blue and white were up 7-0.
"It was awesome. We drove down the field; we were pretty dominant on that drive," Cook said, after the game, when asked how that opening score helped set the tone for the game.
"It gave everyone the confidence that we could keep doing it - again and again."
After a 45-yard kick-off return from Andreas Robinson (Dartmouth, NS), the Huskies started their second series, which ended after Saint Mary's receiver Shomari Murdock-Reid (Toronto, ON), near midfield, coughed up the ball after a hit from X-Men defensive back Paolo Lach-Edwards (Hamilton, ON). StFX defensive back Nathaniel Fermin (Pickering, ON) made the recovery.
On the ensuing drive, the X-Men doubled their advantage, with Dejaun Martin (Scarborough, ON) corralling a 31-yard touchdown pass from Cook, on a second-and-two play. With the Heidebrecht conversion, StFX led 14-0, less than 10 minutes into the contest.
Starting on their own nine-yard line, the Huskies tried to engineer some offense, but they were stymied by the X-Men defense, including a tandem tackle by defensive linemen Kay Okafor (Enugu, Nigeria) and Kyle Forde (Ajax, ON).
After a first-down connection between Cook and first-year X-Men receiver Chuck Wall (Hamilton, ON), the Huskies stiffened on defense and forced a StFX punt. The key play came from Tresor Mafuta (Montreal, QC) and Jadarius Ceaser (Montreal, QC), who stuffed X-Men running back Jordan Socholotiuk (Fort McMurray, AB) for a loss.
After the X-Men defense forced a Saint Mary's two-and-out on offense, Kaion Grant (Toronto, ON) returned the Brian Hope (Port Coquitlan) punt 25 yards to the Huskies' 43-yard line.
On the next play, Cook threw a bomb to Ridley for a 43-yard touchdown, giving the X-Men a 21-0 lead.
On the next Saint Mary's possession, Lach-Edwards (Hamilton, ON) intercepted a deflected Erdmann pass.
A short time later, King helped end another Huskies' possession with a tackle-for-loss of running back Derek Pisani (Newmarket, ON).
The Huskies got the ball back, after the X-Men offense stalled. On the possession, Ceaser came up with a sack of Cook.
After the X-Men special team unit almost blocked a Hope punt, the home team started from the Huskies' 32-yard line, after a Martin return and no yards' penalty against Saint Mary's. The Huskies defense stiffened and forced a two-and-out for the StFX offense.
With the Huskies trying to cut into the X-Men edge, Hope had his 39-yard field-goal attempt blocked by defensive back Justin Holland (Parksville, BC). Lach-Edwards scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Saint Mary's 24-yard line.
On a second-and-16 play, Cook went up top and connected with Grant for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. With the Heidebrecht point after, the X-Men led 28-0.
In the final two minutes of the first half, off a broken play deep in the X-Men zone, Mafuta intercepted Cook and made the short return - five yards - for a touchdown.
The X-Men blocked the Hope point-after attempt, keeping the score 28-6, which was the margin at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, the Huskies converted a third-and-two, on a Pisani four-yard carry. During another third down attempt, linebacker Curtis Urlacher (Peachland, BC) stuffed Pisani, and the X-Men took over on downs.
On a third-and-one, from the X-Men 40-yard line, Cook gained first-down yardage on a quarterback sneak, but the Saint Mary's defense held up and, eventually, forced StFX to punt.
On the next X-Men possession, defensive back Robinson lowered the boom on Martin, knocking the ball loose and causing an incompletion on a second-down play.
Late in the third quarter, with the Huskies starting at their own seven, the X-Men forced a two-and-out, highlighted by a Forde tackle of Pisani, in the backfield, for a loss of one yard. Penned deep in their own end, Hope conceded a safety, when he went back to punt, giving StFX a 30-6 lead, which they carried to the fourth quarter.
In the opening two minutes of the final stanza, the X-Men engineered a three-play, 63-yard scoring march. After a pair of rushes by Albert Banahene (Calgary, AB), Cook threw a 40-yard TD pass to a wide open Martin, who sped by his defender to get open. With the Heidebrecht point after, StFX led 37-6
The Huskies tried to rally, on their next possession, with Lerone Robinson (Vancouver, BC) making consecutive receptions, followed by a first-down scramble by Erdmann. After the drive sputtered, Hope kicked a 36-yard field goal to cut the X-Men advantage to 37-9.
In the final two minutes of regulation, Erdmann hooked up with Robinson for a 35-yard pass-and-catch touchdown. After the Saint Mary's quarterback connected with Djordje Petrovic (Brantford, ON) for the two-point conversion, the visitors trailed 37-17.
X-Men defensive back Hayden Peters (Inverary, ON) snuffed out the final Saint Mary's series with an interception of Erdmann.
Another strong offensive effort from the X-Men was keyed by the play of the offensive line.
"They had a hell of a game today - their pass blocking was amazing. I wasn't feeling any pressure all game," Cook said. "The receivers also caught the ball very well today. It was just a great game all-around for our entire team."
Offensively, StFX outgained Saint Mary's 424-320, in total yards, and held a 22-15 edge in first downs.
Along with his quintet of passes for major scores, Cook - the Subway player of the game - finished 19-for-33 for 305 yards.
Ridley was the top receiver for the X-Men, with seven catches for 118 yards, while Martin added five for 82 yards. Both snatched a pair of TD catches. On the ground, Socholotiuk rushed for 55 yards, on 21 carries, while Banahene collected 45 yards on 11 rushes.
For the Huskies, Erdmann finished 22-for-43 for 230 yards, with Robinson his top receiver, collecting 117 yards on seven receptions. Leo Mantuila (Edmonton, AB) was the team's top rusher with eight carries for 54 yards.
On defense, King led the X-Men with 8.5 tackles, six solo and five assisted, while Gordon Whyte chipped in five solo and six assisted, for six total tackles.
For the Huskies, Emmanuel Agbozo (Surrey, BC) and Aidan Panchyshyn (Edmonton, AB), his team's player of the game, led the way with nine (five solo) and seven (five solo) tackles, respectively.
Cook talked about playing in front of the large and supportive home crowd on Homecoming weekend. "It was amazing. I am definitely going to remember this for a long time. It was such a great atmosphere, so many fans, so many people cheering. It was just a great time, all-around, especially when you win," he said.
Both teams return to action Friday, Oct. 7, with the X-Men hosting the Acadia Axemen, while the Mount Allison Mounties will visit Halifax to face the Huskies. Kick-off for both match-ups is 7 p.m.