Gryphons advance to regional final, provincials

Christopher Cameron
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North Nova tops Northumberland in boys and girls rugby semifinals

NEW GLASGOW – The top-seeded North Nova Gryphons rugby teams are through to the NSSAF provincial rugby championships after Tuesday’s wins against the Northumberland Nighthawks.

They still have Thursday’s regional finals to take care of, but both teams from the Northumberland region advance regardless of the result.

North Nova will play Hants East in the boy’s final, while North Nova faces CEC in the girl’s game.

“It (regional banner) means a lot,” said North Nova’s Tristan MacDonald. “We lost it last year against Hants East and really want it this year. I think we have a good chance at it.”

North Nova’s boys punched their ticket to provincials with a 26-8 win over Northumberland, a closer match than a week prior in Alma.

“I think we just underestimated them a bit and didn’t have our heads in the game,” said MacDonald about North Nova’s play. “It’s definitely an eye-opener. We really have to practice hard and focus better (in their future games). We can’t underestimate in the next game.”

Cole Livingstone led the Gryphons offensively with two tries, while Darryl Wheadon kicked three conversions. Carson Dunbar and Mark Vokey each added a try to round out the North Nova scoring.

“Defensively I saw everybody putting their bodies on the line today and they were there to play to try to win against the number one team in the league, so I think we did everything we could defensively,” said Northumberland head coach John Rushton. “Offensively this week we worked on a new game plan, which involved our bigger guys running wide. I think that was easier for us to keep more possession that way and I was really happy with our guys.

“It was 18 points compared to 40 (last week). My brother (Brian) and I were talking about it and we said if we didn’t win if we could keep it within 20 points we’d be happy.”

James MacKenzie scored all eight of Northumberland’s points with a try and a penalty kick.

The try by MacKenzie came in the midst of a significant possession deep in the Gryphon’s zone. For roughly 15-20 minutes of the second half Northumberland dominated the possession play, but were unable to score more than the single try as North Nova held the line defensively.

“We just tried to keep them out of the try zone and tried to keep them from scoring,” said MacDonald. “We really should’ve won our lineouts and got possession of the ball there. We lost pretty much every lineout in the second half and that shouldn’t happen.”

GIRLS: North Nova 60, Northumberland 0

In a David vs. Goliath battle, the North Nova Gryphons defeated Northumberland in the second game of the day to advance to their regional final, which they lost to CEC a season ago.

They hope to avenge that loss this Thursday.

“If we win the game we get in the pool that we want to be in (at provincials) and CEC is our biggest rival, so we want to have a really good game and prove to them that we’re the better team in the region,” said Latisha Benoit, a senior at North Nova. “The regional banner is really important, but now we’re more concerned about the provincial banner. We do want to win over CEC, but the provincial one is the one we definitely want to win.”

Caroline Straub led the team with 19 points (three tries and two conversions). Keeley MacCuish also scored three tries for the Gryphons, while Rebecca Taylor, Shelby MacDonald, Lindsay Feit and Shea Heath all scored a try apiece.

Paige Clarke added six points with three conversions.

Northumberland started off the game with a strong offensive push in the first five minutes, but on a turnover Straub ran the ball three-quarters of the way down the field to open the scoring for North Nova.

As the game wore on the Nighthawks had multiple players that got hit hard and with limited subs against the Gryphons, who put fresh bodies on in the second half, were unable to regain their initial offensive pressure from the early minutes of the game.

Northumberland head coach Laura Vermeulen said she was proud of her team this season, especially after last Thursday’s win against J.H. Gillis.

“It’s so amazing to see them come together as a team, players, students and to see their heart and the drive to want to win together as a team,” she said. “I know that some of those girls fell in love with rugby and I’m so proud that they stuck it through. Our numbers were dwindling with injuries and that, but the games that we have won it’s because the girls just really, really wanted it.”

Vermeulen said the team was on cloud nine last week when they won, something she was extremely proud of as a coach.

“I was running up and down the field like a maniac, jumping for joy because the girls were on point and every time they had possession of the ball we were driving the other team back constantly,” she said. “They just wanted it so much and although you don’t want to end the season on a low point they should be so proud of all the games that we’ve had because they’ve come such a long way.”

On Twitter: @NGNewsChris

Organizations: North Nova Gryphons

Geographic location: North Nova, Northumberland, Hants East Alma

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