Mt. A’s Vanier Cup appearance, thirty years on

The champions of the 1984 Mitchell Bowl came home to Sackville last weekend to celebrate their thirty-year anniversary. The team was treated to a dominating performance from the 2014 Mounties squad against the Saint Mary’s Huskies.

The feeling of a blowout victory on Saturday must have felt sweet to the 1984 squad. Former kicker and assistant special teams coach Jeff Paikan compared being able to finally get over the “SMU hump” to what they experienced against the Acadia Axemen. “We could never beat Acadia all those years. Then in 1984 we played them on their turf and won. We lost to them in 1983 to end our year. We finally got by them.”

Homecoming means different things to different people, but having the historic team from 1984 return to celebrate their successes once again, and having the current squad experience a success of their own left a feeling of nostalgia over the campus. Coming back to Mt. A, at a time when the football team is performing better than it has in years,  felt like nothing had changed for the 1984 team.

“Homecoming is like four years of memories coming flushing back. You see what the program has done, we brought it to a peak, then it was very good for a while, and then it went through its challenges and now its back” said Paikan. “With this program being back and the relevance of football as the centerpiece of homecoming, it’s just fantastic. It’s very meaningful.”

One of the greatest Mounties in history, slot back Peter Hess, thought the team could continue on the path to what they did in 1984. “We had done well the previous year. We had made it to the [conference] final but didn’t win. Knocking on the door, which is very similar to what the team is experiencing here. You know the success and the excitement, plus the recruiting has been great. The sky’s the limit for these guys.”

Hess, a Sackville native, will never forget how special the 1984 team was to everyone involved. “There were so many things that happened. From winning the league championship, to beating Queens, it’s a huge school and we were major underdogs. To win that in Halifax in front of mostly our fans was incredible.”

Hess is proud of how far his team went, despite the loss in the national final. “The Vanier Cup itself we were pretty damn close, it was 22-13. We were that close to actually winning the national championship. Like somebody said this [Saturday] morning, we do not lament the fact we did not win, because we experienced so much in the process of getting there that it was well worth it for us.”

Paikin has different feelings about the championship game: “Today is the first day I’ve watched a highlight of that game. My mother taped the game for me that day and when the game was over she gave me the VHS” Paikin said. But after seeing his alma mater’s victory, he realized that “It’s to be celebrated.”

The Mounties came into the 1984 season with high expectations after just falling short the previous year. They did not disappoint, winning five of their seven games. Defence and special teams were what led them so far. “In ‘84, the defence was what was winning us games. We had more points scored by our special teams as by our offense. It was the same with our defence too. Against Acadia in the conference title game, twenty-seven of our thirty-three points came on special teams. Our only touchdown in the Vanier Cup came on a blocked punt,” said Hess.

After beating Acadia to win the conference title, the Mounties hosted Queen’s in Halifax as an underdog. Hess came into the game as quarterback in the fourth quarter with his team down 17-10 after the starting quarterback was injured. Mt. A then scored nineteen unanswered points to win 29-17 and earn a spot in the Vanier Cup.

“If we go player by player in that Queen’s game, we lose. One of the guys said yesterday, when someone screwed up, we weren’t saying ‘c’mon,’ we were saying ‘we need to pick that guy up.’ The guys today are athletically superior, but they are not even close to the team that we were” said Paikan.

The Vanier Cup was at Varsity Stadium in Toronto in front of a packed crowd of over 16,000 fans. Most of the fans were cheering for Guelph, but some made the long trek from Mt. A, banding together in Toronto to watch the game. “It’s funny. I was talking to Charlie Scott here this weekend. Nine of them went down and had no room, nowhere to stay and they found a player to stay with and eleven of them ended up staying in one room.”

The team is quick to remind fans of the massive odds they were against against the University of Guelph Gryphons. Thirty years later, Paikan put everything in perspective. “It’s like the movie ‘Hoosiers.’ We were that close to being the smallest football program in Canada to winning the whole damn thing in the heart of Toronto.”

The game, which happened the day after the infamous ‘Hail Flutie’ game where the heavily favoured University of Miami Hurricanes were upset by Doug Flutie’s Boston College Eagles on a last-second touchdown throw, looked to emulate the now infamous game when the Mounties had a 13-8 lead in the fourth quarter. The Gryphons were able to score two touchdowns late, snubbing the upset, and winning the national title 22-13.

The 1984 Mt. A Mounties will never be forgotten here in Sackville, and this year’s squad and teams in years to come will look to have the same success that those Mounties did thirty years ago.

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