ALMA – The Northumberland Nighthawks are in the Division I boy’s provincial high school rugby championship.
Justin MacLennan scored two tries and converted all three of them, including one by Gavin Bourque, as the Nighthawks defeated Kings-Edgehill 21-12 on Tuesday in their qualifying match in Alma.
The results have created a rarity for local high school rugby in that both the boys and girls teams from North Nova and Northumberland are in provincial championships.
Northumberland girls are in Division II after defeating the Hants East Tigers to advance.
“This is probably the first time the Northumberland girls are going to the provincials in the 16 years for these schools,” Northumberland girls coach Graham Hayden said. “With all four teams going, it bodes well for rugby here.”
The Nighthawks will try to defend the boys’ provincial championship they won in 2018 while playing in the same pool as the Northumberland Regional champion North Nova Gryphons and the Sir John A. Macdonald Flames from the Capital Region. The games are being played on Friday and Saturday on four different fields in Windsor.
“That’s the goal,” said MacLennan, who is in Grade 12 and would like to add another championship to his graduation. “I think we’re ready. We’re healthy.”
NRHS did its damage early and were held under virtual siege for much of the second half as Kings-Edgehill tried desperately to get back in the game.
Kings-Edgehill scored a converted try with less than five minutes left in the game and added an unconverted try as time expired.
“We were trying to make a statement and for the first 15 or 20 minutes we did,” Nighthawks’ head coach John Rushton said, referring to their loss to North Nova last week in the regional final. “We let up a bit after that.”
Rushton said the Nighthawks face a huge challenge by having to face the Gryphons and Flames in their pool but acknowledged they can still win the championship.
“That’s a very tough pool, but we have to play them sometime, so why not right off the bat?” he said.
Host Avon View is in Pool A with Dartmouth and Horton. Their games are at Avon View.
The Nighthawks, Gryphons and Flames will play at Kings-Edgehill.
North Nova and Northumberland will meet in their first game at 11:15 a.m. on Friday, according to the schedule established by Rugby Nova Scotia.
The Nighthawks will play the Flames at 3:30 p.m., while North Nova will face the Flames at 5:45 p.m. on Friday.
“(The Gryphons) are a good team,” MacLennan said. “They’re fast and they have a great defence.”
The semifinal games will feature the first-place and second-place teams in cross-over matches at 11a.m. on Saturday.
The winners will vie for the championship at 3 p.m.
The Division I girls are also playing in Windsor on Friday and Saturday.
North Nova is in the same pool as the Citadel Phoenix from Halifax and the Cobequid Cougars from Truro.
North Nova will test Citadel at 2 p.m. and Cobequid at 5:45 p.m. on Friday.
Avon View, Lockview and Sir John A. Macdonald are in the other bracket.
The playoff format and game times are the same as for the Division I boys.
The Northumberland Division II girls will play at 3:15 and 5:45 p.m. on Friday.
Semifinals are at 9:30 a.m. and the championship game is at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Both the North Nova boys and girls have a history of success in Windsor. Both teams won Division I provincial championships 10 years ago at Avon View.
The North Nova girls qualified on May 21 in New Glasgow with their Northumberland Region win over the Cougars, while the North Nova boys defeated the host Nighthawks 15-10 in their regional showdown last Thursday.
The Gryphon boys got tries from Regan MacDonald and Max MacKinnon, while co-captain Matt Chediac added five points with a convert and penalty kick.
The win was at most a mild upset for the Gryphons, who previously lost 10-5 to the Nighthawks in their only meeting this season. The Nighthawks were unbeaten in four regular-season games and had top seed in the regional playoffs.
The Gryphons made an early lead stand up as the Nighthawks tried hard to draw even in the dying minutes of the game.
MacLennan scored for the Nighthawks late in the second half, but they couldn’t catch the Gryphons.
Coaches for both sides concluded the game pitted two evenly matched teams with an outcome that could have gone either way.
“We got the breaks we didn’t get before,” Gryphons’ coach Darcy MacInnis said. “The guys worked hard.”
Rushton said mistakes on the Gryphons’ two tries made the difference.
“We got caught out of position twice and it cost us both times,” he said. “I thought North Nova played a good game.”
Nighthawks’ ball carrier Cody MacDougall is tackled by opponents from Kings-Edgehill during their qualifying match on Tuesday in Alma. (Goodwin photo)