The teams meet in one of two Maritime Football League (MFL) semifinals today with a berth in the McIntyre Cup championship on the line.
Kickoff is 4 p.m. in Saint John, N.B.
Saint John is the five-time defending MFL champ and has an 18-0 regular season record during the last three campaigns, including this year’s league-best 6-0 mark.
The Mariners, morphed and rebranded this season from the Charlottetown Privateers, went 0-6 in their initial season losing by a combined 78-23 in two games versus Saint John.
The defunct Privateers were a scrappy lot, but had little success in the regular season and playoffs. It missed the post-season last year and had lost both of its last two post-season appearances.
A new management team and outlook hoped to change that this season and, despite the record, Mariners head coach Zach Davidson is undeterred.
“We definitely have a shot. (One) game (against Saint John) was a one-score game halfway through the fourth quarter. They got a couple of late scores,” said Davidson, a Holland College alum and former MVP. “Guys need to step up, understand how close we are. They have to be ready for a fight.”
Mariners linebacker Mitch Osmond can grasp that. The Riverview, N.B., native knows controlling longtime Saint John running back John Haines and the ground attack is the key. Do that and there’s hope.
“If we can stop him for a loss early, we can get in his head. He gets angry and starts to make mistakes. We want to force them to pass rather that run over us,” said Osmond. “The biggest thing is… we can’t be afraid. They may be bigger than us, they may be stronger than us but we have to play with heart. Leave it all out there because you never know when it will be your last game.”
Heart is one thing; being down players is another.
The Mariners are without starting quarterback Dave Clark, who is coaching gymnastics in Cape Breton on Saturday, and have injuries to receivers Devin Elsmore and Chad Blanchard and running back Ryan Dempsey that will keep them out. Not to mention offensive guard Kenzie Gertley-Gregan is out, too.
So backups, like centre Dustin Gertley-Gregan, and young guys are crucial as third-year QB Colin Trewin, who came up through the Privateers minor system, is about to find out when he gets the start.
But Trewin isn’t a rookie here. He started the last game against Saint John, so he has ideas on how to exploit the Wanderers defence, starting with putting the pigskin up to help running back/defender Richard Lush on both sides of the ball.
“They’re not the quickest. Definitely want to throw the ball against these guys, definitely want to air the ball out,” said Trewin. “It’s our third time (this season) playing Saint John so there’s not much unexpected. It’s not unfamiliar territory. Guys are much more comfortable and focusing on the task at hand.”
The other semi has the Moncton Mustangs (4-2) hosting the Nova Scotia Buccaneers (2-4) also at 4 p.m.
Winners move on to McIntyre Cup at the home of the highest remaining seed on Saturday, July 29.
NEED TO KNOW
A look at the Saint John Wanderers and the Island Mariners 2017 regular seasons.
Saint John: 6-0, first overall.
Mariners: 0-6, last overall.
Saint John: 188, first.
Mariners: 91, third.
Saint John: 54, first.
Mariners: 205, last.
Saint John 37 Mariners 13 in Saint John.
Saint John 41 Mariners 10 in Charlottetown.