The UNB Red Bombers was an improved football team in 2016—but heading into the upcoming season, they are in no way resting.
The 2016 edition of the Red Bombers enjoyed a largely successful campaign, finishing second during the regular season in the Atlantic Football League and earning their first home field playoff game since 2012. 2012 was also the year they last went on to lift the Moosehead Cup. Unfortunately, their 2016 season came to an abrupt and disappointing end when they were defeated by the third seeded Holland College Hurricanes in the semi-finals by a score of 15-10.
This defeat at the hands of a team they had gone undefeated against during the regular season served as a painful reminder to the Bombers’ head coach, Dan McCullough, that despite their improvements, the team still has plenty of room to grow heading into the 2017 season.
“I thought we made a tremendous improvement last year from the previous year. A lot of positives—but when it came right down to it in that semi-final game that we hosted, we came up short and we’ve got a pretty bitter taste in our mouth about it,” said McCullough.
Fortunately for McCullough and his team, they will not have to wait long for their chance to exercise any remaining demons from their loss in the semi-finals. They are set to open their season on Sept. 16 in an away game against Holland College.
“It’s nice we get a chance for retribution… It’s nice to get that chance right away,” said McCullough.
As for why this season will be different from the last, McCullough pointed to the return of an already strong running game and stout defense—as well as the addition of a new wrinkle on offence.
“Well, it’s nice this year because our passing game has improved, we’ve got a new quarterback—first year guy, Hunter Sturgeon—out of Leo Hayes High School, and he’s throwing really well and he has worked with a lot of these receivers before.”
“It’s nice to have that threat now, as opposed to last year.”
He said that last year, Holland College could always plan on them running the ball.
“That’s what we did; that’s what we did well—but this year they’re going to have to plan for more than just the run, so I think that adds a dimension to our game for sure,” he added.
Fourth year running back Turner Sturgeon agrees with his coach’s assessment, stating “We had a really good group of guys [last year], we retained most of them in the offseason. We had a really good offensive line and we’ve only built off of it.”
McCullough is also hoping to extend the team’s improvements from on the field to the way they conduct business off of it.
“No more of the ‘buddy-buddy coach,’” he said. “We’re trying to tighten up and I feel like that’s what we need to do to be that level of perfection when it comes to football, if you want to have a championship team.”
“I want to go undefeated and I want there to be no question of who the 2017 AFL champs were.”