50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: 1981
A conversation with…
John Huard, head coach, Acadia University Axemen
In Vanier Cup XVII, the Acadia Axemen edged the defending champion Alberta Golden Bears 18-12 at Varsity Stadium in Toronto to claim their second national title in three years, and the second in program history. In one of the most thrilling finishes in game history, running back Quentin Tynes scored the winning touchdown on a two-yard run with 45 seconds remaining in regulation. Head coach John Huard, who was named CIAU football coach of the year that season, was at the helm for both Acadia Vanier Cup triumphs, in 1979 and 1981.
What is your major memory of the 1981 Vanier Cup weekand the overall experience?
It was pretty special since it was the second visit in three years for our coaching staff. Overall, it was a tremendous experience for everyone involved with Acadia, the players, support staff, coaches and student body.
What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?
I was especially happy for our team and all the hard-working members of that group. Also, we were really proud of the fact that win enable us to successfully complete an undefeated season in 1981.
(Note: Acadia went 11-0 overall in 1981, including 9-0 in the AUAA regular season and playoffs, a dominating 40-14 victory over Queen’s in the Atlantic Bowl and the Vanier Cup win over Alberta; in 1979, when they claimed their first CIAU championship, the Axemen had a 9-1 overall mark)
Was there one key play you remember?
There were many plays that helped to decide the outcome but one key play was the onside kick by Jim DiRenzo late in the fourth quarter that we recovered.
But of course, the game-winning drive was the key highlight. Our quarterback, Steve Repic, completed three consecutive passes to Don Clow, which led to the go-ahead touchdown by Quentin Tynes.
(Note: Repic, who was named game MVP, completed 75% of his passes on the afternoon (15 of 20) for 232 yards — including a 64-yard TD pass to Hubert Walsh in the second quarter — and was also the game’s leading rusher with 63 yards on 10 carries. Clow led all receivers with 105 yards on six catches)
Did anything unusual or out of the ordinary happen during the game or during Vanier week?
It was a very well-run week. However, the only unusual thing was, after a small issue with a cab driver, we had to run into a TD Bank through the back door before it closed to cash a cheque from the CIAU to provide eating money for our players and staff members.
Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?
Nothing special. We kept our routine the same.
How did you or the team react to the stadium, the crowd, the weather?
I remember that it was a nice day, so weather wasn’t a factor. It was business as usual with our team sticking to its routine. The experience from the 1979 Vanier Cup helped to keep nerves to a minimum.
What are your memories of the post-game celebrations and the trip back home? What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?
Obviously we were happy and proud to accomplish our goal as a team and for Acadia University. I was proud of the dedication, preparation, sacrifice and commitment our team, support staff and coaches exhibited during the season.
As had been the case in 1979, we had an exciting fire truck ride into Wolfville with Acadia students and Valley fans cheering as the team arrived. A great parade that will always remain in my memory.
At the time, how did winning the Vanier Cup change your everyday life?
To be honest it did not change in my day-to-day life. I continued to monitor our athletes’ academic results and immediately started recruiting new prospects for the following year.
How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup wins?
Only when I see football teams that do not understand playing football is a simple game requiring individuals to ‘do what is right’!
Our team at Acadia had 660 offensive plays in one season and recorded only six penalties. That’s less than one per cent!You do not lose with that kind of mental and physical toughness. Today, it’s not uncommon to see teams with over 10 penalties per game.
More about John Huard (courtesy of Acadia University Athletics):
A native of Waterville, Maine, John Huard played for four years at the University of Maine as a linebacker and was named the school’s athlete of the year on three occasions. He is generally considered to be the finest football player the state of Maine has ever produced.
He went on to play professionally with Denver (1967-1969) and New Orleans (1971) in the NFL and with Montreal (1973) and Toronto (1973-1975) in the CFL, before retiring due to an injury. His coaching career began at the University of Maine and, through the intervention of long-time friend and mentor J.I. Albrecht, he arrived at Acadia to take up head coaching duties in the fall of 1979.
His first season at the helm was magical as the Axemen won the AUAA conference final (18-0 vs. StFX), the Atlantic Bowl (23-7 vs. Alberta) and the first Vanier Cup in program history (34-12 vs. Western Ontario). Following a 28-8 loss to Ottawa in the 1980 Atlantic Bowl, Acadia rebounded with an unblemished 11-0 campaign in 1981, capped by an 18-12 Vanier Cup win over Alberta.
Huard received the Frank Tindall Trophy as CIAU coach of the year in 1981.