It was nip, tuck, to say nothing of tense, but Ontario’s Glenn Howard finally escaped with his 12th straight victory at the Tim Hortons Brier on Friday night.
Facing the youngest skip in the competition — 23 years his junior — 47-year-old Howard and his team of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill required all their guile and a few big shots to wrestle control from Brad Jacobs’s Northern Ontario entry in the Page One-Two playoff game, resulting in Ontario catapulting directly to Sunday’s championship final at 8 p.m. ET following an 8-6 victory.
The win plants the Howard team, playing in its fifth straight Brier, in its fourth championship final. In three previous Brier finishes, Howard won one, lost two.
Northern Ontario jockeyed in front of the contest by stealing a critical fourth-end point after a third-end triple but a patient Ontario unit finally scored three of its own in the eighth, held Jacobs to a single in the ninth when Jacobs was off on a four-foot draw by a hair’s width, and left Howard with an easy shot for a winning deuce at the finish.
“My team made every shot for me,” said Howard afterward. “I missed a few early and got a little bit down on myself. They kept picking me up, making great shots and Richie (Hart) made the shot-of-the-week through the port in the sixth. That gave us the momentum.
“Obviously it was an entertaining curling game. I thought we had them in trouble a lot, I let them off a few times, and then got some breaks out of Brad and, lo and behold, we were tied up coming home with the hammer, just where we wanted to be. And Craig made the two great shots on the guards in the 10th.
“They made a lot of great shots, too, and we barely beat them. But we’re totally satisfied. You can’t win unless you get to the final, so it feels great.”
Jacobs doubled out of trouble in the first end, which was blanked, then yielded two in the second despite executing another double-kill.
But Howard missed a runback in the third, then was teased into attempting a thin double on a half-guarded stone and wrecked, leaving Jacobs a draw for three in the third.
Howard executed a near-freeze in the fourth but Jacobs chipped it out, leaving his foe looking at three, and Howard was inches short drawing for one.
With a 4-2 lead, Jacobs made another double in the fifth, left Howard a shot for two but the Ontario skip threw light and rolled out the shooter, settling for one.
“It’s funny with a guy like Glenn Howard,” said Hart later. “When you say he’s struggling if he misses two or three shots, it’s like the sky is falling. He does that now and then but it rarely costs us.”
Howard appeared to have a multiple count set up in the sixth but Jacobs executed a last-rock bump to save the end and take a 5-3 edge.
Then came the turning point.
“It was the seventh end,” said Jacobs. “When I didn’t hold the shooter on an easy wide-open hit we allowed him to blank. Then he put a good end together in the eighth and we struggled for sure. If I hit and stick in the seventh we’re forcing him to one and it’s a totally different game.”
Both third E.J. Harnden and Jacobs missed shots in the eighth to set up the Howard three-spot. Jacobs needed a critical roll with his last rock but didn’t get it and left his opponent an open hit for the multiple count.
“We definitely let it slip away,” said Jacobs. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to, not as well as we have the last six or seven games. But that’s why we wanted to get into the One-Two playoff game, we get two cracks at him.
“You see him missing early on and you can’t help thinking, hey, maybe we’re going to beat this guy if he’s having an off day. But we gave it right back to him. It was a little unfortunate, but that’s the name of the game sometimes. I thought I played pretty good but missed a couple of key shots and when you do that against Glenn Howard you’re not going to win the game.
Ontario outpointed its opponents at every position — 89-81 in percentage overall.
Northern Ontario, now nursing a 9-3 record, will await the winner of Saturday’s 12-noon sudden-death playoff between Alberta and Newfoundland/Labrador for a semi-final opponent today at 7:30 ET.
“We go right back on the same sheet,” said Jacobs of the semi. “It was cool, quite the experience and we know what to expect now. We’re going to let this one go, almost immediately, and get ready for the next one.”
Jacobs said it was his team’s third loss in a Page One-Two game.
“We lost in the provincials this year and once previously but came back both times to go to the Brier. I think we can learn from that. The momentum you get by playing the semi-final sometimes puts you in good shape for the final.”