Winning in Saskatoon is a big deal. And for some it’s a much bigger deal than others.
The way the Rams and their fans reacted following their nine point victory tonight, jumping up and down and carrying on as though they had just won the Vanier Cup, should not be entirely unexpected. Winning on the Huskies’ home turf is a rare experience for them, with this game being only the second in 14 years they have won in Saskatoon.
It was far from a convincing victory, but it was a victory nonetheless, putting the Rams in the drivers seat for a home playoff game should these teams end up tied in the standings at the end of the year. The Huskies fall to 2-2 and are back on the road next week, going into Calgary to face the first-place Dinos.
The Huskies, who set a Canada West attendance record with 9,033 in attendance, were actually the far better team through the first half of the game, putting together drives of nine, 11 and 13 plays which ended up in a touchdown and two rouges on field goal attempts of 25 and 30 yards. Regina had a six-play touchdown drive, as well, but the momentum was clearly on the side of the Huskies, with the defence hammering Regina quarterback Marc Mueller and allowing only hard-earned short gains.
Then, with 2:25 left in the half, momentum shifted. An unforced error, a Kit Hillis fumbled punt return deep in his own territory, set the Rams up on the Huskie 23. Four plays later, Kolten Solomon was in the endzone, putting the Rams up 14-9. The Huskies marched the ball from their 35 to the Ram’s 22 late in the half, with Chase Bradshaw leading the drive at quarterback, but had to settle for a 27-yard Samson field goal, this one good. The score was 14-12 for the Rams at halftime, with many people wondering what the status of starting quarterback Drew Burko was.
The Rams would continue to ride the momentum in the second half, coming out of the gate and putting together an eight-play, 74 yard drive that ended in Solomon’s second touchdown of the game. With the score 21-12 and quarterback Burko on the sidelines with an injury to his non-throwing hand, Bradshaw was only able to cover 24 yards on the Huskies’ first drive of the half and 23 yards on the second, turning the ball over on downs on the second drive. Regina took advantage of the field position and momentum, marching the ball 66 yards on Seven plays, with Michael Kiapway scoring the first of his two touchdowns on the day to cap the drive and make the score 28-12.
The Huskies’ ensuing drive was cut short on the second play, with Kirby Kezama intercepting a Bradshaw pass and taking it to the Huskie 14. Although the Huskie defence would not make it easy on the Rams, with David Rybinski sacking Mueller for his second sack of the game, the Rams would eventually run the ball in, with Kiapway making the score 35-12 for the Rams just over a minute remaining the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was a different story, as the Huskies forced the Rams into a two-and-out to start the frame. This spurred the offence, with Bradshaw connecting with Kit Hillis for a 47-yard touchdown, making it 35-19. The defence forced another Regina two-and-out, and after taking over at their own 31 after a Regina punt, the Bradshaw and the offence put together a seven-play, 79-yard drive that ended in a 24-yard Bradshaw to Hillis touchdown pass, making the score 35-26 with over nine minutes left.
The Rams were only able to cover 16 yards on their next drive and had to punt the ball away, but they ate up almost three minutes on the game-clock. The Huskies were only able to cover 20 yards on their next drive, forcing another punt, and with their last drive of the game, the Rams covered eight plays, and, more importantly, took 3:55 off the clock. Starting his final drive on the Huskies’ 23, Bradshaw tried to take the ball downfield for a last-minute score, but the Rams’ defence tightened and sacked Bradshaw, turning the ball over on downs and securing their first win in Saskatoon since 2007.
The end result of this game was a direct result of the Huskies unforced errors and the loss of their starting quarterback in the second quarter. If it wasn’t for the fumbled punt return late in the second quarter, the two missed field goals, and a backup quarterback putting in his first significant time in the CIS, this game would have had a far different outcome.
One need only look at the stats sheet to see how close this game really was: Regina had 32 first downs to Saskatchewan’s 31 while Saskatchewan had the edge in passing yards (335 to 330) and total offence (444 to 416). The Huskies had five sacks to Regina’s two, while Regina recorded the lone interception.
While Regina was the better team on the night and they deserved the win, fortune also smiled upon them at Griffiths Stadium. The Huskies, with several new and inexperienced players in the lineup on both sides of the ball, and after losing their starting quarteback in the first half, came close to erasing a 23-point deficit against a team loaded with fifth and fourth-year players.
The Huskies play in Calgary against the Dinos next week. This will be a good test for them and is, dare I say, a winnable game. After what we saw tonight, it is clear that the Huskies only have to tighten up a few small things to be, at least, on-par with the much more experienced pre-season favourites in Canada West.