I was recently watching a documentary on the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays. In it, Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail, who was covering the American League Championship Series between the Blue Jays and the Oakland Athletics, shares a story of how he started making dinner reservations as the ninth inning of game four started, with the Athletics holding a seemingly insurmountable 6-4 lead and ace closer Dennis Eckersley out to shut down the Jays.
Brunt had his story nearly finished and was focused on his reservations for an hour later in San Fransisco. The Blue Jays, however, had different plans, coming back in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at six and winning it in the eleventh inning, forcing Brunt and most of media row to miss their dinner reservations and rewrite their stories.
Many of us, this humble writer included, made a similar assumption as Manitoba took a nine point lead over the Huskies last night with 3:50 left in the game. Not that I had a word written, but I started heading for the exit, preparing this story in my head, thinking of how I was going to frame a three-game losing streak, a third home loss, and the possibility of the Huskies missing the playoffs.
Thankfully, the Huskies had other plans. I would learn the hard way, just as Stephen Brunt did 20 years ago, that the game’s not over till it’s over.
This game was shaping up to be another frustrating loss, one fraught with missed opportunities, untimely mistakes and an inability to stop the big-play ability of the opponent. After the defence started strong with a two-and-out that included sacking Manitoba quarterback Cam Clark, the offence ate up 63 yards on 12 plays. Unable to finish off the drive with a major score, the Huskies settled for a 27-yard Cole Samson field-goal attempt, which was wide right. The next play ended in Samson putting the field goal attempt through the uprights, giving the Huskies a 4-0 lead until the final minute of the first quarter, when, following another 27-yard Huskie missed field goal, Manitoba running back Anthony Coombs ran the ball 49 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bisons a 7-4 lead at the end of the first.
While not able to put up points with their first drive of the second quarter, the Huskies got on a roll on their second offensive drive, putting together a six-play, 67-yard drive that included a 30-yard completion from Chase Bradshaw to Charlie Power and an 11-yard Bradshaw touchdown pass to Mitch Stevens, giving the Huskies an 11-7 lead. The defence held Manitoba to one first down on their next drive but the Huskies were unable to move the ball past their own 44, forcing a Denton Kolodzinski punt. Teague Sherman of the Bisons came sprinted in off the edge, blocking and recovering the kick and running it into the endzone, giving the Bisons a 14-11 lead.
Seven plays later, a Manitoba drive stalled and the Huskies returned the favour, with Braeden George blocking a Manitoba punt, which Seamus Neary recovered on the Manitoba 37. Not able to move the ball much, the Huskies had to settle for another Samson field goal, this one good from 38 yards, tying the score at 14. It appeared this would be the score heading into the half, but Bradshaw threw an ill-advised pass across to the wide-side of the field and it was intercepted by Terrence Coutou. Bradshaw caught up with and tackled Coutou on the Saskatchewan nine with 1.9 seconds left. The Bisons decided to go for the chip-shot field goal, but kicker Nick Boyd missed from 16 yards out, making the score 15-14 Bisons heading into the locker rooms.
The Huskies have struggled in the third quarter this year, being outscored 54-2 in this frame in their first three games. Game six would be no different than the previous five, with the second of two short drives resulting in punter Kolodzinski forced to jump on a fumbled snap on the Saskatchewan 13. Two plays later, Kienan LaFrance would rush in for the major, giving the Bisons a 22-14 lead. The Huskies scored their only points of the third quarter after the Bisons conceded a safety mid-way through, but that gain would be short lived, as a promising Huskie drive ended in a Bradshaw shovel pass being intercepted by defensive end Ranji Atwall, who returned it for a touchdown, giving the Bisons a 29-16 lead.
The Bisons would enter the fourth with their 13-point lead and would stretch that to 16 two plays in, with Boyd hitting a Manitoba field-goal from 27 yards. The Huskies didn’t find points on their next drive, but following a Bison turnover on downs, Bradshaw would throw two quick passes, the second to Kit Hillis for a 40-yard touchdown making the score 32-23 for the Bisons. The Huskie defence would capitalize on this momentum, forcing Manitoba into two-and-outs on each of their next two drives, which included a Brayden Twarynski sack.
With 7:38 left, the Huskies engineered their longest drive of the evening, a 10-play, 95-yard drive that included seven first-downs and ended off with Bradshaw plunging into the endzone for a touchdown, making the score 32-30 for Manitoba after the convert. This wouldn’t last long, with Anthony Coombs rushing for his second touchdown of the game three plays later, a 70-yard run that saw him weave his way straight through the heart of the Huskie defence, making the score 39-30 for the Bisons.
Jarvis James would provide the Huskies with an immediate lift on the ensuing kickoff, returning the kick 37 yards to the Huskie 42. Bradshaw would then march 68 yards down the field, capping off this drive with a 16-yard pass to Stevens for his second touchdown grab of the game, making it a two-point difference on the scoreboard once again, with the Huskies trailing 39-37. The Bisons would attempt to drive down the field and extend their lead with 2:33 remaining, but all they could manage was 11 yards, hurting themselves with holding and offside penalties on the drive.
Brendon Bowman would punt the ball back to the Huskies, and with just over two minutes remaining, Bradshaw would take the Huskies from their own 49 to the Manitoba 49 before handing the ball off to Shane Buchanan, who was seeing his first meaningful CIS action at running back after impressing at fall camp. Buchanan would rattle off a 31 yard gain to the Manitoba nine before Bradshaw handed it off to him one more time, and Buchanan would make no mistake, scoring a nine-yard touchdown that would be the winning points on the night.
A gutsy, gritty win like this was just what this struggling team needed to get its confidence back. This game showed that even with injuries to key players, the Huskies are still able to come together as a team and deliver a big win. And they deserved to win, dominating the statistics, gaining 44 first-downs to Manitoba’s 13 and putting up 621 yards of offence to Manitoba’s 342. The Huskies also owned the time of possession, controlling the ball for 35:27 compared to Manitoba’s 24:14.
Manitoba nearly stole this one thanks to a couple Huskie mistakes on offence and special teams and two big plays from Anthony Coombs. That would have been a shame, as the excellent performances of Chase Bradshaw, who tied a Canada West record with 38 completions and had 426 yards passing, Kit Hillis and Garrett Burgess, who had 141 and 135 yards receiving, respectively, and especially Shane Buchanan, who had 144 yards on 12 carries and the winning touchdown, would have been overshadowed.
The Huskies not only prevailed, but they did so by five points, which means they win the season series between the teams and would have the tiebreaker should the teams be tied in the standings at the end of the year. This was the most challenging of the Huskies remaining games, and if they can beat the Alberta Golden Bears next week and the UBC Thunderbirds on October 26 at home, there is still a chance they could host a playoff game. It’s more likely they will finish third and have to go on the road for the playoffs, but it would be foolish to assume that will be the end result, if tonight’s game was any indication.