Shortly after debuting their latest retro jersey and the new, matte-green helmets, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies put together their most convincing a victory of the year, a 39-17 romp over the visiting Alberta Golden Bears.
While they have clearly made strides from their close win Winnipeg over the Bisons and their loss last week to the Calgary Dinos, they are still inconsistent and are finding ways to beat themselves. Indeed, the only thing consistent last night was the wind, which stayed brisk all night.
The Huskies started out strong, using the wind to their advantage and building a 19-0 lead in the first quarter. The drives that produced the Dexter Janke and Mitch Hillis touchdowns looked effortless, while the defence allowed little on the ground or through the air, with Joel Seutter, Dane Bishop and Dylan Kemp sacking Alberta quarterback Ryan Schwartz.
The second quarter started with Alberta kicking a 42-yard field goal, narrowing the score to 19-3. The Huskies, now going into the wind, were unable to maintain the momentum they had in the first, going two-and-out on two of their first three drives of the quarter. Following a fumble recovery after a Joel Seutter’s second sack and first forced-fumble of the game, the Huskies restored their 19-point lead when Denton Kolodzinski nailed a 32-yard field goal.
On the following play, the Huskie defence, which, to that point, looked all but unbeatable, lost focus, and it cost them. Rookie running back Ed Ilnicki rushed 60 yards for a touchdown, absorbing hits and breaking four or five tackles along the way. Suddenly, things didn’t look so secure, with the Huskies only up 12, 22-10. The Huskies offence started to click again following the touchdown, and although they were able to drive well into Alberta territory, linebacker Tyler Greenslade intercepted Drew Burko. The 22-10 score remained at the half.
The Huskie offence started slowly in the second half, although the defence and special teams came out flying, with Dane Bishop registering a sack and Kyle McGinnins blocking a punt two plays later. Although the offence couldn’t capitalize on the ensuing drive, they were able to find their rhythm on the next drive, putting up a seven-play drive that covered 70 yards and ended in a Shane Buchanan five-yard touchdown.
With the score 29-10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the defence kept the heat on the Bears, stopping the Bears on their first drive after only gaining 14 yards. However, the Bears gained 50 yards of field position on the following punt thanks to a head’s up play by Alberta kicker Stephen Fabian, who recovered his own punt on the Huskie 20. This special teams lapse cost the Huskies seven plays later, when Schwartz would finally break the plain, scoring the Bears’ second touchdown and narrowing the Huskie lead to 29-17.
Only ahead by 12 and with just under 11 minutes remaining, the Huskies needed some big plays. It was the Alberta defence that would come up the plays on the Huskies’ next drive, with Brandon Foster sacking Burko and forcing the fumble, which was picked up by Tommy Tsoumpas on the Alberta 40. Luckily, the Huskie defence was also up to the task, with Kemp registering his second sack of the day, snuffing out what looked to be a promising Alberta drive and forcing a punt.
The Huskies would then put the Bears away with a four-play, 78-yard drive that ended in Buchanan’s second touchdown of the day, a 29-yard run that effectively ended any hope the Bears had for a comeback. Between a defensive stand that included Rush’s second sack of the day and a short drive that ended in Kolodzinski’s second field goal of the day, the Huskies finished as strong as they started, leaving the 6,912 satisfied with a 39-17 win.
If it wasn’t for one defensive and one special teams breakdown, this game would have likely ended 39-3. While the Bears were certainly better than the teams we have seen over the past two years, they still have a long way to go to be in the same class as the Huskies. The Huskies kept the Bears in the game with some unforced errors and mental lapses, but they were clearly the better team on the night, putting up 503 yards of offence, including 373 through the air, and sacking Schwartz eight times.
The Huskies have to continue their development and put up another confidence-building, convincing win on the road next Saturday in UBC against the Thunderbirds. This won’t be easy, with offensive linemen Jordan Arkko and Lane Bryksa and linebacker Bishop leaving the game. At this point, it looks like Arkko’s injury is serious and will likely keep him out long-term.
If the Huskies can play well in UBC and eliminate the mental errors, it will benefit them for their next two games, which will come at home against the Calgary Dinos on October 4 and the Manitoba Bisons on October 18. These games will be crucial for the Huskies to win, as they will likely determine if the Huskies will host playoff games or hit the road in November.
With half the season now in the books, the Huskies look like a formidable squad. They are averaging 34.8 points and 477 yards on offence, while averaging 30 points against and a conference-best 422 yards against on defence. And, with one game to go in the first half of the Canada West schedule, the Huskies have the distinction of being the only team to hold their opponents to under 20 points in a game. If they keep making positive steps, they have the potential to go far. We’ll see if they can keep their momentum going next week in Vancouver.