The University of Saskatchewan Huskies kicked off the 2014 season with a bang, shutting out the Manitoba Bisons in the second half on their way to a 44-24 victory over the sixth-ranked team in the country.
This victory was a statement, not only of the Huskies’ explosiveness on offence but also how physical and nasty their defence is. It was also a testament to the Huskies’ new-found resilience and ability to adjust during the game, as a tight, closely contested first half turned into a one-sided second half.
Drew Burko had a good first game, throwing for four touchdowns and 233 yards. His one interception in the second quarter led to a touchdown for the Bisons, but he bounced back quickly and protected the ball, even in the face of a good Bisons pass rush. He has room to improve, as several passes were off the mark, but kept his composure and looked solid for the first game of the year.
Burko and his receivers, of which seven caught passes, were aided by a strong ground game. Shane Buchanan led the way for the Huskies, putting up 88 yards on 13 carries. Jarvis James and Tyler Chow showed their elusiveness and speed, putting up 47 and 50 yards respectively, with James adding a touchdown in the third quarter.
The four-headed beast that is the Huskies’ ground game (which also includes the 230 lb. Andre Lalonde) had plenty of space most of the time thanks to the Huskies’ underrated offensive line. Even after Matt Leung left in the first quarter, they continued to to open holes against the big, veteran Bison defensive line. They will need to adjust to life without Leung, as he is likely out for the season with a torn bicep.
Defensively, the Huskies started out slow and tentative, allowing the Bisons to rack up yards and consecutive first-downs in the first half. They were able to start pressuring Bison quarterback Jordan Yantz in the second quarter and poured on the pressure in the second half, sacking Yantz three times.
The defensive line dominated the Bison offensive line in the second half, taking away running lanes and pressuring Yantz, forcing him to make poor throws. Three of those throws ended up in the hands of Huskie defensive backs, with Keegan Arnyek coming up with one interception and safety Mark Ingram picking off two passes.
Ingram plays a physical game and unleashed several huge hits on the night, including one late in the third quarter on Bison receiver Matt Sawyer that visibly shook Sawyer up (although, to Sawyer’s credit, he hung onto the ball). The physical play of the Huskies took its toll on the Bisons, who had five players on crutches or in street clothes by the end of the game.
The 8,121 in attendance witnessed a team that is capable of playing with anyone in the conference and should only improve from this point forward. They dominated the second half, outscoring the Bisons 23-0, shutting down what most thought would be a potent Manitoba offence. Granted, the Bisons were missing their best receiver from 2013, Nic Demski, but they have plenty of other options that they couldn’t get the ball to.
Special teams was a special treat to watch tonight, with big kick returns courtesy Travoy Martinez, a fumble recovery late in the first half, good downfield coverage and good kicking by Denton Kolodzinski. Kolodzinski was three of four on field goals and averaged 41.7 yards on ten punts. A special shout out goes to Mitch Hillis, who took a bad snap on the final field goal try and pulled it back from behind his body to get the ball pinned for Kolodzinski.
The Huskies head into Alberta next weekend for a game against the Golden Bears, who lost 71-3 to the Calgary Dinos tonight.
Click here for the complete box score.