Matt Johnson, Huskie Athletics
SASKATOON, Sask. – A dominant first-half performance from the University of Saskatchewan Huskie football team powered the way, as they defeated their provincial rival Regina Rams 33-20, at Griffiths Stadium inside Nutrien Park in Saskatoon, SK. on Sept. 21.
The battle of Saskatchewan didn't disappoint, as the matchup featuring two of the nation's top ten ranked programs came down to the wire.
"This is an incredibly competitive conference top-to-bottom and I told the guys right after the game that this is why I love this game. I'm so proud of the way we fought," Huskie head coach Scott Flory said.
The win gives Saskatchewan sole possession of second place in the conference with a record of 3-1 while the Rams drop to 2-2 on the season.
The Huskies were led by fifth-year quarterback Kyle Siemens who continued to build on his impressive final season in the green and white, as he threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns on 23-33 passing. Colton Klassen was the top receiver for Saskatchewan, recording six receptions for 99 yards and two touchdowns, in just one half of action.
Ben Whiting led the way for the Huskies defensively, as the fourth-year linebacker racked up 9.5 total tackles. Meanwhile, fellow linebacker Jacob Solie's pick-six at the tail end of the first half proved to be pivotal in the victory.
For the Rams, Noah Picton struggled to operate against a strong Saskatchewan front, finishing with 271 yards on 21-34 passing but also throwing three interceptions in the contest.
Second-year running back Kyle Borsa thrived without the presence of Canada West All-Star Atlee Simon in the backfield, as Borsa ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
A Huskies two-and-out on the opening drive of the ball game allowed Picton to go to work on the Rams very first drive. Receptions from Daniel Scraper, Kyle Moortgat, and Ryan Schienbein helped the Rams march down the field all the way to Huskie goal line. However, Josh Hagerty and Saskatchewan stood strong as the second-year safety intercepted Picton in the end zone.
Zach Moore returned the favour on the very next drive, intercepting a pass from Siemens. With the Rams back in possession, Picton spotted rookie receiver Bennett Stusek, who hauled in an incredible 41-yard reception. The grab set up an 11-yard field goal from Aldo Galvan, which put the Rams up 3-0.
The Huskies were quick to respond with a red zone appearance of their own after a 21-yard carry from Adam Machart was followed by a 25-yard Klassen reception. Siemens was quick to go back to his favorite target as he connected with Klassen once again on a beautiful back-shoulder ball, which Klassen brought in for his fifth receiving touchdown of 2018.
Soon after a Regina punt presented Saskatchewan with tremendous field position, and the Huskies went right to work. Siemens laid it out for Klassen who adjusted well to reel in an incredible 35-yard catch on the go-route. On second and six from the Regina 12, Siemens sensed the pressure but rolled out of the pocket and connected with a streaking Klassen for his second touchdown of the night.
With under a minute left in the half and the Rams threatening, Picton was looking for Stusek again. However, first-year cornerback Charlie Ringland got his hand on the pass, which popped the ball up into the air and into the waiting arms of Solie. The third-year linebacker received exceptional blocking as he hugged the sideline and rumbled 64 yards into the end zone. The pick-six marked 21 unanswered points for the Huskies after the opening 3-0 deficit, a lead which they took into halftime.
"I was just able to get under it and make the interception. It was easy from there, all of my guys were blocking downfield and they were able to give me holes to run through," Solie said.
The Huskies defence was the story of the first half as their defensive line was able to put consistent pressure on the 2016 Hec Creighton Winner, sacking Picton four times and forcing two interceptions.
After the Rams opening drive of the second half resulted in a punt, the Huskies responded with a 13-play-75-yard drive which ended in pay dirt, as Siemens stood in the pocket long enough on second and goal from the eight-yard line, resulting in Kuntz getting open in the end zone and scoring his first touchdown as a member of the Huskies.
However, the Rams refused to back down against their provincial rivals. On the ensuing kick-off Borsa turned it into high-gear and ran the ball 52 yards inside Huskies territory. Back-to-back Moortgart receptions of 20 and 15 yards set Regina up at the two-yard line and from there Borsa finished what he started as he punched in the major, the first of the night for the Rams, trimming the deficit to 20.
The Rams offence got right back on the field after a Huskies punt, when they began the drive from the Saskatchewan 49-yard line. Picton went back to Moortgart for another two completions of 13 and 26 yards, but this time they were unable to find the end zone, settling for Galvan connecting on his second field goal of the night, making the score 30-13.
After a second-consecutive Saskatchewan drive ending in a punt, the Rams got within ten after Borsa put his breakaway speed on display, with the second-year back sprinting 27 yards through the middle of the field for the major.
An Adam Machart fumble, which was recovered by Regina linebacker Danny Nesbitt, gave the Rams an opportunity to continue their burst of momentum. A 31-yard Borsa dash was followed by a 15-yard unnecessary-roughness penalty, setting the Rams back up inside the red zone.
However, on 1st and goal from the Saskatchewan 7-yard line, Picton dropped back to pass looking for Schienbein on a drag across the middle of the field, but Huskies defensive-linemen Eric Thakurdeen got his hand in the way and Bowan Lewis made a tremendous play on the tipped ball, intercepting Picton's throw in the end zone and stopping the Rams in their tracks.
Saskatchewan took over from their own 20-yard line and proceeded to answer with a lengthy 8-play 72-yard drive which was capped by a 26-yard Sean Stenger field goal making it a 33-20 ball game, but perhaps, more importantly, killing 4:31 off the clock.
Huskie head coach Scott Flory was thrilled with his team's performance.
"I'm so proud of the way we fought, clawed and scratched. Through the highs and lows we just kept playing and made enough plays to get the win," Flory said.
Siemens credited his offensive line play in the victory and believed they were crucial in getting things going for his offence.
"Our offensive-line and run game has been stellar all year and the whole team feeds off of those guys. We ran the ball well which gave us confidence early and then we started making plays," Siemens said.
In week five, Saskatchewan will travel west to Calgary on Sept. 29 with their eyes set on redemption, as they will take on the Dinos for their second meeting in three weeks against the number two ranked team in the nation who defeated the Huskies 37-28 in their last meeting.
Meanwhile, Regina will also take their team on the road, as they head east to battle the Bisons. Manitoba is fresh off back-to-back victories and will aim to make it three consecutive wins when the Rams come to town on Sept. 29.