Thursday, 11 August 2016

Taylor Field is the place that memories are made

My top 10 moments at old Mosaic Stadium

Celebrating a Roughriders win over Ottawa with good company in 2014.
    Like the Saskatchewan Roughriders promotional material from 2013 stated, Taylor Field/Mosaic Stadium is the place where memories are made.
    I always get a warm feeling when I step into the Roughriders legendary home field. For me, Mosaic Stadium is one of two sports facilities that will always be extremely special for me. The other is The Arena in Medicine Hat thanks to my time covering the Medicine Hat Tigers as a beat writer for 10 seasons.
    My Mosaic memories don’t just revolve around the Roughriders. During its history, Mosaic Stadium has been the site of countless epic football encounters featuring football teams at the high school, junior and university levels. In recent years, clashes from the Western Women’s Canadian Football League have become part of that history.
    I have no doubt forgot to mention a tonne of other sporting events and concerts. One big personal regret on the concert front is the fact I missed Bon Jovi’s show in 2010, where Jon Bon Jovi said the Roughriders could use “This is Our House” as their theme song, which the Roughriders did use that season during pre-game intros.
    There were forgettable memories. No one wants to remember the crap old artificial turf that was used at the stadium in the 1980s and 1990s, which was basically indoor/outdoor carpet laid on top of a cement pad. The carpet would rip and there were times the maintenance crew covered the rip with green spray paint.
    My list of my top 10 memories at Mosaic Stadium do contain memories of Roughriders football games. The other thing that showed through was my fondness of my time at the University of Regina, as the Rams football team from both the junior and university eras frequent my list quite a bit. Hopefully, I can make people remember a few forgotten classics here.
    Side note, I wasn’t at the 1995 Prairie Football Conference final that was remembered for Rams quarterback Darryl Leason faking going down to one knee only to throw a touchdown pass to a wide open Josh Shaw. The Rams were supposed to take a knee to conclude a 19-8 victory over the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops, but players in the huddle had other ideas. That moment was remembered in both Regina in Saskatoon for some time.
    Anyways, here are my top 10 memories of being at Mosaic Stadium or good old Taylor Field.

10. The 2002 Canada West final – Huskies beat Rams

Huskies tailback Tyler Siwak (#19) powers through the Rams defence.
    The memories of this game will likely warm the hearts of the citizens of Saskatoon.
    On November 9, 2002, football fans in Saskatchewan got the game they were craving to see. When the Rams left the Canadian Junior Football League after winning their 15th junior national title in 1998 to join the Canadian university ranks, fans in the wheat province eagerly anticipated a Canada West title match between the Rams and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, who won three Vanier Cups in the 1990s.
    In the Rams fourth season as a university team, the Canada West title clash happened on a snow covered field at Taylor Field before 5,612 spectators.
    The Huskies stormed out to a 28-0 lead. The Rams cut the edge to 28-14 and appeared to be driving for another major score right before halftime. Huskies cornerback Ryan Barnstable picked off Rams quarterback Mark Anderson and ran the ball back 92 yards for a U of S touchdown to put the visitors ahead 35-14.
The Huskies accept the Hardy Cup in 2002 at Taylor Field.
    The Huskies closed out a 44-28 victory. U of S power back Tyler Siwak had a legendary performance piling up 160 yards on 21 carries and scoring two touchdowns.
    Anderson completed 30 of 54 passes for 362 yards, one touchdown pass and three interceptions.
    When that game concluded, football supporters on both sides figured the Rams and Huskies would clash for the Canada West title on an almost annual basis like the Rams did with the Hilltops in the Prairie Football Conference final in the CJFL. As history has played out to this point, the 2002 encounter is the only time the Rams and Huskies have faced each other in the Canada West final.
    The Huskies can lay claim they won the most meaningful head-to-head contest between these two teams.

9.  Riot take epic clash with Valkyries

Morgan Turner boots a Prairie Conference winning field goal for the Riot.
    In the short history of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, old Mosaic Stadium was the site for the circuit’s most memorable playoff clash.
    On June 28, 2015, the host Regina Riot hit the field against the Saskatoon Valkyries for the fifth straight year in the Prairie Conference final. The Valkyries won each of the previous four clashes and went on to win the WWCFL league title in each of those years as well. The Riot had beaten the Valkyries in Saskatoon 49-9 in the regular season, but questions still remained regarding Regina’s chances against the four-time defending WWCFL champs in the post-season.
    The Riot were game, and they slowly built a 28-7 edge after kicker Morgan Turner booted a 13-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
    A trademark strong Mosaic Stadium wind was blowing on this day, and it was at the backs of the Valkyries in the fourth quarter. Down 21 points, Saskatoon staged a remarkable comeback.
Samantha Matheson powered the Valkyries hopes with four touchdowns.
    Valkyries running back Samantha Matheson ran in majors from 15, 28 and 25 yards out. The last of those scores came with 1:26 to play in regulation to give Saskatoon a 29-28 lead. The Valkyries held a one-point edge after successfully scoring a two-point convert after Matheson’s first touchdown in the rally.
    On the day, Matheson piled up 159 yards rushing on 14 carries and scored all four of Saskatoon’s touchdowns.
    The Riot responded with a final drive into the wind that was powered by running back Carmen Agar and quarterback Aimee Kowalski on the ground. With 15 seconds to play, Turner kicked a 12-yard field goal to give the Riot a 31-29 victory.
    Regina proceeded to move on to that year’s WWCFL final in Winnipeg and bomb the Edmonton Storm 53-6 for the league title. The Riot’s conference final victory over the Valkyries to get to the league final definitely goes down as an all-time classic between the two provincial rivals.

8. Allen delivers in Roughriders Labour Day thriller

Running back Anthony Allen (#26) celebrates a Roughriders touchdown.
    I have attended 15 Labour Day Classics in my life between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the 2014 game made up for the fact I missed the 2007 battle.
    The 2007 encounter at Mosaic Stadium was of course viewed as the greatest Labour Day battle between these two prairie rivals, as Roughriders quarterback Kerry Joseph ran in the winning touchdown from 27 yards out in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to give Saskatchewan a 31-26 victory. Various other personal commitments that year prevented me from attending the 2007 game.
    The Roughriders went into the 2014 game as defending Grey Cup champions. They entered the Aug. 31 clash with a 6-2 record, while the Bombers were a healthy 6-3.
    Saskatchewan took a 21-7 lead midway through the third quarter, but the Blue Bombers rallied and went ahead 27-21 in the fourth quarter. Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant hit wide receiver Taj Smith with a 59-yard touchdown bomb to give the hosts a 28-27 lead with 5:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.
    Blue Bombers kicker Lirim Hajrullahu booted a 41-yard field goal with 2:58 to play to give Winnipeg a 30-28 edge.
Quarterback Darian Durant (#4) calls out signals for the Roughriders.
    In front of a sellout crowd of 33,427 spectators, Saskatchewan pounded out the game-winning drive on the ground behind running backs Anthony Allen and Jerome Messam along with Durant. With 28 seconds to play, Allen ran in the winning score from 15 yards out to give the Roughriders a 35-30 victory.
    Allen only had 38 yards rushing in the win, but he scored two key majors. Messam had 64 yards rushing, and the Roughriders combined for 160 yards as a team along the ground in the victory.
    A Blue Bombers Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game was a no go and allowed the Roughriders to hang on for victory.
    When the dust settled, those in attendance saw an unforgettable game.

7. McCrystal wins last home game as Rams head coach

Rams head coach Frank McCrystal is ready to hold court in a media scrum.
    The 2014 Canadian Interuniversity Sport football season marked the last campaign Frank McCrystal would work the sidelines as the legendary head coach of the Regina Rams, and the Rams ensured he had one final home hurrah.
    On Nov. 1 of that year, the Rams hosted the University of Alberta Golden Bears in a game where the winner would advance to the Canada West playoffs. McCrystal was finishing up his 31st season as Rams head coach, which included 15 seasons when the team was still in the Canadian Junior Football League and 16 seasons in the Canadian university ranks. Before becoming head coach, McCrystal spent five seasons with the Rams as an assistant coach and five seasons as a player.
    The Golden Bears were doing their best to spoil the party, which saw old Rams players from all over the map turn up that day in Regina to see McCrystal’s last game working the sidelines at Mosaic Stadium.
    The two teams entered the fourth quarter locked in a 21-21 tie. The Golden Bears went ahead 28-21, but the Rams tied things up at 28-28 on 20-yard touchdown run by first-year quarterback Noah Picton.
    U of A kicker Stephen Fabian booted a 27-yard field goal to give the Golden Bears a 31-28 edge with 7:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Rams quarterback Noah Picton looks to fire a pass downfield.
    The Rams took their first lead of the game with 2:40 to play in the fourth quarter, when running back Atlee Simon ran the ball in from 11 yards out to put U of R up 35-31. That score held up as a final, the Rams made the Canada West playoffs and McCrystal won his final home game as Rams head coach.
    Picton completed 27-of-40 passes for 467 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Golden Bears quarterback Curtis Dell also had a strong game completing 17-of-30 passes for 306 yards.
    McCrystal received one last ice bucket shower from his players and held court one last time on the Mosaic Stadium turf with the media before making his last departure down the stadium tunnel. His home send-off was a good one.

6. Rams down Huskies in 2001 Hall of Fame Game

Rams linebacker Jeff Zimmer nails Huskies tailback Tyler Siwak.
  In their early years in the Canadian university ranks, the University of Regina Rams rivalry with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies was at a fever pitch, but their first encounter of the 2001 season had a whole range of different emotions.
    On Sept. 15 of that year, the Rams and Huskies took to the turf at Taylor Field for the Hall of Fame Game just four days after the terrorist attacks in New York City, which saw the fall of the World Trade Center towers after hijacked airplanes crashed into them. It was safe to say everyone who saw the images of what happened in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 was affected emotionally by them.
    In May of that year, I had moved away from Regina to work as the sports writer in Prince Albert at the Daily Herald almost a year after graduating from the University of Regina. I had covered the University of Regina’s athletic teams from 1996 to 2001, and most of my old friends from those days were still at the U of R, when I returned from the Hall of Fame Game. After the terrorist attacks happened, all I wanted to do was go to Regina and see all my old friends again and be around something that felt normal.
    It seemed a lot of other people wanted to be around something that felt normal that day as 7,238 spectators attended this clash between the Rams and Huskies. The cheers during the player pre-game introductions for that contest had a distinctly different feel to them. It felt like everyone was happy to be out at a football game.
Rams tailback Neal Hughes (#36) burned the Huskies for 221 offensive yards.
    The Rams three key stars in quarterback Darryl Leason, slotback Jason Clermont and running back Neal Hughes put on a show, and the Rams came away with a 31-21 victory. One of the game’s signature moments came when six Huskies defensive players were unsuccessfully trying to bring Clermont down, and one of those defensive players came at Clermont with a high flying tackle attempt grabbing the receiver around his neck.
    Clermont still didn’t go down, but the play was blown dead as his forward progress was stopped.
    Hughes was the night’s MVP. He ran the ball 17 times for 141 yards and scored two rushing touchdowns, and he caught six passes for 80 yards and one receiving major score.
    It seemed that most members from every other U of R sports team was there that night. After the Rams received the Hall of Fame trophy, everyone from the U of R side slipped off to their favourite long time night spot in Checkers for a joyful and spectacular post-game victory party.

5. Hilltops rally past Thunder in 2015

Quarterback Jared Andreychuk (#5) led the Hilltops to a big comeback.
    On Sept. 12, 2015, the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops and the Regina Thunder added a chapter to their relatively young rivalry with a classic at Mosaic Stadium.
    For me, this game was memorable, because this was the first time I arrived at Mosaic Stadium with the Hilltops covering them as a main team. I was pretty proud of this group, who seemed to always do the right things on and off the field. I had a few friends that were coaching and involved with the Thunder as directors and volunteers, and I admit I enjoyed showing my attachment to the “Blue and Gold.”
    This battle featured everything including strong play from the offences and defences on both sides.     
    The Thunder took a 25-10 lead into the fourth quarter, before the Hilltops rallied.
    Just 1:38 into the final frame, Hilltops quarterback Jared Andreychuk connected with receiver Davis Mitchell on a seven-yard scoring toss to cut the Thunder lead to 25-17. With 5:26 to play, the Thunder had to concede a safety after being pinned in their own end, which trimmed their edge to 25-19.
Linebacker Cole Benkic makes a game-saving interception for the Hilltops.
    That set the stage for Andreychuk to lead the Hilltops on a two-minute drill type drive 75 yards down the field. The march concluded when Andreychuk hit slotback Evan Turkington on a 13-yard scoring strike. Turkington made a twisting circus catch in the Regina end zone to give the Toppers a 26-25 lead with 75 seconds to play.
    Saskatoon would cement that 26-25 score as the game’s final, when Hilltops star linebacker Cole Benkic intercepted Thunder quarterback Jaeden Marwick on the ensuing Regina series.
    Andreychuk completed 21-of-40 passes for 336 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions for the Hilltops. Marwick connected on 24-of-41 passes for 420 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions calling signals for the Thunder.
    When the clock in this one ticked to zero, people from both sides of the rivalry admitted they just saw one heck of game.

4. Roughriders bomb Bombers 52-0 in 2012 Labour Day Classic

The Roughriders celebrate a touchdown by Weston Dressler (#7).
    52-0. Nothing more needs to be said.
    If you are a fan of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, you will always remember the day they smashed and absolutely embarrassed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 52-0 in the Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium on Sept. 2, 2012. When it comes to watching the Roughriders, it seems nothing comes easy for them even during good seasons, which includes games that they dominate. Even in dominant outings, the “Green and White” usually encounters some sort of adversity.
    Being at Mosaic Stadium on this day as part of the “Rider Nation” crowd was an absolute blast. It seemed everything that Roughriders did worked. Even when Roughriders star quarterback Darian Durant left the contest due to injury early in the third quarter with his team up 28-0, they still rolled with backup Drew Willy calling the signals.
    Willy was actually pulled late in the fourth quarter to allow third stringer J.T. O’Sullivan to enter the contest in a relief effort.
    Roughriders rookie running back Kory Sheets carried the ball 19 times for 109 yards marking the first time he surpassed 100-yards rushing in a game during his CFL career. Star slotback Weston Dressler had a pair of touchdown catches. Willy ran for a major score and hooked up with receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris on a 43-yard touchdown strike.
The scoreboard was a site of beauty for the Roughriders.
    Safety Tyron Brackenridge made the two most memorable plays for the home side in the romp. In the game’s second quarter, he blocked a punt and returned it 15 yards for major, and in the fourth quarter, he returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown.
    On the other side of things, the Bombers had an absolutely horrible effort on this day. They gained 102 yards of total offence, and it seemed like they just couldn’t do anything right.
    A healthy contingent of fans makes their way from Winnipeg to Regina following the Bombers down for the Labour Day Classic, and by the end of this game, I really did feel sorry for anyone that came out to watch the “Blue and Gold” play.
    For Roughriders fans, it was really hard to hold in your glee, and even I burst out and yelled, “Wow! I can’t believe we are winning 52-0 right now!”

3. Rams vs. Hilltops – The final battle

Slotback Jason Clermont goes up to make a catch for the Rams.
    Looking back for those that were there, the final CJFL battle between the Regina Rams and Saskatoon Hilltops might be remembered for being more surreal than for what actually happened in the game.
    It might be hard for a younger generation in Saskatchewan to fathom, but one of Canada’s greatest historic rivalries in sports was between the Rams and the venerable Hilltops. The Hilltops were born in 1947, won their first CJFL championship in 1953 and have been junior football powerhouse since that time. The Rams were born in 1954, won their first CJFL title in 1966 and built a storied history in the Canadian junior ranks before joining the Canadian university ranks in 1999.
    After the Rams won their first CJFL championship, it seemed like they were always on a collision course with the Hilltops, where the winner of the eventual playoff game between the two sides often moved on to capture a national title.
    On October 31, 1998, the Rams and Hilltops met for the final time in that year’s Prairie Football Conference championship game at Taylor Field. The Rams were the defending CJFL champions and had also won three straight national titles from 1993 to 1995. The Hilltops interrupted the Rams run with a CJFL championship win in 1996, and they also had a national title win in 1991.
The Rams take home the PFC championship trophy for the final time.
    With the history these two squads had with each other, it seemed strange in the hours leading up to the clash to think that this would be the last head-to-head match between these teams. In another strange twist, only about 3,000 people came out to watch this contest, which showed interest had dried up due to the fact important clashes between the two sides became too commonplace.
    When the game itself was on, all the focus was upon football. The Rams jumped out to a 16-0 lead by halftime thanks to an electrifying 87-yard punt return touchdown by rookie tailback Neal Hughes.
    Saskatoon battled back to cut the Regina lead to 16-10 by the end of the third quarter, but there would be no rally for the visitors.
    Regina hit another gear in the fourth quarter piling up 32-unanswered points rolling to a 48-10 victory. Slotback Jason Clermont and fullback Chris Briltz both had rushing touchdowns. Linebacker Cory Thacheray returned an interception 55 yards for another major score. Linebacker Doug Hill blocked a punt and defensive back Corrie McKee recovered the ball and scored the Rams final touchdown of the contest.
    At game’s end, the Rams celebrated victory, but a strange feeling was also present knowing these two teams would never face each other again in a game.

2. Rams leave CJFL as champs

Rams fullback Chris Briltz powers his way past a Sun tackler.
    Before departing for the Canadian university ranks, the Regina Rams wanted to ensure they closed out their 45-year history in the CJFL the right way, and they accomplished that in dominating fashion.
    On November 14, 1998 at Taylor Field, the Rams claimed a 15th national championship bombing the Kelowna, B.C., based Okanagan Sun 36-13. A year earlier, the Rams needed double overtime to beat the Sun 23-20 in Kelowna, B.C., to win the CJFL title and capture the Canadian Bowl, but there was no dramatic finish in 1998.
    The Rams came out flying from the start. They scored a rouge on the game’s opening kickoff from kicker Todd Pinkney. A short time later, Rams linebacker Cory Thackeray blocked a punt and teammate Jeff Zimmer, who was that year’s CJFL defensive player of the year, recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
    Before the first quarter ended, Rams running back Cory Olynick romped in for another major score from three yards out to put the hosts up 15-0, and the route was on before a crowd of about 4,100 spectators.
The Rams raise the Canadian Bowl one last time in 1998.
    Rams Slotback Jason Clermont piled up 124 yards receiving on eight catches and hauled in major scores from 24 and 17 yards out. Rams quarterback Mike Wong completed 19 of 26 passes for 269 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
    For one last time when the clock expired, the Rams stormed on to the field to collect the Canadian Bowl. Besides winning their 15th CJFL title, they also claimed their fifth national title over a six year time span. The victory celebration lasted well into the night.
    Before, during and after the game, it felt everyone that was part of the Rams was focused on just enjoying that game and moment. No one at the time really dwelled on the fact the Rams were playing in their final game as a Canadian junior football team. It wasn’t really until the next day rolled around that thoughts drifted towards the fact the Rams were moving to join Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s football league in 1999.
    On the day the Rams captured their final CJFL title, the focus of being in and enjoying that moment dominated everything.

1. Roughriders win 2013 Grey Cup

Rider Nation celebrates a Grey Cup victory in 2013.
    What else would be the top moment at Taylor Field/Mosaic Stadium?
    If you were there on Nov. 24, 2013 when the Saskatchewan Roughriders captured the 101st Grey Cup with a 45-23 romp of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, you know that was the best day to be at that legendary facility. The Roughriders win marked the fourth time in team history they captured the Grey Cup, and it would be the only time they would win the Grey Cup at their legendary home stadium.
    During pre-game, the sellout crowd of 44,710 spectators was already in a joyful frenzy when the Saskatoon-based band the Sheepdogs was on the field playing. This would of course be the perfect dream night for “Rider Nation.”
    The signature moment came early in the first quarter, when Roughriders franchise quarterback Darian Durant scrambled up field, got hit and fumbled the ball high into the air to be pulled down by running back Kory Sheets. Sheets rumbled off a magical 39-yard game for the home side. As a Roughriders fan, you had a big gut feeling that this game was going to go your way after seeing that play.
    That drive eventually resulted in a diving 15-yard touchdown reception by receiver Geroy Simon that put the Roughriders up 7-3. Saskatchewan scored 24 points in the second quarter to take a 31-6 lead into halftime. The outburst included another beauty 42-yard touchdown catch by Simon.
    Hamilton scored the first 10 points of the second half to create a little worry for the Roughriders fans cutting Saskatchewan’s lead to 31-16, but that was as close as the visitors got.
I made an appearance on TSNs post-game coverage.
    A four-yard touchdown run by Sheets and a 26-yard touchdown reception by receiver Weston Dressler put the Roughriders up 45-16, and the victory celebration in Saskatchewan started in earnest.
    Sheets had two major scores along the ground and piled up a Grey Cup record 197 yards rushing on 20 carries to be named the game’s MVP. He ran with power and authority.
    Durant completed 17-of-24 passes for 245 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Slotback Chris Getzlaf was the contest’s most outstanding Canadian player hauling in three passes for 78 yards.
    The game was also highlighted by two big sacks from Roughriders defensive lineman John Chick.
    When the clock ticked to zero, people were hugging their neighbours all around them. The image of Durant hoisting the Grey Cup with a huge smile on his face will also live forever. The green and white confetti raining down on the Roughriders players was also a site to behold.
    For the longest time after that game ended, I remember just sitting in the stands and soaking everything in.

Bonus moment with “Kindly” Cal

Late CFL icon Cal Murphy.
    To close off my top ten memories list at old Taylor Field/Mosaic Stadium, I figured I would throw in a bonus moment that was important to me, but something no one else could see.
    On Aug. 31, 2008, I covered that year’s Labour Day Classic between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Medicine Hat News. I walked into the press box on the West side and noticed the Roughriders hadn’t assigned me a seat for the game. I wasn’t too worried, and it wasn’t going to be a big deal to stand and watch the game.
    Long-time CFL icon coach and general manager Cal Murphy, who is best remember for his time at the helm of the Blue Bombers, entered the press box to scout the contest for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Murphy and I had been friends for a number of years at that point, so we hung out and had such an enjoyable 15-minute talk before the game started. After Murphy passed away at age 79 on Feb. 18, 2012, I appreciated visits like that with him that much more.
    Near the end of the talk, Murphy asked if I had anywhere to sit. I said I didn’t.
    Murphy said not to worry about that, because I could have his seat. He was going to go down and watch the game with a friend, who was sitting a couple of boxes over.
    Of course, I thanked Murphy. I was also really humbled.
    Growing up, I looked up to Murphy, and when I got to know him, he was as good of a man as I thought he would be. To this day, Murphy is the classiest person I have ever met in sports.
    The Roughriders took that year’s contest 19-6, but I felt like an even bigger winner in the press box. Even until this day, I am floored that Murphy let me have his seat. That small gesture made me feel really special.

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