Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Win gives Rams much needed confidence boost

The Rams celebrate their win over the Bisons.
    The University of Regina Rams rid themselves of that “here we go again” sinking feeling with one win.
    Last Thursday, they rallied from a 38-27 fourth quarter deficit to down the University of Manitoba Bisons 41-38 on a touchdown catch with 25 seconds to play by receiver Ryan Schienbein in their home opener at Mosaic Stadium. The win allowed the Rams to improve to 1-1 in the young Canadian Interuniversity Sport football season.
    Now, they have the potential to erase the painful memories of an 0-8 campaign in 2015, which was the only season they played under the guidance of head coach Mike Gibson. During that winless campaign, the Rams dropped four games by seven or fewer points. The most heartbreaking of those setbacks came in the final game of the season, where the Rams held a 34-11 lead over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies late in third quarter at Mosaic Stadium only to fall 38-37.
    It seemed like even if the Rams were on their game they would still find a way to lose.
Ryan Schienbein catches the winning touchdown for the Rams.
    Gibson left the Rams on Jan. 17 to join the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos as their offensive line coach and run game coordinator. For a large number of team’s alumni, the departure couldn’t have come soon enough, as they began to feel disconnected with the program with Gibson guiding the ship as head coach. Behind the scenes, there was more turmoil than most likely knew.
    Searching for Gibson’s replacement, the Rams looked to their past hiring former player Steve Bryce as the team’s new head coach. Bryce played five seasons on the Rams offensive line from 1987 to 1991 during their days in the Canadian Junior Football League, which included a national championship win in his rookie campaign.
    After exhausting his junior eligibility, Bryce went down to the United States to play four seasons with the North Dakota based Jamestown College Jimmies. From there, Bryce moved to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where he spent 15 season coaching the football team at Etiwanda High School including the last seven as head coach.
    He returned home to Regina in August of 2015 with his wife and two daughters and applied for the Rams job after Gibson resigned.
Noah Picton (#4) threw for 499 yards and four touchdowns for the Rams.
    With Bryce as head coach, the Rams started to reconnect with their alumni. A new different type of good feeling started to arise about the team.
    The positive emotions seemed to transfer over to the field. In Week 1, the Rams traveled to Saskatoon and were poised to pull out an upset win against the Huskies.
    They led 31-28 with about a minute to play, and the Huskies were facing a third and 20 from their own 20 yard line. Again, the Rams would watch the other side rise to the occasion and pull out a key big play to win the game.
    Huskies quarterback Kyle Siemens proceeded to hit receiver Yol Piok with a deep throw that gained 35 yards. U of S forced overtime and pulled out a 41-39 victory.
    Against the Bisons in Week 2, the Rams led 13-10 at halftime and 27-14 after three quarters. The visitors rallied with 24 straight points to pull ahead 38-27, and you had to wonder if that “here we go again” feeling was starting to sink in.
Rams LB Zack McEachern nails Bisons RB Cam Fox.
    This time things were different.
    Rams star quarterback Noah Picton began to resemble his father, Dean. Dean was a superstar signal caller for the team in the 1980s guiding the squad to CJFL title wins in 1986 and 1987.
    Noah led the Rams on an 11 play, 87 yard drive that culminated with him scoring a touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak with 1:35 to play. The score cut the Bisons lead to 38-33. A U of R two-point conversion attempt was not successful.
    The Bisons recovered an onside kick and appeared set to put the finishing touches on a win. Two plays later, Rams defensive back Korey Greene forced Bisons running back Alex Christie to fumble. U of R linebacker Zack McEachern recovered the ball, and the Rams were in business but also 104 yards away from the U of M end zone.
    Miraculously, Noah Picton drove the Rams those 104 yards in 55 seconds with eight plays. Picton hit Schienbein with the winning touchdown on a 15 yard pass in the middle of the end zone, which had the Rams bench erupting with joy.
Mitchell Picton makes a tough catch in traffic for the Rams.
    A Hail Mary pass attempt by Bisons quarterback Theo Deezar on the last play of the game was picked off by Rams linebacker Joey Dwyer. U of M fell to 0-2.
    The U of R win brought an end to a 10 game losing skid for the Rams, which included nine regular season games and one playoff match.
    The Rams last win came back on Nov. 1, 2014, when they defeated the University of Alberta Golden Bears 35-31 in the final home and regular season game under the guidance of legendary head coach Frank McCrystal. Picton guided the Rams to victory that day as a first-year signal caller rallying the team from behind twice in the fourth quarter.
The Rams celebrate Ryan Schienbein's winning touchdown catch.
    Against Bisons last Thursday, Picton completed 40-of-60 passes for 499 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. For the second straight week, he was named the offensive player of the week for the Canada West Conference.
    The bigger thing for the Rams was they were able to make the key plays in a close game to pull out victory, and the season is still young. Now that they have this experience, the chances of pulling out a tight game in the future improve greatly. On top of that, winning creates a confidence that all your work in practice and the film room will pay off.
    The next test for the Rams is this coming Saturday, when they travel to Vancouver to take on the defending Vanier Cup champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (1-1). The chance for the “Boys in the Horns” to again do something special awaits.

Back in the Express with cover story on new Blades GM

Blades general manager Colin Priestner expects a good season.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week with the cover story on the Saskatoon Blades new general manager Colin Priestner, who was extremely genuine in the one-on-one interview I did with him.
    In the story, the 32-year-old discussed the enormity of the rebuild the Blades had to undergo when his father, Mike, purchased the charter Western Hockey League franchise in September of 2013, transitioning to his new position, the experienced staff he surrounded himself with and the challenge of being the boss’s son.
    While talking about a variety of subjects, Priestner was upbeat about the possibilities that lay ahead for the team.
    Part of the discussion that didn’t make the story included the brilliant work Blades president Steve Hogle has done putting on great pre-game and post-game events over the past three seasons.
    The next of those is coming on Sept. 25, when the Blades host their regular season home opener at 2 p.m. against the Swift Current Broncos. The Blades will honour late hockey icon Gordie Howe that day. Howe’s ashes along with those of his wife, Colleen, will be interred at the Gordie Howe statue that sits in front of the SaskTel centre in a private ceremony at 9:30 a.m. that same day.
    Priestner’s aim is to get the action on the ice during the game to equal the happenings that Hogle has going on around the game.
    “He (Hogle) is just a tireless worker,” said Priestner. “He cares about the city and cares about the people.
    “You sometimes just take for granted how many great things we’ve tried to do. The unfortunate part is when you have a losing team and you have a great pre or post-game event, it is still a losing team. When you do lose 4-1, people forget about the powerful ceremony before the game.
    “Hogle has done so many great things with the game day (experience). I just feel like I and we all owe it to him on this side to bring that winning team to really show the people of Saskatoon all the great things we are doing.”
    The Express cover story on Priestner can be found right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.