|QB Noah Picton (#4) had a spectacular regular season for the Rams.|
The 0-8 season has been left in the dust.
A year removed from a winless campaign, the University of Regina Rams have become the most exciting team in U Sports football. At the start of the season, that concept was inconceivable.
In 2015, the Rams had the image of being a bit of a train wreak under then head coach Mike Gibson, who left the club after only one season to join the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos as their offensive line coach and run game coordinator. The Rams seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory losing four games by seven or fewer points.
Under Gibson, the Rams were getting disconnected from their alumni, which had never been an issue in the past. Behind the scenes, there was more turmoil than most people knew.
In the off-season, the Rams looked to the past to find their new head coach in hiring Steve Bryce. Bryce played five seasons on the Rams offensive line during their Canadian Junior Football League days from 1987 to 1991, which included a national championship win in his rookie campaign.
With Bryce at the helm, the Rams vaulted up the standings in 2016 finishing first in the Canada West Conference for the first time in team history with a 6-2 record. In the turnaround, they put up offensive numbers to make them look like the Kurt Warner era St. Louis Rams of the NFL.
Like the Warner era St. Louis Rams did in the NFL, the Regina Rams have become “The Greatest Show on Turf” in U Sports football.
|Mitchell Picton makes a catch in traffic for the Rams.|
Since joining the Canadian university ranks in 1999, the Rams helped the University of Regina become known as “Receiver-U” due to placing a number of pass catching grads into the professional ranks. Those grads always were catching passes from great quarterbacks like Darryl Leason, Mark Anderson, Teale Orban and Marc Mueller.
This year’s Rams have taken their reputation as a pass-happy team to another level averaging 408.4 yards through the air per game. Third-year quarterback Noah Picton has had a season that eclipses anything any Rams quarterback great from their university or junior football era could ever imagine.
Picton completed 224-of-323 passes for 3,186 yards, 25 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. His completion percentage of 69.3 per cent is impressive, and he set a new U Sports record for passing yards in a season. Former U of Calgary Dinos quarterback Andrew Buckley, who is a rookie with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, held the old U Sports passing yardage record at 3,162, which was set just last season.
Picton has also run the ball 31 times for 238 yards and reached the end zone twice via that route. He is a favourite to win the Hec Crighton Trophy as the top player in U Sports football.
|RB Atlee Simon (#36) is one of the Rams overlooked weapons.|
The signal caller has also spread the ball out very well resulting in three of his receivers surpassing 500-yards receiving in an eight-game campaign. Cousin Mitchell Picton topped Canada West in receptions (58) and receiving yards (834) and his 11 receiving touchdowns led everyone in U Sports.
Sophomore Ryan Schienbein hauled in 54 passes for 790 yards and seven touchdowns. Riley Wilson finished the regular season with 37 catches for 627 yards and one touchdown.
The Pictons, Schienbein and offensive lineman Jeremy Zver were all named Canada West all-stars on Thursday.
The Rams are so good through the air that talented tailback Atlee Simon seemed like a forgotten man. Simon ran the ball 113 times for 567 yards and scored four touchdowns on the ground in seven appearances. He also caught 17 passes for 203 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, the Rams rank third in Canada West allowing 458.6 yards per game. Linebacker Danny Nesbitt and defensive backs Kahlen Branning and Jeff Propp were also named Canada West all-stars.
Thanks to topping the Canada West standings, the only time the Rams wouldn’t potentially be playing at home at historic Taylor Field/Mosaic Stadium during the post-season would be if they made the Vanier Cup. The only time the Rams appeared in the U Sports title game was in 2000, when they fell 42-39 to the U of Ottawa Gee Gees.
|The Rams celebrate a touchdown catch from Ryan Schienbein (#14).|
Now, we will see if the Rams success in the regular season transfers over to playoffs. The fourth rated club in the U Sports top 10 rankings hosts a Canada West semifinal match on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. local time against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, who went 3-5 as defending Vanier Cup champions. The Rams took both head-to-head meetings with the Thunderbirds this season.
Looking further down the road, the U Sports football post-season also hasn’t been kind in recent years to the team that wins Canada West. Over the past 17 years, the Canada West champ has only moved on to win the Vanier Cup on two occasions including the Thunderbirds last year and the U of Manitoba Bisons in 2007.
With that said, the Rams are in a spot that they don’t realize they aren’t supposed to accomplish what they have already accomplished. They still have nothing to lose and everything to gain. With Bryce at the helm, they also have all their alumni and supporters back in the fold too.
If they can go all the way, these current Rams will produce a season that would arguably be the squad’s most memorable including the team’s time in both the university and junior ranks.
Huskies in position to make post-season noise
|QB Kyle Siemens had a solid season calling signals for the Huskies.|
Of course, the Huskies have lost their last seven straight playoff games, but this might be the year they break that dubious streak. After a three-game skid dropped them to 2-3, the Huskies won their last three straight regular season games to finish at 5-3.
They are the hottest team entering the playoffs from Canada West, and they face an opponent they finally got over the hump against. On Saturday, the Huskies travel to Calgary to face the U of Calgary Dinos (6-2) in a Canada West semifinal match at 12 p.m. local time. The Huskies are rated ninth in the U Sports rankings, while the Dinos sit in the sixth spot.
On Oct. 22, the Huskies slipped past the Dinos 38-35 in Calgary. Entering that contest, the Dinos had won 10 straight games between the two sides including action in the regular season and playoffs.
In the other meeting between the two sides this season, the Dinos slipped past the Huskies 20-19 in Saskatoon thanks to a last minute field goal.
|Huskies RB Tyler Chow led Canada West in rushing.|
During their three-game regular season skid, the Huskies offence lost its cohesion. Part of the struggles came from the fact reliable receiver Mitch Hillis missed a pair of games due to injury. When Hillis returned, the offensive unit seemed to find a new groove.
Despite missing a pair of games, Hillis still made the Canada West all-star team catching 35 passes for 423 yards and three touchdowns. Starting quarterback Kyle Siemens had a solid campaign completing 166-of-278 passes for 2,091 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Running back Tyler Chow topped Canada West in rushing piling up 828 yards on 127 carries and scoring seven touchdowns. Chow also caught 16 passes for 132 yards in being named a Canada West all-star along with offensive tackle Evan Johnson.
Defensive lineman Donovan Dale anchored the Huskies defence earning Canada West all-star honours with 24 total tackles, three sacks and one interception.
Standout kicker Sean Stenger was the conference’s all-star place kicker and punter.
|DB Payton Hall (#28) makes a tackle for the Huskies.|
U of S has an X-factor in receiver Chad Braun, who is a talented graduate of the Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League. Braun caught 26 passes for 403 yards and scored two touchdowns and returned 37 punts for 449 yards and one touchdown.
The Huskies have a number of other capable playmakers on offence including receivers Julan Lynch, Yol Piok and Ben Getzlaf along with running back Colton Klassen.
They have a number of players that can rise to the occasion on defence including defensive lineman Matt Kozun, linebackers Justin Filteau and Quinn Pearce along with defensive back Payton Hall.
The Huskies are right where they were expected to be as far as the regular season goes. It also feels like they haven’t reached their potential.
It wouldn’t be a shocker if a long playoff run is finally on the horizon again for a club that has experienced eight one-and-done exits in the last nine years.
Off the Leach Luncheon was sweet
|Lanny McDonald and Brian Burke spoke at the Off the Leash Luncheon.|
If you wanted to see how much the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team means to the Saskatoon community, all you have to do was attend the Off the Leach Luncheon on Thursday at Prairieland Park.
A huge group of alumni and members of the Saskatoon and area hockey community turned out for this eighth annual event, which is a fundraiser for the Huskies men’s hockey team. The alumni turnout was impressive, and it shows that the Huskies hockey team means a great deal to those that wore the green and white. A large contingent of recent grads were present as well.
At the luncheon, the Wright Construction company donated $1-million to the Home Ice Campaign, which is raising funds to build a new twin pad home rink on campus. With the Wright Construction company donation, $36-million has been raised towards building the new $41-million Merlis Belsher Place.
The other big highlight of the evening was being entertained by the hockey stories of former NHL enforcer George Parros, Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke and NHL legend Lanny McDonald. McDonald made a surprise appearance.
If you live in the Saskatoon area and you haven’t been to the Off the Leash Luncheon, you are encouraged to put that function on your to do list.
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