Monday, 19 November 2018

Huskies fifth years go down fighting in final bow

U of S playoff run ends in Mitchell Bowl loss

QB Kyle Siemens and the football Huskies had a remarkable playoff run.
    It was Vanier Cup or bust for the fifth-year players on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team.
    Going into the Mitchell Bowl semifinal game of the U Sports playoffs, the Huskies faced their biggest challenge in their run of post-season upsets taking on the defending Vanier Cup champion University of Western Ontario Mustangs in London, Ont., last Saturday.
    U of S was trying to break up what had been a projected Vanier Cup rematch at the start of the season between the Mustangs and the powerhouse Universite Rouge et Or.
    Earlier in the day on Saturday, the Rouge et Or made short work of the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the other U Sports semifinal game – the Uteck Bowl – in Quebec City, Que., romping to a 63-0 victory. The X-Men finished the campaign at 8-3.
Tyler Chow had a huge touchdown run for the Huskies last Saturday.
    The Huskies ensured there was intrigue in their encounter with the Mustangs posting leads of 7-0 and 17-14 in the game’s first half. The two sides entered halftime locked in a 17-17 tie. Western pulled away in the second half earning a 47-24 victory on the strength of scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter before 3,536 spectators at TD Stadium.
    In the process, the Mustangs ran their overall winning streak to 23 games. They will travel to Quebec City, Que., this coming Saturday to face the Rouge et Or in a battle of 11-0 teams.
    Western and Laval were rated first and second respectively in the final U Sports Top 10 football rankings. Last year, the Mustangs dumped the Rouge et Or 39-17 in the Vanier Cup.
    The Huskies, who finished the campaign at 7-4, did everything in their power to try and appear in the Vanier Cup for the first time since 2006 and the fifth years led the charge. Like Rocky in his first encounter with Apollo Creed, U of S’s graduating players came out swinging.
Tristian Koronkiewicz had two sacks for the Huskies last Saturday.
    Fifth-year star quarterback Kyle Siemens completed 26-of-35 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Fifth-year star running back Tyler Chow carried the ball 21 times for 143 yards and scored one touchdown. Fifth-year defensive lineman Tristian Koronkiewicz had a pair of sacks.
    Early in the first quarter, the Huskies manufactured and eight-play touchdown drive that covered 76 yards. The march was capped, when Siemens hit Colton Klassen with a 22-yard touchdown pass to put the visitors up 7-0.
    Western tied things up at 7-7 before the first quarter ended, when receiver Harry McMaster hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Merchant. Merchant hit McMaster with a 31-yard touchdown pass just 72 seconds into the second quarter to give the Mustangs a 14-7 advantage.
    The Huskies answered back. Fifth-year star kicker Sean Stenger booted a 41-yard field goal to cut the Mustangs lead to 14-10. With seven minutes to play in the second quarter, Siemens hit Klassen with an eight-yard touchdown pass to put the Huskies up 17-14.
Sean Stenger booted on last field goal for the Huskies on Saturday.
    Klassen caught nine passes for 107 yards to go along with his two receiving majors.
    On the final play of the first half, the Mustangs tied things up at 17-17 with a 37 yard field goal from kicker Marc Liegghio.
    At that point, Western started to take control. Merchant ran in a touchdown from four yards out and the Huskies had to concede a safety due to bad field position giving the Mustangs a 26-17 lead at the end of the third quarter.
    Running back Alex Taylor ran in a major from 48 yards out to give the Mustangs a 33-17 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
    Chow stuck back for the Huskies rattling off an electrifying 71-yard touchdown run to cut Western’s lead to 33-24 with 9:56 to play in the fourth quarter. It appeared there was a chance the comeback would be on.
    The Mustangs then sealed victory on a 16-yard touchdown run by Taylor and a four-yard touchdown run by Cedric Joseph. Western piled up an unreal 319 yards rushing as a team against the Huskies.
QB Kyle Siemens is the Huskies all-time leader in completions.
    Merchant completed 17-of-28 passes for 251 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He ran the ball 10 times for 82 yards including his rushing major.
   The setback brought an end to the playing careers of Siemens, Chow, Koronkiewicz, Stenger, defensive back Lance Bashutsky, offensive lineman Ryan Breadner and linebackers Brendan Ernst and Brad Kotania. All eight played five seasons for the Huskies.
    Siemens 604 total career pass completions in the regular season rank first on the Huskies all-time list and his 7,932 career yards passing in the regular season rates second overall in team history. He completed 604-of-998 passes for 7,932 yards, 55 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
    Chow sits third all-time on the Huskies career regular season rushing yards list having carried the ball 385 times for 2,372 yards and 13 touchdowns.
    Those regular season accomplishments look greater now that they are backed by a long playoff run.
    U of S also loses defensive back Arnold Osam to graduation. He came to the Huskies after spending four seasons with the powerhouse Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League.
HC Scott Flory and his staff did a stellar job guiding the Huskies.
    The graduating players helped the Huskies take huge strides in a playoff run that included a 31-28 overtime victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in a Canada West semifinal match on Nov. 3 in Vancouver, B.C., and a 43-18 victory over the University of Calgary Dinos in the Canada West final on Nov. 10 in Calgary, Alta.
    The Huskies were rated sixth in the final U Sports Top 10 football rankings.
    Since the Huskies hadn’t ventured this far in the post-season since falling in the Vanier Cup 13-8 at Griffiths Stadium to Laval in 2006, the excitement for U of S’s playoff run this year felt new again.
    The drought of not winning a playoff game since 2009 and the team’s eight-game post-season losing streak heading into this season’s playoffs are now a distance memory.
Guard Mattland Riley and the Huskies O-line was strong in 2018.
    The playoff run gives extra reinforcement to the organizers of team fundraisers that their efforts are worth it. The fundraisers include the annual Dogs’ Breakfast and the various coaches’ kickoff luncheons that are held during the season. Members of the Huskies Football Foundation will likely have an extra jump in their steps this off-season.
    Head coach Scott Flory and his staff did an amazing job. In his second season guiding the Huskies, Flory is showing he has a style that is a mix of star head coaches he had in his playing career including Huskies legend Brian Towriss, “The Don” in late-great Don Matthews and Marc Trestman.   
    The latter two men coached Flory in his CFL days with the Montreal Alouettes.
    From the outset, Flory created a feeling of belief inside the team that the Huskies could win and have success now. That feeling was shared inside the team, even when those on the outside didn’t think success would be possible for the Huskies.
Colton Klassen scored two touchdowns for the Huskies on Saturday.
    In Flory’s first season as head coach in 2017, the Huskies were rated fifth in the Canada West pre-season coaches’ poll and missed the playoff with a 2-6 record. Entering the 2018 campaign, the Huskies were ranked last in the Canada West pre-season coaches’ poll.
    For those that didn’t believe, the Huskies proved they are back in a big way. They can again compete with and beat the big teams in U Sports.
    The dream is alive again like in 1990, 1996 and 1998, when the Huskies won their Vanier Cup titles.
    Their best years lie ahead in the future and the graduating fifth-years left a new high bar to shoot for and exceed.

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