Thursday, 12 November 2015

Football Huskies salvage respect

Kyle Siemens calls out signals for the Huskies.
  It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team was expected to content for a championship. Instead, the Dogs found themselves battling to finish their 2015 Canadian Interuniversity Sport campaign in a respectable fashion.
    Coming off posting a 6-2 mark during the 2014 regular season, the Huskies entered the 2015 campaign returning a large number of players and hopes were high the Green and White would make the Canada West championship game, the Hardy Cup, and advance to the CIS title game, the Vanier Cup.
    The 2015 campaign came to a close for the Huskies on Saturday, when they traveled to Calgary and fell 37-29 to the University of Calgary Dinos in a hard fought Canada West semifinal playoff battle. The Dinos, who were 8-0 in the regular season, ensured their quest for perfection continued. The Huskies, who were 3-5 in the regular season, saw their post-season losing skid grow to seven games.
    To the Huskies credit, they managed to finish on a high. During the final week of the regular season, they were on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
    On Oct. 30, the Huskies traveled to Regina to play the winless University of Regina Rams in the final regular season contest for both teams. The Huskies had lost three straight to fall to 2-5 entering that match and would be eliminated from the post-season picture with another setback.
    The Rams held a 34-11 lead late in the third quarter of that tilt at Mosaic Stadium, and it looked like the party was over for the Dogs. Miraculously, the Huskies rallied for a 38-37 victory, when running back Jarvis James ran in from a yard out with about 20 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
    In the playoffs, the Huskies looked for the longest time that they could pull off a huge upset against the Dinos. The Dogs held a 16-8 lead at halftime and a 22-19 edge early in the fourth quarter before the Dinos offence hit high gear and took the game away.
Donovan Dale gets a sack for the Huskies.
    U of S showed heart at the end. That likely dampened some of the critics that watch Saskatoon’s most followed sports team.
    The critics in the stands became vocal last year at Griffiths Stadium, when the Huskies held a 37-18 lead over the University of Manitoba Bisons in a Canada West semifinal match only to fall 47-39.
    Some of the spectators started heaping jabs at the Huskies in a style similar to the jabs some of the fans of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders fire at that club when things are not going well.
    The Huskies started 2015 by stumbling out of the gates dropping their first two regular season games. The first setback was a 34-28 decision at Griffiths to the Bisons, and the second was a 38-26 loss in Edmonton to the University of Alberta Golden Bears. In the home opening loss, the critics in the crowd could be heard again and a couple of voices said that legendary Huskies head coach Brian Towriss, who is the all-time leader in CIS victories, should retire.
    U of S rebounded to even its mark at 2-2, but fell to 2-4 after being bombed twice by the Dinos.
    At that point, the 59-year-old Towriss and his staff showed they still have the ability to right the ship. Veteran fourth-year quarterback Drew Burko lost his starting position to sophomore Kyle Siemens. Burko had thrown nine interceptions over his six starts and a number of those were not of the good variety.
    Siemens completed 44 of 67 passes in his first start for 520 yards, three touchdown passes, while being intercepted once in a 41-36 loss to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds at Griffiths. That defeat before the campaign’s smallest home crowd of 3,179 spectators, dropped the Huskies to 2-5 but hope started to be restored.
Huskies receiver Mitch Hillis tries to burst past a tackler.
    In the rally over the Rams, Siemens completed 23-of-41 passes for 422 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions. Against the Dinos in the playoffs, Siemens continued his solid play completing 29 of 46 passes for 356 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
    With Siemens at the controls, the Huskies offence appeared less likely to self-destruct. Actually, Siemens was throwing at the level of a franchise quarterback, and his rise might help restore high aspirations for the team in the future. In the off-season, the Huskies need to find some recruits to strengthen a defence that was extremely leaky throughout the campaign.
    Things are not all bad for the Huskies, but they are also not all good.
    Some big work needs to be done in the off-season, but on the bright side, wholesale changes are not needed.

The rewarding life of a Blades billet family

Blades captain Brett Stovin battles Medicine Hat's Steven Owre for a faceoff.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week, with a cool behind the scenes feature.
I caught up with recently graduated Saskatoon Blades captain Brett Stovin, and he talked about what it was like to live in the home of Scott and Mel Frey during his years with the WHL franchise. The Freys just became a Blades billet family, when they welcomed Stovin, who now players for the University of Manitoba Bisons men’s hockey team, into their home shortly before his 17th birthday. 
    He played four full seasons with the Blades, which included being part of the squad that hosted the 2013 Memorial Cup.
    The experience was rewarding for both Stovin and Freys. You can check out that story right here.

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