Seventeen years ago the University of Saskatchewan Huskies claimed their third Vanier Cup title in school history and it still stands as the most recent national championship by the football program.
Fast forward to 2015 and the squad is being recognized again for their incredible achievement. Under the team category, the 1998 Huskies football team is being inducted into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame.
With a 6–2 regular season record, the Huskies entered playoffs with a tough matchup versus the defending national champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. UBC was one of the two teams to beat the Huskies during the year, but the Dogs were not denied this time around as a tight 31–28 win sent them to the Churchill Bowl.
Quarterback Ryan Reid threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns in one of the biggest games of his career.
“We felt good about playing them … Our offensive line was solid that year and their secondary was the weakness of their team,” Reid said. “I specifically remember one play where I caught a reverse pass on the sideline. I had to come up with a catch in coverage; I ended up catching the ball and it set us up for a touchdown that was quite important at the time. I do remember a couple things.”
In the semis, fourth-year running back Doug Rozon had the game of his life and carried the Huskies past the Western University Mustangs, who were previously the only undefeated left in the CIAU (currently known as the CIS).
Rozon, who currently works as a marketing director in Toronto, averaged just 86 yards rushing per game in the season before he exploded for 214 yards to help book the Huskies’ ticket to the Vanier Cup final.
“Overall, we were well prepared and out matched them offensively. Western came in with the number one defence in Canada and were undefeated but I don’t think that they had any matchups like they had with our O-line,” Rozon told the Sheaf in an email interview. “All of those factors coming together contributed to the outcome, both personally and as a team.”
Kicker Matt Kellett, now the head trainer at Orangetheory Fitness in Calgary, was a perfect 7–7 on field goals in the playoffs and remembers the poise the team had during their post-season run.
“We came into the national championship game very confident. The great thing about Saskatchewan teams is that we have a quiet confidence about ourselves.” Kellett said in an email interview with the Sheaf. “At the time I didn’t feel pressure, it’s amazing what confidence does to pressure. When you are extremely confident there is no pressure, you want more ‘pressure’ because you are so confident to overcome it.”
On Nov. 28, 1998 the Huskies battled with the Concordia University Stingers with the national title on the line. The green and white defence played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the game, as rookie defensive back Kurtis Albers recorded three interceptions to slow down the Stingers’ strong passing attack. Three interceptions in the title game still stands as the Vanier Cup record today.
With the game tied at 17 and about seven minutes left to play, the U of S defence shut down an option play — a similar option play in which Concordia scored its lone touchdown earlier in the game — thanks to some good pressure by the front seven. The ball ended up on the turf after a hit by Brent Dancey knocked it loose and linebacker Trevor Ludtke recovered it in the endzone for the winning points and a 24–17 victory.
The third championship in program history was definitely an exciting one and is something many of the players will never forget.
Reid, who now works in advertising in the Okanagan Valley, B.C., looks back fondly on the championship memories.
“Like any championship team, we played the best when it counted and that’s what I think was really special about the ‘98 team.” Reid said. “It was special looking back on it. I don’t think we realized the pressure that was on us, we were so young. When I look back now, I realize how special that group and that moment was.”
Rozon echoed his quarterback’s words, also recalling the great memories.
“Entering the Hall of Fame completes an experience that we still talk about 15 years later and will serve as a reminder of how fortunate we were to play and have success, as it is difficult to accomplish,” Rozon said. “It recognizes the commitment and dedication a considerable number of people put into the Huskie Football program.”