It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Huskies learned that the hard way in week one of the 2015-16 season, as the University of Manitoba Bisons used a strong second half to knock off the Dogs 34–28.
Things started off perfectly for the Huskies, as it only took three plays on their opening drive to put a touchdown on the board and give them an early 7–0 lead. Quarterback Drew Burko threw for 71 yards on the drive before Kyle Siemens punched in the first major of the year for the green and white.
A much better special teams effort had the Huskies in great field position all night and they even blocked a punt that led to a Sean Stenger field goal in the early going.
Down 11–0 midway through the opening frame, Manitoba went on a three-play touchdown drive of their own to put some points on the board. The Huskies defence looked solid early on and their defensive line provided some good pressure on Bisons quarterback Theo Deezar.
However, they were exploited as the game went on by a sub-par showing against the run game. Bisons’ freshmen running back Jamel Lyles had an impressive debut, rushing for 155 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries as he gave the Huskies’ defence fits all night.
Red zone production proved to be the Huskies’ downfall on this night, as they went a meager 3–6 inside the Bison 20-yard line. The first turnover came shortly after a huge punt return by Yol Piok, which set up the Dogs with a great field position. They would move down the Bisons’ one-yard line before being stuffed on the third down.
Head coach Brian Towriss recognized the team’s errors and will look for a better result next week.
“We had countless opportunities in the first half and with three or four turnovers in the redzone, you’re not going to win any football games doing that. We did a lot of things right, but we just made too many mistakes,” Towriss said. “From a confidence perspective, we would’ve liked to get that first win, but we can’t look two or three weeks down the road, we just have to play this football game.”
Lance Bashutsky had a handful of great kick returns, as the Huskies offence had great field position all night. Early in the second quarter, Burko threw his first interception of the game — this one deep in Bisons’ territory — as a crucial second red zone turnover took sure points off the board.
With first-and-goal inside the Bisons’ 10-yard line, you have to question the play call in the slick and rainy conditions. Second-year Tyler Chow carried the ball well all night and sticking the rushing attack is always a good idea on a cold and rainy night. Chow finished the game with 107 yards on 17 carries.
Newcomer Donovan Dale had a productive first night in the green and white as he had a huge sack in the endzone — the second Huskies safety on the night — following the interception. Dale had 4.5 tackles and a forced fumble to go along with his sack.
Lyles scored late in the second quarter on a 58-yard touchdown scamper and then had a 38-yard punt return to set a Bisons field goal, giving them a 24–22 lead. Burko threw his second interception of the game on Saskatchewan’s final drive of the half, as the Dogs found themselves trailing at halftime, after at one point holding a 20–7 lead.
The homecoming game wouldn’t be complete without the annual half-time toga run. Despite the cold and wet conditions, hundreds of residence students hit the track in their togas and enjoyed themselves, despite the scoreboard not being in the Huskies’ favour.
The toga run was first introduced in 1961 as a student-planned event involving a Roman holiday on campus. It progressed over the years and developed into the traditional toga run that happens each year on homecoming.
First-year student Tyler Hermann was thoroughly impressed with the atmosphere at his first ever Huskies sporting event.
“I certainly didn’t expect that type of atmosphere. I couldn’t believe at how engaged and into the game the crowd was,” Hermann said. “I thought the weather might put a damper on things but anyone who was there can attest to how packed it was and how passionate the crowd was about Huskie football. It’s always a good time having a few drinks with friends and hanging out with some girls.”
Once play resumed in the second half, it appeared the Huskies’ offence had stayed in the locker room. After moving the ball with such ease in the early portion of the contest, the wheels fell off and the Dogs only mustered up six points in the final 30 minutes of action. The stingy Dogs defence kept them in the game with the only Bisons touchdown coming off of a fortunate deflection that allowed Lorenzo Ihanza to go 58 yards untouched for the score.
With the Huskies trailing by six and only a couple minutes left to play, Burko threw his third pick of the night as the Huskies were moving the ball downfield, looking for the winning touchdown.
The defence gave them one last chance as Preston McIntyre recovered a Bisons fumble, but Burko threw his fourth and final interception of the night, sealing the Huskies’ fate. It was the first time they’ve lost to open a season since 2002.
Being a fourth-year quarterback, Burko will have to be better during crunch time as the season goes on. He is considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country and will have to prove it during the rest of the season if the Huskies hope to compete in the tight Canada West conference.
“We couldn’t get any rhythm in the second half. We made a lot of mistakes that we shouldn’t have made. They were putting us in second-and-long a lot, which we need to stay out of,” Burko said. “We had too many turnovers, especially in the redzone and we left a lot of points on the board. Just a lot of little mistakes we shouldn’t have made.”
Towriss echoed Burko’s comments, but isn’t worried about his starting pivot.
“Drew’s a fourth-year quarterback, so now we’re looking for consistency. They made a couple outstanding plays, but I know there’s a few throws he would like to have back. Consistency is what we’ve talked about and for us to take the next step, that’s what we have to do,” Towriss said.
Although the Huskies came out on the wrong end of the scoreboard, it was an exciting game right until the very end. The announced crowd of 6,457 was surely entertained and many good times were had despite the final outcome.
The Huskies will now turn their attention to the University of Alberta Golden Bears, who were victorious in week one with a 29–22 win over Regina. Saskatchewan will be on the road, with the game taking place on Sept. 11 and kickoff set for 7 p.m.
Photos: Caitlin Taylor/Photo Editor and Kayle Neis