Turnovers were the Achilles heel for the Bisons on Friday night. Manitoba surrendered four in the second half, as they dropped the opening game of the 2014 Canada West football season to the 10th-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies, 44-24.
The Bisons looked strong out the gate offensively, securing a field goal from Ryan Jones on their first drive of the game. Just as quarterback Jordan Yantz had promised, Manitoba featured a quick tempo, no huddle offence to start the game, which appeared to shock the Saskatchewan defence.
Slotback Alex Vitt made two big grabs of 24 and 19 yards on the drive, establishing early chemistry with Yantz, which continued all game long. Vitt finished the night with 86 yards receiving on six receptions, and a touchdown.
Saskatchewan was able to respond quickly on the following drive. Running back Shane Buchanan led the way with 43 all-purpose yards, and quarterback Drew Burko finished the six-play drive off with an eight-yard toss to receiver Andre Lalonde – his first of four touchdown passes on the night.
The Bison offence kept rolling on their following drive. Kienan LaFrance flashed his speed on the first play, going 29 yards. Yantz connected with four different receivers. LaFrance finished off what he started with 4:15 left in the opening quarter, punching the ball in from one yard out, and Manitoba retook the lead at 10-7.
Numerous penalties on both sides halted any momentum for the next seven and a half minutes, until Manitoba struck again early in the second.
The Bisons needed just five plays to increase their lead to 10. Manitoba worked quickly behind the workhorse abilities of LaFrance, who touched the ball three times on the drive – culminating in a tremendous diving grab in the end zone with 11:22 remaining in the first half.
Saskatchewan answered right back on their following possession, aided by a costly roughing the passer penalty early in the drive. Burko finished things off with another eight-yard touchdown pass – this one to John Trumpy, with just over seven minutes left in the second quarter.
Both defences picked up the tempo following the Huskies’ touchdown, and Manitoba secured the first turnover of the game with just under three minutes left in the first half.
Safety Tyler Fong intercepted an overthrown toss from Burko, and returned it 27 yards, into the Huskies’ red zone. The Bisons would capitalize just two plays later, as Yantz found his favourite receiver, Vitt, from seven yards out.
Manitoba looked to catch Saskatchewan off guard on the ensuing kickoff, as they attempted an onside kick. The ball appeared to ricochet off of a Saskatchewan player, with the last touch going to Bison fullback Andrew Barry. Unfortunately, the referee saw things differently, and possession was awarded to the Huskies.
Saskatchewan took advantage of the generous field position after the failed onside kick, taking the ball with just 1:35 remaining and travelling 65 yards. Burko would finish things off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kit Hillis. Saskatchewan entered the dressing room down 24-21, but with the momentum heading into the second half.
The Bison offence went cold in the second half, failing to register any points in the third or fourth quarter.
After a Denton Kolodzinski field goal tied things up at 24 on Saskatchewan’s first drive of the second half, their defence went to work. The Bisons failed to register a first down until 8:32 of the third quarter, and were stymied in all facets offensively.
Saskatchewan took the lead for the first time with 4:08 remaining in the third, and didn’t look back. Running back Jarvis James carried the ball in from six yards out on a one-play drive, after LaFrance had coughed the ball up on the previous Saskatchewan punt.
The Bisons unravelled in the final four minutes of the third quarter, as Yantz threw interceptions on two consecutive drives – the first was picked off by Mark Ingram, and the second by Keegan Arnyek. Manitoba came out relatively unscathed, as the two interceptions led to just three points, and the Bisons trailed by just 10 heading into the final 15 minutes.
The Huskies kept the pressure on Yantz in the fourth quarter, leading to a third interception – the second from Ingram – just over two and a half minutes into the final frame. Saskatchewan didn’t waste their opportunity this time, as Burko found his third different receiver in the end zone – Brydon Ozmun from 16 yards out, giving Saskatchewan a 41-24 lead.
The Huskies would add another field goal at 9:55, which finished off the scoring, as well as Manitoba’s chances of a comeback.
Time for redemption
The Bisons will return to Investors Group Field on Friday, looking for their first win of the 2014 season in their home opener against the 1-0 Regina Rams. Prior to heading on the road to take on Saskatchewan, defensive end Evan Foster described the importance of knowing the playbook and keying in on each individual’s specific role, which will be further emphasized this week against the Rams.
“We’ve just got to do our assignments, do the plays to excellence,” Foster said.
“Just be physical at the point of attack, and like I said before, we’ve just got to get into our playbooks, and get all the plays right, and I think we’ll be okay.”
Friday’s game will also include a massive pep rally celebrating all student athletes, as well as the campus community, just prior to kickoff. All students are encouraged to attend.
For more information, contact David Grad, at David_Grad@umanitoba.ca