On a rainy Friday night, the Manitoba Bisons headed into battle against the Saskatchewan Huskies and walked away 34-28 winners.
The Bisons were resilient this game, fighting back from as much as 13 points down. The Huskies jumped out to the lead on their first possession and seemed to be in control, but the Bisons managed to keep the game close in the first half and were eventually leading at the break, 24-22.
Dobie’s boys really showed their colours in the second half where they stormed out in the fourth quarter and took the game from the Huskies, outscoring them 10-3. Some excellent late defensive play also helped seal the win for Manitoba.
The Bison secondary was superb, especially late in this game. Four of the five starting defensive backs had an interception for Manitoba, including key picks from Zack Sandulescu and Cam Teschuk late in the final frame, effectively stopping the Huskies’ attempt to come back.
The Bisons’ front seven were in tough against an experienced Huskies offensive line. They managed to get good penetration in the second half, rushing Drew Burko multiple times. Mitchell Harrison led the defence with nine tackles.
Highly touted defensive lineman David Onyemata led the men in the trenches with three tackles and was a real force up front. The defensive line struggled early on to get into Burko’s kitchen, but really stepped up when it mattered, stopping the Huskies countless times in the red zone, including a goal line stand.
The rookies stole the show on Friday night for the herd. Tailback Jamel Lyles was on fire, running for 155 yards on 11 carries. Lyles also found the endzone in the second quarter after a blistering 58-yard run.
Lyles took advantage of the excellent blocking of the Bison offensive line and hit his holes with speed. He was also dangerous on special teams as a punt returner. The kid from Surrey is someone to watch this season, as we’ll most likely see stat lines like this again in the near future.
Another offensive rookie who had an impressive showing was Lerenzo Ihanza. The freshman wide receiver out of Brampton, Ont. took advantage of a tipped ball in the fourth quarter and ran it in for the touch down. His first catch in the CIS was a unique and important one, as it was the winning touchdown for the Bisons.
Jesse Walker proved to be a very versatile player on Friday. The athletic slotback racked up 62 yards of total offence, including 45 yards receiving on four catches.
The Bison receiving core played well in a game where dropped balls and mishandles were extremely common. Slotback Bryden Bone had an exceptional game, recording five catches for 103 yards, one being a ridiculous triple grab made while on his back.
Alex Vitt stepped up when necessary and made a great grab on the goal line in between two Husky defensive backs, falling into the endzone to help keep the game in reach for Manitoba.
Quarterback Theo Deezar was hot and cold in this one, going 17 of 28 for 268 yards and two touchdowns, but also throwing two interceptions. In these rainy conditions, the sophomore coming in to fill Jordan Yantz’s role performed well, and aside from some ill-advised throws, it was a great game from the six-foot-five product from St. Paul’s.
We also got to see the depth of the Bisons backfield; the run game will be something to be feared this season. Jamel Lyles, Cameron Fox, and Alex Christie combined for a total of 220 yards, accounting for a good measure of the Bison offence.
Special teams also played a big factor in this game, as both teams’ kick returners performed well. This helped the Huskies out many times, putting them in great field position. In eight kickoffs, Saskatchewan had a combined 186 yards, and also managed to block a punt.
Discipline came into play for the herd, as they amassed 15 penalties for 100 yards. The game could easily have been put out of reach by the Huskies early on, but they never really capitalized on the mistakes the Bisons made.
Some errored punts and great kick returns consistently put Saskatchewan in great field position, however they never seemed to take advantage, keeping the Bisons in the game. Manitoba stayed patient and capitalized on the Huskies mental gaffes in the back half of the fourth quarter, showing impressive resolve.
The stat lines for both teams were very even, with not too much difference in terms of numbers. On the field however, you could tell many times that the Bisons were in control, and they did well silencing the crowd at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon.
It was a wildly entertaining game to open up the 2015-16 Canada West campaign, in which the Bisons will be looking to defend their Hardy Cup title from 2014. Manitoba will play their home opener next week against the Calgary Dinos, who are coming off an impressive 49-16 win over the University of British Columbia on Friday.