The #10 University of Manitoba Bisons opened their 2017 Canada West season at home on Friday night with a 44-23 loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies.
The Bisons narrowly mounted a comeback for the ages at Investors Group Field, rallying from 21 points down at halftime to cut the visiting Huskies lead to four. The herd’s effort was all for nothing however, as the green dogs put the game to bed in the fourth quarter with 17 unanswered points.
Bisons running back Jamel Lyles was the catalyst in Manitoba’s second half surge, recording 128 all-purpose yards, including a few critical off tackle runs that set Manitoba up with numerous second-and-short opportunities. It was a huge turnaround from the first half, where the Huskies defence held the dynamic playmaker to seven touches and 34 total yards.
Saskatchewan’s offence was simply too strong, racking up 563 total yards. Quarterback Kyle Siemens threw for 419 yards, running back Colton Klassen ran for over 100 yards on the day, while four different Huskies players tallied at least 50 yards receiving.
“It felt like we were in practice mode, I don’t know how else to explain it,” said Bison football head coach Brian Dobie.
“It didn’t feel like we were ready. At the end of the day, everybody is responsible for that and the players are responsible for that, but our coaches, me, the head coach, we’re ultimately responsible for that. Our football team wasn’t ready enough.”
Saskatchewan’s offence was firing on all cylinders in the first half, registering 380 total yards, while holding on to the ball for almost 20 minutes. Manitoba, on the other hand, had possession for just under 11 minutes and were unable to move the ball much past their own 40-yard line throughout the opening 30 minutes of play.
Siemens went 21-for-25 for 290 yards and two touchdowns through two quarters, with very little pressure from the Bisons defensive line.
Reciever Evan Kopchynski was the beneficiary of the first touchdown pass at 3:04 of the first quarter, while Mitch Hillis snagged the second at 9:02 of the second quarter. A 10-yard rushing touchdown from Siemens, along with two Sean Stenger field goals rounded out the Huskie’s first half scoring. The Bisons answered with two field goals from kicker Brad Mikoluff – including a 45-yarder, and headed to halftime down 27-6.
The Bisons provided a healthy dose of Lyles out of the backfield in the third quarter, and it paid off. With the Huskies forced to stack the box, Manitoba was able to get their passing game going as well. Shai Ross was the prime target in single coverage, finishing the game with a team leading 74 yards on five receptions.
The herd outscored Saskatchewan 17-0, with a four-yard rushing touchdown by Lyles, a 30-yard reception by Ross, and yet another long Mikoluff field goal – this time from 46 yards out.
In the second half, Manitoba’s defence picked it up. The secondary stuck to the Huskie’s receivers like glue, with Marcel Arruda-Welch, Shae Weekes and Jayden McKoy providing tremendous coverage, while the Bison’s front four – led by defensive tackle Brock Gowanlock – was stout.
The fourth quarter was all Saskatchewan, as Kopchynski found the end zone for the second time, while receiver Chad Braun also reached paydirt. The Huskies defence provided their squad with a rush of energy as well, frequently registering bone-jarring hits, while also coming up with a massive fumble recovery late in the game that ultimately spelled the end for Manitoba.
The Bisons will take on the #7 University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on the road on Sept. 9.