Football: Rams worry no more after flurry of scores

It's the home of the green and gold during CIS football season, but Mosaic Stadium was painted white for most of this game.

Down 9-0 at one point, the Regina Rams scored 31 in a row, in the snow, to advance to their first conference championship in five years with a 31-9 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies in a Canada West semifinal Friday night.

Unsurprisingly given the conditions, both offences had trouble finding their footing, literally and figuratively. The first quarter was scoreless; neither Drew Burko nor Marc Mueller put much strength on their throws, reducing much of the game to short passes and rushing attempts. And although it didn't matter in the end, the Rams' reliance on Michael Kiapway, the conference's third-leading rusher, was bordering on the predictable and as a result the Huskies were able to contain him. He's been a go-to player on this team all year, but the Rams called his number seven out of nine times to open a drive in the first half, and the team gained just 11 total yards on those seven plays. These short gains often left Regina struggling with second-and-long situations, unable to move the chains: they punted, conceded a safety, or turned the ball over on all but one of those drives. Without those struggles this could have been an even more lopsided win.

The first points of the game came on a conceded safety. (While that's appropriate for a game played in poor weather, it seems Rob's First Rule Of Football—"Don't concede safeties"—has not made its way to Regina yet.) That led to two Huskie points, then the equivalent of two more based on the field position Saskatchewan got after the kick return. They were able to take advantage of that field position by punting deep, pinning Regina, and forcing a fumble inside the 10 for an easy touchdown ... though, of course, the 25 yards of Rams penalties after that punt and before the fumble also helped.

And just like that, it was 9-0 for the visitors.

On the next drive, though, about halfway through the second quarter, Mueller and the Rams finally produced some big yardage. 20 yards to Jay Smith, then 37 to Addison Richards brought them from their own 35 at the beginning of the drive to the Saskatchewan 8. They would only get a field goal, but it was the first time they were able to add an exclamation mark to a drive instead of ending it with an ellipsis. It served as a clear turning point in the game: the Rams held the Huskies to a 2-and-out on the next drive, and then drove from their 35 again, this time making it all the way to the end zone on another long pass from Mueller to Richards.

So it was 10-9 Regina at the half, which might have been what you would expect given the field conditions and the relative closeness of these teams. However, the Rams continued to pull away in the third, leading 24-9 after those 15 minutes. If you were to ask U of S coach Brian Towriss, he'd probably say they were assisted by the officials in so doing. Kolten Solomon might have stepped out of bounds (...okay, he did) on his quarter-ending touchdown catch. And just a few minutes earlier, the Rams were awarded possession after a Chase Bradshaw kick-return fumble was kicked out of bounds by a Regina player.

It didn't much matter how the game was called, though, because it wouldn't have made up for the fact that the Huskie offence only passed for 27 more yards than the Rams got—on the ground. The big gains of the day were from Mueller and his receivers, notably Solomon, Richards, and Landon Buch, who put up 393 yards, only four short of their season high in their Manitoba win, despite the weather. (Richards and Buch had caught only seven passes for 162 yards all season, and had 11 for 227 in this game alone.)

Mueller, who missed most of the last three games with a shoulder injury, was said to be at 65% at the beginning of the broadcast. It showed early on, but his accuracy was impressive throughout. He ended the day with more than 12 yards gained per attempt and no interceptions, an excellent performance in what will probably be his last game in Regina. It's also a positive sign for him looking ahead to next week's Hardy Cup, when Mueller will probably face the Calgary Dinos and the best pass defence in the country.


It should also be noted: what a difference it is to have a professionally-produced broadcast for these games. With the exception of some rare-albeit-amusing mistakes (we had an update on the "QUA" playoffs at the half thanks to an uncorrected typo), Shaw's production was miles ahead of what we're used to with webcasted CIS games, and also significantly better than The Score's OUA broadcasts. (Disclosure: Jim Mullin, who was calling the game along with Daved Benefield, is a friend of the blog and at least four of our contributors vote in the FRC-CIS poll that he runs.) Readable on-screen graphics, relevant replays, and mostly-harmless commentary together provide a stark contrast to the typical experience of watching a CIS game.
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