Kevin Garbuio looks at this week's exciting Saskatchewan/Manitoba game.
While most of CIS football deals with a parity issue, Canada West has proved to be the most competitive conference so far. The CanWest game of the week featured a potential Hardy Bowl matchup with the Saskatchewan Huskies visiting the Manitoba Bisons and edging out a 36-34 victory at the state of the art Investors Group Field.
Both teams are interesting on paper this year, especially at QB. Drew Burko might be the best pure passer in the CIS and he is only in his second year while Manitoba has a great playmaker in former CJFL star Jordan Yantz. When young quarterbacks play, it is normal to see the players look to hit checkdowns and pass up deep throws. These two are not afraid to air it out and both showed that they can be elite.
What was most impressive was how they each used the entire field. Yantz showed his ability to hit the 12- to 15-yard seam and took advantage of a banged-up Mark Ingram in the Huskie secondary. The heralded rookie showed his composure leading the Bisons back from being down 12 to give them the lead. He finished the game 25-for-41 passing with a cool 377 yards passing for 2 TDs, and also chipped in with 53 on the ground. Not bad for only his second CIS game. His 66-yard bomb to Anthony Coombs late in the 4th was particularly impressive.
Nonetheless, the story of this game offensively had to be Drew Burko.
Burko over the first two games seems to be building a nice case for the conference’s Hec Crighton candidacy. He completed 22 of 37 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns. HIs ability to make quick reads but still trust his arm to stretch the field was what stood out. He was only sacked twice and while the offensive line certainly deserves its fair share of the credit for keeping their passer clean, Burko does not hold the ball long and makes great decisions. Sometimes players rely too much on their intangibles and that hubris can lead to mistakes. Burko, again, makes quick correct decisions, that at the very least, keep his team in games.
Last year, Burko and Kit Hillis were a top tandem in CanWest football but fifth-year wideout Mitch Stevens has been his go to especially when it comes to dialing up touchdowns. Stevens already has four touchdowns this season and scored a 68 yarder in this game.
Both teams had their fair share of success passing the ball but the running backs both chipped in with positive games. Shane Buchanan finished with 100 yards on the ground for the Huskies along with a 46-yard TD. That score came off a beautifully executed draw play, a play the Huskies executed later for a 21-yard gain. On the other side, Coombs (Shaw's Jim Mullin Hec favourite) had another standout performance with 85 yards rushing and 117 receiving.
The game certainly had its drama at the end with Manitoba up one. Saskatchewan was stopped on the one-yard line and turned the ball over on downs with only 1:08 remaining on the clock. Manitoba wisely ran the ball on the first play but then on 2nd down decided to pass, which was incomplete. This forced a punt from the Bison 1. With only 18 seconds remaining on the clock, Denton Kolodzinski, already 4 for 4, capped his day with a 40-yard field goal to send the Huskies home with the narrow win.
These teams face each other again in Saskatoon on October 18th.