Stenger the hero as Huskies advance to Hardy Cup

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Sean Stenger

SASKATOON – Sean Stenger knocked through the game-winning field goal in overtime to send the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team past the UBC Thunderbirds, 31-28, and on to the Hardy Cup Championship game for the first time in nine years.

In what was a wild affair played at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver, B.C. the Huskies were able to ride out huge swings in momentum to book their ticket to Calgary to play against the Dinos for the 82nd Hardy Cup, this coming Saturday, Nov. 10.

“UBC is such a talented football team, our guys just played so well as a team,” said Saskatchewan head coach Scott Flory after his first playoff win with the Huskies. “We were connected top to bottom, from special teams to offence to defence. As it turns out we just made one more play in the end. I’m just so proud of our guys.”

The game was sent into overtime in the most dramatic way possible.

With UBC holding a seven-point lead and just 51 seconds left to play, fifth-year quarterback Kyle Siemens orchestrated a four-play drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jesse Kuntz to tie the game and send it into overtime.

UBC took possession of the ball first in overtime but the Huskies defence stood strong.

After a nine-yard completion to start the proceedings, the Thunderbirds needed just one more yard to extend their drive. Evan Machibroda and the Huskies defensive line stepped up and combined for the huge stop however, forcing kicker Greg Hutchins to come out on the field and attempt a field goal.

Hutchins sent his attempt wide-right, setting the stage for Saskatchewan to extend their season.

Tyler Chow rushed twice up the middle for a solid nine yards to move the ball to UBC’s 26-yard line.

Stenger, a fifth-year kicker and the Huskies all-time career points leader, made no mistake in sending the ball through the uprights and the Huskies back to the Hardy Cup in the process.

Siemens threw for 222 yards and that one all-important touchdown on the day, while Chow was dominant. The newly minted Canada West All-Star went for 89 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries while also adding 54 yards on six receptions.

Colton Klassen had 5 receptions for 96 yards and Bowan Lewis led the defence with 10.5 tackles.

Stenger’s big day came in more than just the three field goals he made, the clutch kicker also punted for 405 yards with two of those downed inside the 20-yard line. Not only that, but Stenger also played a key role on an onside fake field goal that led to a Huskies’ touchdown.

Michael O’Connor was great for the T-Birds. In the losing effort, throwing for 435 yards and three touchdowns on 28 completions.

Canada West All-Star Trivel Pinto was dynamic as always for the host team, catching 8 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown.

A defensive battle in the first quarter saw UBC jump out to an early 7-0 lead thanks to a 25-yard bomb from O’Connor to Ben Cummings.

That deficit would have been widened further early in the second were it not for a great goal-line stand.

After O’Connor marched the T-Birds down to Huskies four-yard line, Ben Whiting and Jacob Solie combined for a pass break-up in the end zone to force a Hutchins’ field goal that made the score 10-0.

Siemens found his groove during the Huskies next possession and started the drive by throwing back across his body for a 50-yard completion to a streaking Klassen.

That eight play, 75-yard drive was capped off by Chow plunging into the end zone from one yard out to bring the Huskies back within three.

With Saskatchewan back in possession of the ball just minutes later, Stenger and special teams coordinator Jerry Friesen went deep into their bag of tricks.

Stenger set up for the 45-yard field goal, but instead, pooched the ball just over the UBC defenders where Klassen was able to pounce on the ball and keep the drive alive.

Building off of that momentum, Chow took the hand off on the very next play and rumbled 16-yards into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.

The Huskies defence was dominant in the second quarter and sent the teams into the halftime break with the visitors in the lead by a score of 17-10.

That is how the score would remain for much of the third quarter as a forced fumble from Josh Hagerty along with a Payton Hall interception ended any scoring threats the T-Birds were able to muster.

All of that changed with just seconds remaining in the quarter however, when O’Connor threw for 105 yards on just a two-play drive that ended with a Blake Whiteley touchdown catch, making the score 20-17 in favour of Saskatchewan after three quarters of play.

After a Stenger rouge and a Hutchins field goal, UBC embarked on a nearly six-minute long drive during which they moved the ball at will.

O’Connor and Pinto hooked up for a touchdown and the ensuing two-point conversion that appeared devastating at the time, but in reality, just set the stage for Siemens and his offence.

The heroics would first be performed by the Saskatchewan defence however.

After an interception by the T-Birds defence, UBC had an opportunity to run out the game clock with just one first down, but a strong stand from Ben Whiting and Lewis forced the T-Birds to punt, giving the ball back to Siemens and allowing the fifth year the chance to embark upon that crucial drive and earn the first playoff victory of his Huskies career.

Now the Huskies will reset and prepare to face a Calgary Dinos squad that booked their spot in the Hardy Cup with a 37-13 victory over the Manitoba Bisons earlier in the day.

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