REGINA, Sask. – The University of Regina Rams led by 23 points late in the third quarter, but were unable to hang on and suffered a 38-37 defeat to Saskatchewan on Friday night at Mosaic Stadium.
Saskatchewan took its first – and only – lead of the game with 20 seconds left after Jarvis James punched it in from one yard out to cap an eight-play, 73-yard drive that was set up mainly by a 43-yard screen pass to Andre Lalonde.
The win will likely send the Huskies to the postseason and a date with No. 1-ranked Calgary in the conference semifinals, barring a monumental upset of the undefeated Dinos by Alberta tomorrow.
Mitch Hillis piled up 224 all-purpose yards for the Huskies, catching 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown and also returning five punts for 46 yards. Kyle Siemens made his second consecutive start for Saskatchewan at quarterback and finished 23-for-41 for 422 yards while connecting with both Hillis and Julan Lynch for touchdown passes.
James ended up with 109 rushing yards for the Huskies, while James, Siemens, and Lalonde each had a touchdown run. Saskatchewan's defence was led by Donovan Dale, who forced a pair of fumbles and essentially sealed the win with a sack on Picton after James' game-winning score.
Noah Picton completed 26 of his 33 pass attempts for the Rams, with his 78.7% completion rate setting a new school record. He finished with 315 passing yards including touchdown passes to Mitch Thompson and Riley Wilson. Atlee Simon had 155 rushing yards and a touchdown, while linebacker Michael Stefanovic set a school and Canada West record with a 108-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The first half was all Rams, as the home side forced a turnover on the very first play from scrimmage when Mason Rossler jarred the ball loose following a completed pass to James and Zack McEachern scooped it up. The Rams took advantage of the field position, needing to go only 25 yards and getting most of it on Picton's 13-yard pass to Thompson for the first score of the game.
Sean Stenger connected on a 34-yard field goal late in the first quarter to get Saskatchewan on the board, but those turned out to be the Huskies' only three points of the first half. Rams rookie Daniel Scraper replied with a 28-yard field goal on the ensuing drive, and it looked like the U of R might go into halftime with a 10-point lead after a 15-yard chip shot by Scraper with a minute and a half left in the second. But Saskatchewan turned the ball over on downs after a failed third-down gamble on Regina's 42, and on the next play a long pass down the seam by Picton was tipped before Andrew Bennett made a fine diving play to scoop it up. The 43-yard completion to Bennett was followed by a 6-yard reception to Wilson, and Picton then hit Wilson from 19 yards out to put the Rams up 20-3 at the break.
Saskatchewan started out the second half with a 72-yard rouge by Stenger on the opening kickoff, and looked to be poised to cut the lead to nine before one of the more unlikely plays you'll ever see on the gridiron happened. The Huskies had the ball on Regina's one-yard line after a pass interference call, and on the ensuing sneak Siemens fumbled and Stefanovic scooped it up. 107 yards later, Stefanovic was in the end zone and after the 14-point swing the Rams had a 27-4 lead.
Then the offences got to work, as Saskatchewan quickly replied with a short four-play, 70-yard drive keyed by a 33-yard pass to Hillis down the sideline. Siemens finished it off himself from six yards out, but the Rams answered with a 10-play, 71-yard drive of their own that chewed up almost five minutes off the game clock. Simon finished off the drive with a four-yard run for a major, putting the Rams back up 34-11.
But the Rams were outscored 27-3 the rest of the way.
A fumble by Simon deep in Rams territory gave Saskatchewan the ball on Regina's 21, and the Huskies converted almost immediately on an 11-yard Siemens pass to Lynch for a major on the final play of the third quarter.
That set the stage for the fourth, as Saskatchewan scored on their next play from scrimmage. Siemens hit Hillis for a 63-yard hitch screen that made the score 34-24 after a failed two-point convert.
Scraper hit his third field goal of the game to put the Rams back up by 13, but the Huskies made it a one-possession game with five minutes to go after a pair of completions to Yol Piok set up Lalonde for his four-yard touchdown run. The Rams put together an effective drive with a couple of first downs to move into Saskatchewan territory, but disaster struck on a third-and-one situation from Saskatchewan's 33. On the cusp of field goal range, a botched snap meant that Noah Picton had to desperately try for the first down but Saskatchewan's Geoff Hughes tripped him up to force the turnover.
Saskatchewan didn't score on that drive, but forced a two-and-out after a late punt and then embarked on the eight-play, 73-yard game-winning drive that James finished off with the one-yard plunge – and even that wasn't easy, as two Rams defenders had chances to send James back with a four-yard loss but he was able to evade them and get in for the major.