Two sides of the Valley Huskers were on display Saturday night as they hosted their regular season opener.
Facing the Okanagan Sun at Exhibition Stadium, the junior football showed a little of what it used to be in a 41-7 loss.
But the new-look Huskers, sporting sharp new uniforms, showed plenty of what they might be under the guidance of new bench boss Adam Smith.
They battled to the end.
They showed flashes of potential, and even though the scoreboard had them as lopsided losers they acted as winners do.
No temper tantrums.
Just a focused football team that believes in its collective ability.
That faith might have been shaken just three plays into this game.
On Chilliwack’s second snap from scrimmage, quarterback Dylan La Prairie was intercepted by Okanagan Sun linebacker Jeff Mock, setting the visitors up at the Chilliwack 45.
But two players later, Husker linebacker Brody Slagman came up with a fumble recovery to snuff out the threat.
The Sun would open the scoring midway through the first quarter, with kicker Hunter Verhulst chipping a 21 yard field goal through the uprights.
The Sun added to their lead nine minutes into the second quarter. Tailback Alex Bradley capped off a 12 play drive with a 19 yard run, breaking two or three tackles en-route.
Making matters worse, heart-and-soul linebacker Slagman left the game, forced out with a knee injury.
His absence left a gaping hole in the middle of the Chilliwack D.
But they stayed stout.
After recovering a short kickoff, the Sun had the ball at the Huskers 42, looking to do more damage.
But as quarterback Cam Bedore dropped back to pass, Hayden Jeffrey came off the edge on a blitz and hammered the QB with a blind-side hit. Bedore fumbled the ball, Husker defensive lineman Jessie Smith recovered and the home side escaped to halftime trailing just 10-0.
“The D had some missed coverages and miscues, but then you could see some big plays out of them right?” Smith said. “They had some sacks and caused some turnovers against one of the better offences.”
The Huskers had another key injury late in the first half.
Starting tailback Benedict Muhima was hit hard, got to his feet wobbly and did not return.
Two plays early in the third quarter blew the game open.
On the Sun’s second offensive play of the second half, Bedore found Zach Regert for a 34 yard touchdown pass down the right sideline.
Two plays later, La Prairie was intercepted by Sun defensive back Robbie Yochim, who returned the ball 60 yards for another major.
The Sun led 24-0.
“I’ve been out for a couple years unfortunately and there was a lot of rust to be shaken off,” La Prairie said. “Definitely way too many picks. Positives? We made some drives and some plays, and there’s no doubt in my mind we can execute better on offence.”
The Sun led 27-0 when the Huskers got their big play of the night.
In a preview of something La Prairie hopes to see over and over, he dropped back and spotted mammoth flanker Tyron Ledingham in single coverage.
Galloping down the middle of the field, the big man hauled in La Prairie’s pass, shrugged off the Sun player and capped off the 55 yard scoring play with a cheeky leap across the goal-line.
“We had a miscue on that interception that turned into a pick-six, but he cooled down and I cooled down and we knew we’d eventually get a big play,” La Prairie said. “Tyron Ledingham is going to be a huge name in the BCFC and CJFL. He’s going places for sure.”
The Sun added a pair of late TDs, both quarterback keepers by backup Josiah Joseph. But Smith, La Prairie and company were upbeat afterwards, proud of the fight they gave.
“Are was disappointed we lost? Yes and that’s a good sign because I’ve been on teams in this league that lose a game like that and everyone’s ready to party,” La Prairie said. “That’s not our thing. There’s probably 60 per cent of our team that hadn’t played a junior football game until tonight, and we stuck with a pretty good team.”
Smith agreed, and looks forward to seeing what his team does next week when they host the Kamloops Broncos.
“I’m never happy with a loss and I don’t want to settle for anything,” he said. “Kamloops had a big win against Westshore today and we have our work cut out for us. I think we’ll bounce back and be ready.”