Just to be safe, I peeked at the weather forecast in hell this morning, and it is still quite toasty, but when the Valley Huskers are 2-1 with wins over the Vancouver Island Raiders and Okanagan Sun, it’s worth checking.
The Huskers, who are suddenly a formidable foe in the B.C. Football Conference, shocked one of the league’s perenial powerhouses Saturday night at Exhibition Stadium, dumping the Sun 22-18.
The Sun, who are used to pummeling the Huskers whenever they play, were shocked to find themselves down 14-0 after one quarter.
The Huskers led 14-7 at the half and 22-15 through three quarters. The biggest scoring play came from the defence, when Winnipeg native Simon Winsnes picked off a pass from Okanagan quarterback Matthew Mahler and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
The Husker offence supplied the rest of the scoring.
Quarterback Julian Wytinck threw a TD toss to Anthony Dyck and added a rushing major on a one yard goalline plunge.
GW Graham grad Spencer Breslin booted three converts, adding a single point on a missed field goal from 37 yards out.
The Sun got an offensive score from running back Jesse Amankwaa and a defensive score from Javel Kaechele, who returned a fumble 25 yards for a major.
Husker head coach Bob Reist was far happier Monday morning than he was a week previous after a sloppy 42-9 loss to Langley.
“To take a loss like that and respond with a game like this against a very dominant football team shows the character of our group,” Reist said. “I think last year, we probably would have folded emotionally and wouldn’t have been able to respond.
“This year is a lot different.”
The bounceback win gave Reist’s crew what it needed coming out of three straight home dates to start the season.
With a road-and-home against the winless Kamloops Broncos coming up, the Huskers have a chance to be in very good shape by the time they head into a road-heavy back half of the schedule.
“You have to put yourself in a good position at home, and to get the fans behind us early in the season has been a big force for us as well,” Reist noted. “Our crowds have been big and they’ve been loud and winning at home is something that will help us grow football in this community.”
Among the many good signs coming out of the Okanagan win was the emergence of the passing game that earned so much offseason hype.
Wytinck completed 28 of 44 attempts for 275 yards.
Speedy Brandon Poulin turned in a breakthrough performance with 14 catches for 100 yards while Anthony Dyck caught 10 for 144.
“That was the first full game we’ve seen out of Poulin this year and he performed very well,” Reist said. “Julian stood in the pocket and made a lot of big throws under pressure, and that was against a very outstanding defence.
“I think our passing game is coming along very well.”
If the team could only find a consistent running game.
Von Richardson led the ground game with 43 yards on 15 carries, averaging 2.87 yards per touch. As a team, the Huskers only had 45 rushing yards, but Reist said the numbers are misleading.
“We ran for some good yards, but we’ve got to eliminate the tackles for loss, that are dragging down our numbers,” the coach said. “We do pop off some big runs for good yardage, but we hurt ourselves when we have those minus-four or minus-five yarders.”
Defensively, the Huskers answered the bell after getting shredded by the Rams last week.
The Sun rolled up 299 yards of net offence, but the D came up big in the fourth quarter when the visitors were pushing for the go-ahead score.
Filling in for injured defensive back Danny Mills, Winsnes provided the play of the game with his interception TD.
“He’s been playing strong half(back), but we moved him to free safety with Danny out,” Reist said. “He made an outstanding read on the interception, stepping in front of a deep post over the middle and then taking off.
“Initally on the sideline, it was, ‘Hey, we got the ball back.’ Then it was, ‘Oh wow. He’s gone!’
“That was a huge momentum play at that point. They (the Sun) were pushing, we needed someone to produce a big play, and there was Simon.”
Tackling machine Dawson Davis continued his early season rampage. After setting a Husker record with 10 solo stops versus Langley, the Abbotsford native had a team-high six versus the Sun.
“He’s exactly who we thought he was coming out of York (University),” Reist said. “He’s a big, physical kid and a smart football player. He’s been all over the field and he’s a big reason why our defence is operating at a very high level.”
As mentioned, the Huskers now get Kamloops for two straight games.
The Broncos have started the season with two lopsided losses (56-6 to the Sun and 42-0 to the Raiders).
It’s been years and years since the Huskers were favourites coming into a game, and it seems almost ridiculous to ask, but how does Reist plan to keep his team grounded heading into these games?
“We’ve talked about being who you are when times are high and who you are when times are low,” he said. “We’re three games into a 10 game season, and where we are in the standings now is irrelevant if we don’t focus on the next game, series and rep moving forward.
“We know what our ultimate goal as a program is, and we’re not there in week three.”
— The road game on the schedule for this Saturday night in Kamloops may be shifted to Chilliwack if air quality in Bronco-land doesn’t improve.
Check bcfootballconference.com or valleyhuskers.org for the latest schedule info.