The incredible turnaround of the Valley Huskers continued Saturday as the BC Football Conference team beat Victoria’s Westshore Rebels 23-19 at Exhibition Stadium.
Not since Howie Zaron patrolled the sideline in 2008 has the junior football team had a .500 record.
This year’s Huskers guaranteed they’ll have that, improving to 5-3 with two games left on the 2018 schedule.
It’s been that long too since the Huskers qualified for the playoffs, but the win over the Rebels has all but guaranteed the Huskers will play at least one extra game this season.
The Huskers could still miss the postseason if they lost to the Rebels and Nanaimo Raiders and the Rebels go on the road to beat the Okanagan Sun in the final week.
But that’s a long shot.
“It feels great and it’s been a long time coming for this team,” said quarterback Julian Wytinck. “The mood was intense, but we came out, did what we had to do to win the game and it feels good.”
Beating the Rebels left the Langley Rams as the only team the Huskers haven’t defeated this season, and who’d have thought you’d be able to say that back in July?
But Westshore was no easy out.
The Rebels gave the Huskers their best punch and almost had the knockout, but Chilliwack’s defence rose to the challenge on a day when the offence struggled.
On their opening series, Westshore drove the ball to the Husker 27 before stalling, and Rebel kicker Kyle Clarke opened the scoring with a 37 yard field goal.
Late in the first quarter, Westshore had the Huskers pinned deep in their own end, but Wytinck and Remis Tshiovo hooked up a field-flipping play — a 64 yard catch and run down to the Rebels 26.
The drive stalled and Westshore got the ball back at their own 22. After a quick two-and-out, Rebels punter Ashton McKinnon had his kick blocked by Husker Desmond Jeanson, setting the home team up at the two yard line.
Von Richardson ploughed in for the first of two rushing majors on day.
The 18 year old tailback had a breakout game, rolling up 91 yards on 20 carries on a day when his team desperately needed a ground game.
Wytinck, knocked out of last week’s game in Kelowna by a late hit, gutted it out against Westshore, but he wasn’t at his best.
The Rebels put a few hits on him early, and at times it looked like he might not make it back to his feet.
“Their D line is big and they got after me a lot,” Wytinck said.
At one point, a Rebels coach could be heard yelling on the sideline, ‘QB’s done! QB’s done.’”
The Manitoban stared down the pass rush and delivered several big throws. A 27 yard rainbow to Jacob Penner set up the second Husker major, with Richardson rumbling in from the three.
Chilliwack led 17-10 at halftime after the Rebels conceded a two-point safety and Husker punter Ethan Homan boomed a 75 yard kick through the endzone for a single.
Then it was the D’s turn to shine.
After allowing Westshore to generate 171 yards in the first half, the Huskers locked it down in the second half, limiting the Rebels to just 82.
Westshore tied the game on a Mason Brown to Cody Holmes touchdown toss, and added two points when Wytinck was brought down in his own endzone for a safety.
But that was it.
The defence produced stop after stop, giving the Husker offence time and field position to complete the comeback.
The pass rush produced four sacks on the day — one each to Dawson Davis, Tristan Fournier and Josh Robinson and half-sacks to Easton Montour and Daniel Mills — and several more pressures. Davis had an interception and Fournier and Jace Harden recovered fumbles.
“The defence looked good and we’ve just got to build off this for next week and keep playing our game,” Wytinck said.
Two Homan field goals provided the margin of victory.
The first was a 27 yarder at the tail end of a Richardson-led drive that started at the Chilliwack 19 yard line and saw the running back rumble through the Westshore defence for seven, nine, 11 and 15 yards.
It was a flashback to Richardson’s GW Graham days as he ran downhill, dragging Rebel defenders as he went.
“That kid is all heart, and he’s only 18 but he already looks like a grown man out there running that football,” said Husker receiver Brandon Poulin. “It’s very rewarding to block for him and see that much heart in a kid like that.”
With top receiving targets Poulin and Anthony Dyck blanketed by a stingy Westshore secondary, Tshiovo was the other difference maker on the Husker offence.
No. 21 produced a huge play on the game-winning drive, a 17 yard reception that set the stage for Homan’s 30 yard field goal.
Tshiovo finished his day with 156 yards on seven receptions.
“Remis is a great receiver and a really great teammate and I love having him out there,” Wytinck said.
The pivot’s final stat line was 12-of-27 for 244 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, but the toughness he displayed doesn’t show up on the scoresheet.
“That’s my quarterback and he’s a strong kid,” Poulin said. “No one knows a lot about him. They think he’s a quiet guy, but he’s got the heart of a champion and he really showed that today on this field.”
The Huskers are on the road Saturday afternoon, traveling to Victoria for a Rebels rematch.