Coaches are usually hesitant to blame officiating for losses, but Valley Huskers head coach Bob Reist had excellent reason to throw the men in stripes under the bus after a 21-16 loss to the Okanagan Sun Saturday night at Exhibition Stadium.
Officiating in the junior B.C. Football Conference is almost always frustrating, with calls made that shouldn’t be made, and obvious infractions missed.
But the referees played an outsized role in Saturday’s game, with three calls determining the final result.
The first came late in the fourth quarter, with the Huskers clinging to a 16-15 lead and holding the ball on offence.
Quarterback Reid Vankoughnett slung a pass to wideout Everett Findley at the sideline, and the receiver was de-cleated on a vicious hit by Okanagan defensive back Nate Adams.
Adams hit Findley hard enough to pop off his helmet, and the Husker lay on the turf for several seconds while Adams celebrated.
Ten years ago it would have been a spectacular highlight-reel play, the type of thing they used to feature on ‘best of’ videos.
Nowadays you can’t do that.
It’s supposed to be an automatic flag as football leagues everywhere strive to eliminate contact to the head and hits to defenceless receivers.
“After reviewing the film, it looks like a player using his head and shoulder to target the head/neck area of a receiver and I think that’s a targeting call,” Reist said. “I guess I’m a little confused about that ruling, but to me that’s a call that’s got to be made.
“It’s one thing to refrain from getting on referees over offside and pass interference calls, but player safety is another thing and there were a couple times in that game that player safety issues were handled in a way that could be reviewed.”
From a pure football perspective, the Huskers should have had 15 yards and a first down from an unnecessary roughness penalty with the opportunity to bleed more crucial seconds off the game clock. Less than two minutes remained at that point. The Huskers could have taken the clock below a minute running three more plays, or forced the Sun to burn timeouts.
Instead they had to punt and with 103 seconds remaining the Sun took over at their own 40.
“From a football side of it, I’m not looking to point a finger at the referee there, because there were a number of plays in the game where we could have been successful and won the game.
“I’ll say it was an impactful play on a number of different levels and certainly made a difference to what we were doing on that drive.”
On the first play, Okanagan QB Alex Douglas floated a pass out to the right sideline.
The Husker DB appeared to play it perfectly, turning at the last second to knock the ball down.
A defensive back is supposed to be able to battle for a ball, but nope.
Pass interference and a first down at midfield.
A Douglas to Javen Kaechele pass moved the ball to the 20, setting up the third dubious call.
Douglas sailed a pass into the left corner of the endzone. There was contact between the DB and the receiver, but the ball appeared to be uncatchable.
Still, another flag.
Pass interference and a first down at the five.
While the Adams-on-Findley non-call was indefensible, you can at least argue the pass interference calls were subjective.
But the vocal and very angry hometown crowd didn’t want to hear it as Douglas dove across the goal-line, scoring the winning points one play later on a QB keeper.
If you’re looking for positives, the Husker D was again outstanding.
The Sun managed just 71 net yards in the first half.
Only after linebacker David Steeves has hobbled and then forced out of the game by a leg/hip injury in the second half did the visitors gain any traction.
“Certainly David is a very impactful player, and him being hobbled late in the game certainly made a difference,” Reist said. “But I don’t think you can pinpoint everything on that.
“We need to be able to close the door when we have a late lead, finish games out and get the W’s.”
Defensive back Marcel Arruda-Welch should get Player of the Week consideration after knocking down four pass attempts and forcing and recovering a key fumble.
“He is really good and he had a great game,” Reist said. “He’s going to continue to be a dynamic force for us back there.”
On offence, the Huskers seemed to figure something out in the second half after a dismal first half.
Vankoughnett threw two TD tosses to Brandon Poulin and a beautiful deep ball to Chavis Spencer for 47 yards.
The Huskers had minus eight yards in the opening 30 minutes and 153 in the last 30.
Not great by any stretch, but something to build on.
“I thought Reid started to see the game downfield a little bit better when he was stepping up into the pocket,” Reist said. “And honestly, I think a lot of it was us taking a deep breath and realizing we could move the ball if we stopped shooting ourselves in the foot.”
So the Huskers are 0-2.
You can make a very good case they should be 2-0.
They shot themselves in the foot in a week one loss to Westshore, losing a 20-7 lead in the final five minutes to fall 21-20.
They were in position to beat the Sun, a perennial BCFC powerhouse.
Instead they’re 0-2 and now must hit the road to face a Langley team that just pummeled the Kamloops Broncos 63-7.
“Sure, we’re a couple plays away from being 2-0, but we’re not, we’re 0-2 and we’re well aware of who we’re going in to face this week,” the coach noted. “We need to correct mistakes and play up to our potential.
“That’s our biggest concern no matter who we’re playing.”
The Huskers and Rams tangle Sunday with a 6:30 p.m. kickoff at McLeod Athletic Park.