Kyle Siemens had two chances to extend his football career, and the first didn’t go so well.
He found his sweet spot on the second, which is why the University of Saskatchewan Huskies’ quarterback is preparing for Saturday’s 2 p.m. Canada West final against the host Calgary Dinos — a game earned by a come-from-behind 31-28 overtime playoff win over the UBC Thunderbirds last Saturday.
“It was a little sad before we got happy, but I’m proud of how we fought through it,” Siemens said this week while preparing for the team’s first conference final since 2009.
Siemens threw an interception with 1:15 left in the UBC game while trailing 28-21. That pick could have spelled the end of both his season and his career. But the Thunderbirds took just 24 seconds off the clock before having to punt, and from there, Siemens engineered a four-play, 47-yard touchdown drive. It ended when Jesse Kuntz caught a precision Siemens toss from 14 yards out with 21 seconds left on the clock.
That touchdown sent the game into overtime, and Saskatchewan won on Sean Stenger’s 38-yard field goal.
“I was upset with myself. It was a throw I should not have made,” Siemens said of the moments after that interception, which — if the defence hadn’t held — could have been his final throw as a Canadian collegiate quarterback.
“But on the sideline, there wasn’t a sense of panic or a sense of ‘this game’s over.’ It was ‘we’re going to get the ball back and get another chance here’ — it was about calming myself down and thinking about the next drive.”
With memories of that game still fresh, the underdog Huskies prepare for a Dinos team that is 9-0 through the regular season and playoffs. Calgary has played in 11 straight conference finals, and won nine.
Saskatchewan, to contrast, hasn’t reached the game since 2009, and had lost eight straight playoff games before edging UBC.
“I was in Grade 10 at that time,” Siemens says of the Huskies’ 2009 conference-final appearance — won 39-38 by Calgary, after Saskatchewan’s Grant Shaw missed a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds to play.
“I was with our senior football team, traveling to the provincial final in Regina. I didn’t get to watch the game, but I heard a lot about it on the way home.”
Siemens is now a university senior. His career is week-to-week. He’s second in team career passing yards, and Calgary head coach Wayne Harris calls him “the most under-rated guy in our conference.”
“He’s a guy,” says Huskies’ head coach Scott Flory, “that’s responded every time there’s been some adversity, or he’s been challenged by the coaching staff or by his teammates. He’s stepped up. He had that pick with under two minutes, and it was kind of an out-of-body experience — it’s totally uncharacteristic for him to even throw that ball. But our defence made a great stop, we got the opportunity again, and he was really good down that final stretch. The throw to send it to overtime was a great throw — low and away, it was a great ball. We expect that out of Kyle. He’s our fifth-year quarterback, and he’s the leader of our football team.”
The winner of Saturday’s game makes a road trip to the national semifinal, the Mitchell Bowl, against the Ontario champion — either Guelph or Western.
The Vanier Cup goes Nov. 24 in Quebec City.
“The deeper you go and the further you get along, the sense of urgency, everything, gets tightened up and ratcheted up that much more,” says Flory, whose Huskies are 6-3. “The importance of every single down is stressed that much more moving forward. We know it comes down to a handful of plays, and you just never know when those are going to come. You’ve got to be at your best for the 60-plus plays you get in the game.”
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