With playoff drought halted, Huskies prepare for conference finale

Years piled up, the drought stretched on, and then everything stopped on Saturday in Vancouver.

The University of Saskatchewan Huskies won a playoff football game, finally, after years of frustration. Their 31-28 overtime victory over the British Columbia Thunderbirds on Saturday sends the Huskies into this weekend’s Canada West final against the Calgary Dinos.

It was Saskatchewan’s first playoff victory since 2009, when they beat the Regina Rams 53-23 in a conference semifinal. They’d lost eight in a row since, and missed the playoffs entirely last season.

“Those become historical program things that are beyond me and my time here, and all of our athletes’ time. None of us were around for that,” second-year Huskies’ head coach Scott Flory said Tuesday when asked about the significance of breaking that playoff skid.

“But what it does, is it speaks to the historical significance of this program — the high expectations, the standards, the history and the tradition we have here. We’re just doing our part as the 2018 version; just trying to uphold those standards.”

Next up for the Huskies: Trying to win their first conference championship since 2006. They head into the contest as decided underdogs. Calgary is a combined 9-0 through the regular season and playoffs, and beat the Huskies 37-28 and 33-13 in their two meetings.

Saskatchewan is a combined 6-3, and has won three straight games.

“(Calgary is) a very talented football team, top to bottom, in all three phases,” Flory said. “They’ve got an elite quarterback, their punter’s outstanding, their defence is big, physical and they can run. There’s a reason they’re undefeated. But the beauty of football is it’s only one game, and it’s one shot. We know we’ve got to limit the big plays, we know we’ve got to be supportive of each phase, and we’ve got to strike when the opportunity presents itself.”

The Huskies flashed an ability to make the big play when needed Saturday, getting a 14-yard touchdown catch from Jesse Kuntz with 21 seconds left in regulation, and a game-winning 38-yard field goal from Sean Stenger in overtime. Saskatchewan’s defence also held UBC to a two-and-out heading into the final minute of the fourth quarter, setting up the Huskies’ game-tying drive.

Calgary provides a different challenge, given that nobody has figured out how to beat them this season. Just two of their wins were decided by less than 10 points — that aforementioned 37-28 victory over Saskatchewan on Sept. 14, and a 32-28 win over UBC the following weekend.

“We know the animal we’re up against. They’re a very good football team,” Flory said.

The Huskies are doing some cold-weather practising at Griffiths Stadium this week as they get ready for Saturday’s game, which will be played at 2 p.m. Saskatchewan time in Calgary.

“A heightened sense of urgency, and a compete level,” Flory said of what he expects from his team this week as they prepare for the conference finale.

“We practice hard, and it’s conditioned our guys for the games. We’ve gotten better as the games have gone on; we’re winning the second half, the third and fourth quarters, and we’re finishing football games. I want to see a continued emphasis on that, on the finish, and a heightened sense of urgency.”

kemitchell@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kmitchsp

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