Connor Hood - Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON - The University of Alberta Golden Bears football team came up with arguably their biggest win under head coach Chris Morris, as they defeated the Saskatchewan Huskies 49-23, Saturday afternoon at Foote Field.
With the win, the Bears improve to 2-5 in 2017, the same record as the Saskatchewan Huskies, who have now lost five-straight games. However, the Huskies maintain their hold on the fourth and final playoff spot in Canada West, thanks to the conference tie-break rules. Since Alberta and Saskatchewan are both tied in the standings, the second tie-breaker would be given to the Huskies, who have a better point differential this season. Following the win on Saturday, Saskatchewan is -37, while the Bears are -51. Had the Bears won by 27 or more, they would have claimed the immediate tie-breaker, which goes to the team with the better point differential in their head-to-head meetings. Each team has now earned a 26-point win over each other this season.
Alberta still has two chances to clinch the fourth and final playoff spot next week. If the Bisons were to beat the Huskies in Saskatoon next weekend, all three of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan would be tied at 2-6 following conference play. Then, the team with the best overall record against teams in the three-way tie would advance. Alberta would be 2-1 (1-1 vs SSK, 1-0 vs MAN); SSK would be 2-2 (1-1 vs ALB, 1-1 vs MAN); MAN would be 1-2 ( 1-1 vs SSK, 0-1 vs ALB). If the Huskies are to defeat the Bisons next weekend, the Bears would also need to defeat the Dinos in Calgary, and finish with a better point differential that the Huskies. Simple, right?
As for the game on Saturday, the storyline was the same for Alberta: feed fifth-year running back Ed Ilnicki. Ilnicki, who was playing in his final game at Foote Field, had arguably the best game of this career, rushing for a career-high 279 yards and three touchdowns. Ilnicki also set the new program record for career rushing yards (3,986), as well as the Bears record for rushing yards in a season (1,314) in the win. Bears quarterback Brad Baker also turned in a season-best performance, throwing for 359 yards and two touchdowns.
The Huskies offence was virtually non-existent for three quarters, as they fell behind the Bears 14-0 early, and were down by as much as 35 in the fourth quarter. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns from Mitch Hillis, however, made the scoreline slightly more respectable. Hillis finished the game with eight catches for 204 receiving yards to go along with his two majors. Quarterback Kyle Siemens threw for 170 yards and a pick, before being replaced by Mason Nyhus in the fourth, who threw for 243 yards and two TDs.
For the third-straight game, the Bears had no trouble whatsoever moving the football on offence. Alberta finished with a season-high 624 yards of offence on Saturday, while holding the Huskies to 472. A large chuck of those 472 Huskie yards came in the fourth quarter however, when the game was already out of reach. Ilnicki scored two of his three touchdowns in the opening quarter, while Colby Miller and Tylor Henry both caught first-half TDs, and Dylan Niedermaier chipped in a fumble return TD before the game reached the fourth quarter.
Kicker Brent Arthur added a pair of field goals for the Golden Bears, but missed a 21-yard shot in the final minute, which would've given Alberta the tie-breaker over Saskatchewan.
Alberta will visit the Calgary Dinos at 1:00 p.m. next Saturday afternoon, while the Huskies will host the Bisons at 7:00 p.m. Both games, as well as all three Canada West playoff games, will be available on Canada West TV.