For the 21st time in program history, the USask Huskies are Hardy Cup champions. (Photo: Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards)
For the 21st time in program history, the USask Huskies are Hardy Cup champions. (Photo: Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards)

Huskies hoist Hardy Cup for 21st time in program history with win over Thunderbirds

For the 21st time in program history the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Huskies are conference champions, thanks to a 23-8 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds in the 85th Hardy Cup on Saturday, November 12 at Griffiths Stadium in Nutrien Park.

With the victory, the Huskies won their second-consecutive Hardy Cup and punched their ticket to next Saturday's Uteck Bowl — a national semifinal that will be held in Antigonish, N.S. against the AUS Champion St. Francis Xavier X-Men.

"I'm just so proud of these guys," said Huskies head coach Scott Flory, who won the third Hardy Cup in just his fifth-season as the Huskies head coach. "This is a tough conference. There's a lot of good football teams."

"I'm pretty happy, obviously," said fifth-year quarterback Mason Nyhus. "It was kind of a weird game, honestly. But we got the job done and we're moving on. That's all I can really say — I'm just happy to get a win."

The victory marked 18 consecutive wins for the Huskies on home turf — a streak that dates back to Sept. 14, 2018.

Saskatchewan controlled the game's opening half, but after only putting up three field goals on a trio of red zone opportunities — UBC hung around. The Thunderbirds got the game's opening touchdown with just 30 seconds remaining in the second half to trim the homeside's lead to just two.

"It felt like — in the first-half at least — we were moving the ball really well and the defence was playing good, but we were only up two. We just had to keep going and keep our pedal down," said Nyhus.

Suddenly, after a grind of a third-quarter — the Huskies finally broke through. On the final play of the quarter, Nyhus connected with Jordin Rusnack for the Yorkton, Sask. product's first-career Canada West touchdown for an eight-yard major to extend Saskatchewan's lead to eight. 

Then, early in the fourth-quarter, it was the Huskies defence's time to make their mark on the game. Finn Marcotte-Cribb intercepted a Derek Engel screen pass and took it back nine yards into the end zone to make the score 23-8 in favour of Saskatchewan — a score that would hold as the final.

"It was a big play by Finn to kind of put the dagger in there," said Nyhus.

"They ran that play against us a couple of times at UBC. We knew it was coming, so I just jumped it. It went well," said Marcotte-Cribb, when asked about the pick-six.

Marcotte-Cribb interception was the highlight of the day for a Huskies defence that held the Thunderbirds to just 231 yards of total offence — including only 149 through the air.

"I think our guys are dialled in, to be honest with you. They're locked into what's going on. They trusted themselves. They trust the call. They trust their eyes. They don't try and see things that aren't there. They made the plays that they had to make — that's what it comes down to."

On the offensive side of the ball, Nyhus threw for 232 yards and a touchdown on 22-28 passing. Second-year running back Ryker Frank was his go-to target, hauling in eight receptions for 70 yards, to go along with 63 yards on 23 carries.

Nyhus closed out both his Canada West career and career on home field in style. The Regina, Sask. product led the Huskies to the conference championship and in doing so, finished with a 16-0 record as the team's starting quarterback at Griffiths. 

"It's pretty cool. It's one of those things where Griffiths is such a special place for me. I've been here a long time. The fact that I can kind of leave here, without ever having a bad memory at the end of the game here, is pretty cool," said Nyhus.

On the opposite side of the sidelines, the loss spelled an end to the Thunderbirds season. After a 1-3 start, the Thunderbirds won four of their next five, including last week's victory over the Regina Rams in the Hardy Cup semifinal. 

"That's a good football team — we knew that. I said it all week. They got a big, powerful offensive line. They run the ball really well. Engel came in at quarterback and made some plays. Their defence is tough. They're a good team. I got so much respect for Coach Nill and what he does. We knew it was going to be a dogfight and it was," said Flory.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan extended their season for at least another week. The Huskies will make that aforementioned trip to the Maritimes for a meeting with the X-Men, who claimed a conference championship of their own today with a 21-14 win over the Mount Allison Mounties in the Loney Bowl. 

"I'm pretty proud of the guys. But like I said, the job's not over. We still have two more weeks until the Vanier. We just got to focus on next week with the AUS and then hopefully go from there," said Huskies running back Ted Kubongo.

"I'm sure I'll be up all night. I won't be getting much sleep, I'll be trying to watch some film and get a look ahead at our next opponent," said Flory, when asked about the Uteck Bowl matchup against St. Francis Xavier. "I'm sure they're a really good football team. If they're in the final four — they're a really good football team. We will be ready to go."

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