BURNABY — Oh, a victory would have been nice.
It would, in fact, have had a staying power which could channel positive vibes through the long winter off-season ahead, through national signing day in early February, and then into both spring and fall camp.
Simon Fraser’s football season instead ended with an eighth straight GNAC loss, a heartbreaking 23-16 setback atop Burnaby Mountain to a Humboldt State Lumberjacks team playing the final game in its program’s 90-year history.
It was yet another reminder that while the Clan has reached a stage of entry-level competitiveness within the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, it’s ability to see that reflected through wins instead of losses still remains agonizingly elusive.
“It was a tough way to end a season,” admitted head coach Thomas Ford of the Clan (1-9, 0-8). “We felt like we had advantages on both sides of the ball. I felt like we moved (the ball) in every capacity humanly possible.”
The Clan were solid in so many areas on Saturday, yet their Achilles heel, an inability to capitalize on field goal opportunities, bit them hard.
Kees Metselaar, who went 1-for-5 on the kind of day the kicker’s all dread, had a 19-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter blocked. And although he made good on one from 27 yards out, he also missed from 32, 42 and 38 yards, the latter which would have given the Clan a 19-16 lead early in the fourth quarter. Metselaar also had one of his PAT attempts clang off the uprights and miss.
Yet the final day of the 2018 season, for an SFU team invested in the much bigger picture of its future, there were a number of scenarios worth investigating, the most obvious concerning the passing of the torch at quarterback.
That’s where we start this visit of four things to remember as the off-season for Simon Fraser Clan football officially begins on Sunday.
1 A TORCH IS PASSED… WITH CLASS
The Clan honoured its small class of graduating seniors before the game as Ben Minaker, Jaryn Bailey, Brad Lyons, Gabe Lopes, Rey Arcega, Kyle Wilson and Miles Richardson were all acknowledged for their efforts in helping the team transition in its first year under Ford.
Then Richardson, the team’s starting quarterback, the guy who back on Oct. 20 against nationally-ranked Central Washington passed for 470 yards, just 32 shy of the all-time single-game conference record, lined up as a receiver in the final game of his college career.
Regardless of what anyone will tell you, it said a ton about the kind of teammate Richardson is, while at the same time showing you just how good the team’s pure freshman pivot Justin Seiber is going to be if he can ward off all comers and establish himself as the team’s full-time starter over the next three seasons.
“Miles is the best teammate I have ever had,” Seiber said after a loss in which he went 27-of-50 for 356 yards with no touchdowns, but also, no interceptions. “He has shown me how to get it done this season. He’s such a great leader for us. I only wish I could have connected with him a couple more times. But just the way he was out there, giving his all for me, was awesome.”
Earlier in the season, Richardson lined up at receiver and had eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. On Saturday, it might have been just three catches for 25 yards, but the statement made, especially to the team’s huge core of returning players, was that of big pictures and selfless sacrifice.
“I think at the end of the day, we had to get our best players on the field,” said Ford. “Miles is absolutely dynamic and we can design plays to get him the ball. And Justin, quite frankly, is really great at throwing the football and has a knack for seeing coverages. Not that Miles doesn’t, but we felt that this week, Justin gave us an advantage throwing it and we felt that Miles could do a lot of other things.”
The tone that Richardson set throughout the locker room, however, in accepting that assignment, was just as big, and moving forward, is one of those intangibles all coaches hope to find.
“He’s the ultimate team guy because he doesn’t care where he is playing as long as he is playing,” said Ford. “He has a future in professional football. I think he’ll run a 4.5 (40-yard dash) and someone will take him as a receiver.”
The passing of the torch was also noticed by the defence, and cornerback Shea Carstens loved what he saw.
“Miles is one of my best friends and one of the most selfless people I have ever met,” said Carstens. “Seiber was able to look up to him and he really showed him the ropes. We’re in really good hands (next season) with Seiber.”
Ford knows he’s got a good one in Seiber.
“When you watch him, he is what you are looking for at scholarship-level football,” said the coach. “He can make all the throws. He’s not going to run a lot, but he’s athletic. He can get out of trouble and extend plays. But his ceiling is so high, I don’t know if we can touch it.”
2 CATCH A RISING STAR
Of course we can’t close out the season without talking about the player who was on the receiving end of the majority of Seiber’s throws.
Speaking of trying to touch ceilings, junior receiver Rysen John has gone a long ways towards trying to touch his, and the good news is, even though he is already one of the very best in the GNAC, he’s still got a lot of room to be even better next season.
The 6-foot-7 John was precise with his routes, fearless catching the ball over the middle, and more nimble than a receiver of his height should be.
On the day, he finished with 14 catches for 182 yards.
“I think Rysen has the ability to be a first-round draft pick in the CFL, and there is no doubt in my mind he has that ability,” said Ford. “And the thing about Rysen is, right now, he’s thinking about the two plays he didn’t make.”
Ford, in fact, knows the passing game is on the verge of taking a quantum leap forward.
“Rysen is back, and so is a quarterback who played in a bunch of games this year, and we have all of our receivers back,” Ford said of a litter of pass-catchers that includes John, Robert Meadors, Devin O’Hea, Kester Iwunze, Ethan Beselt and tight end Spencer McCabe.
3 THE PICK OF THE LITTER
And speaking of Carstens, whose two picks on the day gave him seven on the season, good enough to lead the GNAC in thefts, he was also the only player in the GNAC to take two of them to the end zone this season.
On Saturday, he was Johnny-on-the-spot to pick off a wobbling duck thrown by Humboldt quarterback Brenden Davis in the first quarter.
But his signature pick came in the second quarter when he jumped a pass route, picked off Davis and went 35 yards for the score.
Ford brought in a number of quality recruits, but he also inherited a number of others who have grown into difference makers this season, and Carstens is one of them.
“I came up here because for me, it represented the best option to play early,” said Carstens, who was a part of the incoming Class of ’17 that included the likes of linebacker Griffen Barrett, Kelowna-Mt. Boucherie’s Ethan Beselt and St. Thomas More defensive back Kolby Buljevic. “I am getting a great education at the business school here, and I am only a couple of hours away from home.”
To Carstens, the post-game was all about thanking the seniors for imparting their wisdom on the underclassmen.
“We had a good group of seniors who set the foundation for us and showed us what it took to work hard,” Carstens said. “It sucks that we lost today, but I think our growth throughout the season is what mattered most.”
4 STILL SMILING
In the post game scrum, the always-optimisitc Ford was asked a simple question: “Did the football gods give you a hard enough punch in the solar-plexus this season to dim that 100 watt smile?”
Ford’s answer: “ I knew it was not an overnight deal. I knew it would be huge if we could get a couple of wins. I knew it would be huge if we could get a win. What I feel most comfortable about it the improvement we made. Outside of two games, we were competitive. When you look at our offensive and defensive numbers, we improved in every area, and that’s what you look for when you’re rebuilding a program.”
SFU’s other touchdown came on a one-yard run by bruising Jason Nelson midway through the third quarter which out the Clan ahead 16-13. The big play on the 75-yard drive was 25-yard completion from Seiber to John on second-and-20.
For all of the good things that happened in terms of growth for the Clan this season, a consistent running game was not one of them, and it looks like a top-of-the-list priority to bring a semblance of balance to the offence through finding the best combination of talent and scheme.
The Lumberjacks scored the final 10 points of game to claim the victory. Both of Humboldt State’s wins came against SFU, and each ended with the same 23-16 score.
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