BURNABY MOUNTAIN — With the end of his football career now just weeks away, Justin Seiber admits he is pondering a professional path into the world of sports analytics.
All of that seems fitting in light of the numbers that the 6-foot-3, 200 pound Simon Fraser senior quarterback put up last Saturday as the previously-winless Red Leafs stunned the visiting West Texas A&M Buffaloes 46-14 in its Lone Star Conference finale at SFU Stadium’s Terry Fox Field.
The Red Leafs (1-8) will close out the 2022 season at home Dec. 2 when it hosts its crosstown rivals, the UBC Thunderbirds (4-5) in the reincarnated Shrum Bowl.
“With it being Seniors Night, personally I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” said Seiber after he went 24-of-34 for 293 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions against the Buffs (5-6, 3-6), a performance so near-perfect that it spewed forth the biggest analytical number of his Red Leafs’ career: A quarterback rating of 191.51.
As a point of comparison, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, to many the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, boasts a near-identical overall QBR of 188.2, giving you a clearer idea of how impactful, for one game at the Div. 2 level, Seiber clearly was last Saturday.
Yet even bigger than any numbers was the feeling that the Covington, Wash., native got to experience with his teammates after the Red Leafs’ first win of a challenging season.
“You always kind of hope for that game to happen but it doesn’t always work out that way,” continued Seiber of snapping both the team’s 0-8 record on the penultimate weekend of its season, and garnering the program’s first conference win on SFU soil in nine seasons (Nov. 9, 2013, 38-17 win over Humboldt State). “But everything finally came together and I think it was a variety of reasons… from it being Seniors Night at home, to West Texas A&M coming off a pair of last-second losses, to us scoring on our first possession for the first time this season.
“We jumped on them early and we never, ever let up.”
(SFU’s Jacob Hall paints a landmark Simon Fraser football victory through lens of his video camera below)
Although Red Leafs’ head coach Mike Rigell looks at all kinds of numbers in the lead-up to games each week, he remained convinced that forces greater than the team’s game plan were in play once the game got to opening kick-off.
“I just had a whole different feel and a whole different vibe… it was just a different aura, like the stars had all finally aligned,” he said Wednesday in reflection.
“From how great the weather was Saturday. To the team meeting, to the team meal… there was just this calm feeling throughout the building,” he added. “I just felt like there was no way we were going to lose. Just no way. And the crazy thing was, all of our coaches were feeling the same way.
“After everything that we had gone through, we all had a different kind of a feeling, and it had more to do with this team loving on each other, and taking care of each other, than it did with any kind of scheme or the X’s and O’s. I was just so proud to see Justin and all the seniors get to be a part of that.”
STAYING ON THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
When it comes to appreciation of the moment, nothing about Saturday’s shockingly-lopsided win over its Texas visitors was lost on Justin Seiber.
Plucked by the Red Leafs’ charismatic then-first-year head coach Thomas Ford prior to the 2018 season, Seiber played the apprentice’s role his freshman campaign, yet when tapped was clearly ready for action as the second half of a Sept. 15 game at South Dakota School of Mines clearly showed.
Trailing 42-7 at halftime, Ford sent Seiber out to start the second half, and the first signs of the quarterback who picked West Texas A&M apart last week, were immediately evident.
With the right protections, and a semblance of balance on offence, Seiber turned slinger, going 10-of-18 for 127 yards and three touchdowns over the final two quarters.
Then in 2019, with the starting job all his, he had staked Simon Fraser to an early 7-0 lead at Div. 1 Portland State with a 60-yard TD hook-up to legendary former wide-out Rysen John.
But on back-to-back sacks in that game, Seiber suffered an ankle injury serious enough that he missed the entire season. Thankfully back-up Brandon Niksich stepped in the rest of the 2019 slate and provided inspired play, including what was, prior to Saturday’s win, its last conference W, a 24-17 win at Azusa Pacific.
Seiber came back in time to weather SFU’s cancelled 2020 season, yet the Red Leafs came into last Saturday’s game having lost their last 11 in a row and 18 of their past 19.
With plenty of opportunity to look elsewhere for a new football home following that two-year stretch of 2019-20, why did the former 4A star from Kentwood High School who owned a Top 5 all-time state single-game passing yardage mark of 528 yards, elect to stay put atop Burnaby Mountain.
“At the end of the day, it was really just about all of the other players,” said Seiber. “Guys like Ethan (Beselt) and Tank Brewster and a lot of others, we’ve all battled injuries and adversity, and at the end of the day it’s how we’ve all bonded together.
“That win on Saturday gave us a chance to see Ethan and Robbie (Meadors) and Somto (Anyadike) all score touchdowns on their Senior Nights,” continued Seiber, who threw a pair of scores to Beselt and one to Meadors, while Anyadike rushed for 82 yards and his first SFU major. “We have all been here a long time and not gotten as many wins as we’d like, but that win Saturday… that is definitely the game I will remember.”
Of course, he’s got an opportunity to take all of that another step forward as he and his teammates begin preparations to host the UBC Thunderbirds on Dec. 2.
THE SHRUM BOWL: ONE FINAL CHALLENGE
And while he may be a U.S. citizen, Justin Seiber has come to love a lot about the Canadian football culture in which he has thrived over the past five years.
And that includes getting a really early education in what the Shrum Bowl is actually all about.
“It has been one of the most exciting things around here, going into this year knowing that the first Shrum Bowl in 12 years would be the last football game that I would be able to play in,” explains Seiber, who has always likened the game to the one he knew best growing up: The Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State.
“It’s been something that has been talked about my whole career. I can remember being here my first year and coach Ford talking about that game, how we wanted to get it back.
“You hear the whispers about SFU always having a losing record,” he adds. “But this is our chance to go out there and show how we compare to the rival school. We’re very excited about that.”
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