Hey Justin Seiber, welcome back.
Simon Fraser football fans hearty enough to follow their heroes into the second half of Saturday’s disappointing 56-20 road loss in Oregon to the Div. 3 Linfield Wildcats were no doubt looking for something to hang their hats on.
And so amidst the expected fault lines of youth which have clearly been exposed through the team’s 0-2 start, there was Seiber, the hard-luck quarterback, somehow finding ways to succeed in spite of the large-scale re-build currently in place within so many positional groups on the team’s roster.
Also on Saturday: SFU place-kicker Kristie Elliott who, in making two of three PATs and coming up shy on a 36-yard field goal attempt, became the first female to score in a Canadian university football game.
In what was one of the most productive games of his SFU career, Seiber came on in a pre-planned switch with starter Brandon Niksich after the first quarter, and proceeded to go 26-of-43 for 297 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were caught by freshman receiver Caelin Johnson.
Johnson, who finished with nine catches for 193 yards, scored on a one-yard catch with 16 seconds left in the first quarter to dint a 25-0 Linfield start, then caught scoring strikes of 63- and 11-yards in the fourth quarter.
Riley Morrison solidified his role as a sure-handed, high-volume threat in the intermediate areas with 11 catches for 87 yards. Dallas Dixon, Robert Meadors and Aidan Pearce completed a positional group, which while hard-pressed to show its wares last weekend against Idaho, stand, along with the quarterbacks, as the most positionally-complete groups on the roster .
And while the loss stung because it was a game many thought might be one of SFU’s best chances for a victory this season, it was nonetheless sweet redemption for Seiber, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound pivot out of Covington (Wash.).
“Personally, it just felt good to get back out there,” said Seiber, who was named the starter coming out of fall camp but had his return to the huddle following a season-ending ankle injury in the first game of the 2019 season put on hold for last week’s season-opener in Idaho due to 11th-hour precautions from team doctors.
“I have had various (injury) issues over the last couple of years,” continued Seiber, who because of them is actually in his fourth year at Simon Fraser but only classified as a sophomore.
“Then to get out there with the guys to do the best we can …overall we have to execute better and this was a disappointing result.. but we did some good things, and we will learn from the bad,” he added as the team prepares for both its GNAC conference and stadium-opening debut this coming Saturday against the powerhouse Central Washington Wildcats.
On Saturday, Linfield, ranked No. 12 in the most recent Div. 3 national poll, was able to so thoroughly dominate the SFU run game that the visitors wound up rushing 20 times for minus-11 yards.
And it soon became apparent that, despite the lack of dimensionality it would give the SFU offence, they were going to go with what was working.
“We have three great running backs and it’s tough for them because we want to be 60-40 (pass-run), not 80-20,” said Simon Fraser head coach Mike Rigell after the game, because when that happens you know the defence has its ears pinned back.
“But you have to be able to adjust,” he continued of the snap-to-snap realties of facing a more seasoned and talented Linfield defensive line, despite what tier indications may or may not say. “Some of the match-ups we had, we were at a disadvantage, so we had to open it up more than maybe you like. That can be a gift and a curse, you know… throwing the ball (a lot).”
Unfortunately for SFU, the damage had already been done, but other than the pick-six he threw to begin the third quarter, Seiber did about all he could do to put some respectability back into the final score.
Seiber, who actually went 27-of-50 for 356 yards and no touchdowns back in his pure freshman year of 2018 as part of a narrow 23-16 loss to Humboldt State at Fox Field, acknowledged that Saturday’s re-start was a game he needed to have to get back on the horse and give his team, in concert with Niksich, the one-two punch at the pivot this team needs.
“Whenever the other team knows what you are going to do, it puts you and your offensive line in a different position, and that is where we found ourselves today,” said Seibert, who admitted there was his own a sub-plot playing out as the Wildcats dialled up the intensity of their pressure schemes.
“For me, not playing for the last couple of years… remember, the last time I got tackled (in the first quarter of the first game of the 2019 season at FCS Portland State, not too long after firing a 60-yard TD pass to current N.Y. Giants tight end Rysen John), I got a season-ending injury,” Seiber says of the ankle fracture which shelved him the rest of way. “It takes a while to get comfortable back there, so today was the start of that process.”
Rigell addressed the offensive line following the loss and, although it is no exaggeration to say they are going through a true trial-by-fire, he continued to preach patience as they gain familiarity and build chemistry with each other.
“Whether you are talking D3, D2 or D1, offensive lines go through their growing pains in order to gel together,” Rigell stated. “We’re starting three true freshmen, and two sophomores…. one true and the other a redshirt.
“We just want to keep getting them reps as a nucleus, And I will say our guys have never made excuses, they just come to work,” continued Rigell “They are going to make mistakes and some of them happen to be physical mistakes because their bodies haven’t matured like players in some of the other programs that have had guys who have naturally red-shirted and been in a system. We’re in the early stages of that, but they are fighters, they try the best they can and they never quit. That is all we can ask of them.”
Griffin Barrett has done all of that and more throughout his entire SFU career, and the team’s star senior linebacker and tackling leader kept showing more of the same Saturday.
Of his nine solo tackles (12 total), the best came midway through the opening quarter when he squared up Linfield running back Connor Morton and just stopped him in his track for a three-yard gain.
On the very next snap, Barrett saved a touchdown when he tackled Linfield receiver Devon Murray at the SFU 21-yard line.
Yet just to show it’s a team effort, Morton took the next snap and this time, running away from Barrett’s side of the field, rushed for the game’s first touchdown.
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