Coming off a cancelled season and not having played a game for 658 days, the Simon Fraser football coaching staff knew that Saturday’s maiden test of its 2021 season was going to be like the first day of class in the school of hard knocks.
Matched against the toughest foe it will face all season, Div. 2 SFU was trounced 68-0 by the host, FCS Div. 1 Idaho Vandals in what was the third-most decisive setback in the program’s 56-year history.
Outmatched and overwhelmed at every turn, with a roster boasting perhaps more freshmen than it has had at any time over the past half-century, the Burnaby Mountain crew had to battle with every ounce of energy just to finish the game averaging 1.5-yards-per-play on offence.
And while one-sided losses are certainly not a rarity when Div. 2 teams schedule deeper and more-experienced Div. 1 programs, SFU head coach Mike Rigell said his team’s post-game locker room reflected the mood any prideful team would have based on the frustrations of the afternoon.
“Are we pissed off about it? Yes,” Rigell told Varsity Letters by phone after the game. “But that’s what a competitor should feel. But the main thing about being a competitor is your resilience. That you will bounce back. That you will be ready to answer the call next time out. I think our team will do that. So no, we aren’t discouraged. Nobody has their head down,”
In the face of the many conflicting emotions its players are sure to have felt in the locker room following the excitement of the return to play and reality of the margin of defeat, perhaps Rigell’s broad-based view and broad-shouldered response to its adversities was the perfect post-game buffer.
Especially after the way in which the host Vandals, while auditioning each of their three quarterback prospects, so quickly jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead and never looked back.
First, starting pivot C.J. Jordan’s keeper for a 21-yard score opened the flood gates. Roshaun Jordan then scored the first of his three rushing touchdowns from six yards out, and Elisha Cummings went in from 12 yards out for the major.
In the second quarter, a conceded SFU safety made it 23-0. Rushing scores of 37- and four-yards by Johnson, and a 21-yard Logan Prescott field goal made it 40-0 at half time.
The Vandals lived up to their pre-game billing, especially on defence as they turned the line of scrimmage into a great wall of sorts for SFU.
At the half, the Idaho defence had limited SFU to just three first downs, negative yards along the ground and just plus-five yards overall on 30 offensive snaps. Idaho, by turn, had totalled 365 yards on 39 plays.
Simon Fraser quarterback Brandon Niksich’s 17-yard completion to Riley Morrison on a first-and-10 on SFU’s second possession of the second half was the team’s biggest gainer of the day, and the signalled the start of a promising drive.
Yet on the very next play, the Vandals’ CJ McCormick picked off a pass and returned it 17 yards to the Simon Fraser 35-yard line.
Six plays later, running back Aundre Carter took it in from one yard out for a 54-0 lead.
Jordan wrapped up the third quarter with a 71-yard touchdown strike to receiver Hayden Hatten for a 61-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Khalil Forehand’s eight-yard touchdown run made it 68-0.
Connor Whitney had opened the scoring in the second half for Idaho, making it 47-0 after hauling in a four-yard scoring strike from Jordan.
On the day, Niksich, who was sacked five times, went a gutsy 9-of-16 for 77 yards.
Morrison and Dallas Dixon established a 1-2 pairing with some promise, as the dup combined for seven catches and 68 yards against a stingy Idaho pass defence.
The Simon Fraser ground game found it extremely tough to make any headway against the Vandals’ front seven, and while Mason Glover picked up its pace as the game went along, carrying for back-to-back first downs early in the second half, he earned his team-high 34 yards the hard way on 16 carries.
Paul Thomas and Somto Anyadike also found the going tough as part of a three-headed backfield.
Defensively, SFU managed 42 solo tackles and 72 total stops on the day, led by the play of linebacker Griffin Barrett who had 11 including six solos.
Safety Joshua Phillips Verdugo, corner Jerrell Cummings and linebacker Brendan Lowry each finished with eight tackles.
On the day, Idaho had 27 first downs while holding SFU to only nine, out-gaining their guests 593 yards to 90 in the process.
With a very tough NCAA Div. 3 team — Linfield College of McMinville, Ore. — up next on the road this Saturday for Simon Fraser, the hope is that the high bar set by Idaho pays off against a team which in 2019 went 8-2 overall, and a perfect 7-0 in the Northwest Conference standings.
“The important thing is to learn from it,” Rigell stressed of the opener. “We have not been able to be in formation and play football for so long. Today, we fought hard and we didn’t quit. We were over-matched but I am proud of the young men. The main thing is we stay together, respect the process and believe in ourselves and each other. We get back to work Monday and all we’re trying to do is go 1-0 each week.”
Off the top we referenced Saturday’s 68-0 loss as the third-worst in program history, according to SFU records.
The second-worst was a 77-7 loss at Chilliwack to the Manitoba Bisons during the Burnaby Mountain squad’s time as a CIS team in 2006.
The worst loss came in 2017 in an 83-7 loss to Azusa Pacific.
As a contrast to SFU’s preparation for Div. 3 Linfield, Idaho takes a step up from its FCS tier as they travel to Bloomington, Ind., to face the Indiana Hoosiers in a game broadcast on the Big 10 Network.
SFU’s home opener will come Sept. 18 (6 p.m.) when it officially opens SFU Stadium at Terry Fox Field by playing host to Central Washington in its GNAC opener.
The Central’s Wildcats opened their season Friday in dynamic fashion with a 66-24 win at Eastern New Mexico. In that game, sophomore starting quarterback JJ Lemming tied a program record by throwing five touchdown passes.
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