BURNABY — No, the 1,265 fans in attendance did not rush the field and topple the goal posts Saturday afternoon at Terry Fox Field.
Yet finally, there was joy in Mudville.
“I mean, this is our first win in three years,” said Simon Fraser senior quarterback Miles Richardson. “You can’t describe it.”
We have to try.
And so to tell the story of everything that finally went right in the Clan’s 54-7 win over the visiting Willamette Bearcats of Salem, Ore., a victory which snapped its epic 33-game losing streak, we give you our top five takeaways:
1 HISTORIC MARGIN
Saturday’s 47-point victory was the largest by the Clan in at least 16 seasons, and maybe, just maybe, the largest in its entire half-century plus of existence.
All we can be certain of right now, is that the Clan’s bulge was its greatest as both an NCAA and U Sports team.
We’re talking about a combined era of eight seasons from 2002-09, when the Clan played three-down football in the Canada West conference along with its arch-rivals from UBC, and then from 2010 to the present day, a span of another eight seasons leading up to the Saturday’s season opener, as an NCAA Div. 2 member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
Over those 16 total seasons, SFU’s three largest margins of victory where 37 points (51-14 at Pacific (Ore.), Aug. 30, 2012), 34 points (41-7 vs. Manitoba, Sept. 11, 2009), and 33 points (43-10 vs. Calgary, Oct. 25, 2003).
The answer in whether it is the largest ever lies in dusty pages of its membership as the first Canadian school ever in the NAIA where it played for over 30 seasons beginning in 1965.
But really, who cares?
After 33 straight losses, it was all about that mantra of the late Al Davis: “Just win, baby!”
And they did.
2 CHURNIN’ AND BURNIN’
Miles Richardson, in a previous football life, backed up current Montreal Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams when the pair were both at NCAA Div. 1 Eastern Washington.
So he must be a pretty darn good pivot, right?
Well, Richardson had spent the past two seasons scrambling for his life as the Clan battled to find both consistency on the offensive line, and a running game which would allow the 6-foot-2, 210-pound native of Burien, Wash., a fighting chance to show his skills.
On Saturday, it looked like that time finally arrived.
“I think the run game was solid, and that just allowed for a lot more time in the pocket, and we were just able to do what we do on offence,” said Richardson, who had his most efficient game in Clan colours, going 12-of-17 for 180 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions.
“Plus, our offensive line did an awesome job and obviously we’ve got something at running back,” continued Richardson of redshirt junior transfer Jason Nelson, who while modestly supplying 21 carries for 66 yards, was a presence simply by the powerful downhill style he exhibited, and the Clan’s commitment to consistently hand him the football.
Those two goal-line TD’s, each of one yard, and each opening the scoring in the first and second quarters, were huge in showing the Clan could finish drives in the red zone. They were five-for-five on the day.
It was also huge to see that as the Clan put the game out of reach, that 5-10 sophomore Nicolas Grossi could spell Nelson with a similarly-rugged approach.
The Clan rushed for 141 yards on the day, with Grossi carrying 13 times for 55 yards, and the game’s final score, a five-yard major with 3:31 remaining.
3 THE NEW ‘ FUN BUNCH’
It might be standard fare to simply give the top freshmen a little extra PR juice coming out of fall camp, but that isn’t the style of head coach Thomas Ford.
So when he pumped the tires of pure freshmen wideouts Robert Meadors of Vancouver, Wash.’s Heritage High, and Devin O’Hea of North Vancouver’s Argyle Secondary a few weeks back, you couldn’t help but wonder what he was seeing.
Come Saturday, it was pretty easy to see that the pair of 6-1, 190-pounders were going to evolve into pretty special players over these next four seasons.
In fact, when you combined that pair with 6-7 junior Rysen John and 5-10 sophomore Ethan Beselt, you got a quartet which totalled 16 catches for 233 yards.
Better yet, each of the four caught a touchdown pass, and each had long catches on the day of between 25 and 38 yards.
The Clan has had its share of vertical threats in the recent past, with current Calgary Stampeder Lemar Durant the most notable.
Yet over that stretch, has the team has this many varied and talented threats at the same time?
“We’re going to keep that going all season,” said John, whose 38-yard TD catch from Richardson put the Clan ahead 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. “There is a lot of potential with what we did today.”
Meadors caught a 28-yard TD pass from Richardson for a 35-0 halftime lead.
Richardson’s five-yard strike to Beselt, who did double duty on kick returns, made it 42-0 in the third quarter.
Freshman QB Justin Seiber then finished up, showing great poise in the pocket, and throwing a 10-yard strike at the back corner of the end zone to O’Hea who made the best catch of the day.
4 DEFENCE STANDS TALL
All three groups — the defensive line, linebackers and secondary — melded, “and when that happens it’s good for us,” said Clan senior corner Jaryn Bailey, “because it takes all three aspects playing together to win a game.”
You could argue that Bailey had the single most impactful play of Saturday’s game.
Simon Fraser had taken a 7-0 lead on Nelson’s first rushing major of the game, but it wasn’t until Bailey picked off starting Willamette quarterback Mathew Castaneda on the ensuing series and returned it 60 yards for the major score that the Clan truly announced themselves as a team ready to snap their losing streak.
“Honestly, it was a bit crazy,” said Bailey. “It just fell into my lap. The safety made the perfect call. I was playing in the flat and the ball just came to me. That’s when I said ‘Without a doubt, I am scoring here.’”
The Clan defence was filled with stand-out performers.
Up front, ex-Terry Fox Ravens sophomore Isaac Evans was highly participative, not only finishing with five tackles and a sack from his defensive end spot, but recording 3.5 of those tackles for a loss of a combined 15 yards.
In the linebacking core, the trio of Griffin Barrett, Shane Ward and Gabe Lopes showed well, with Ward an absolute standout.
Both he and freshman corner Kolby Buljevic led the team with 5.5 tackles apiece, and it was the secondary led by safety Ben Minaker and including the likes of sophomore Brendan Lowry that took the deep vertical threat out of the Bearcats’ passing game.
5 THE FORD ERA BEGINS
It was hard to miss the proud on-field meeting afterwards between Clan athletic director Theresa Hanson and new head coach Ford.
Hanson chose Ford for the position from hundreds of applicants, and then Ford hit the ground running by building a team in his image.
Agreed, the Bearcats are not the second coming of the Crimson Tide.
Yet baby steps dictated a victory needed to come first, regardless of foe.
And when you lose 33 straight, you do not quibble over whom you get the W.
Ford was happy to deliver the win and grateful to Hanson for giving him a chance as an unknown U.S. coach who had had college experience but was coming from the high school ranks.
“I have said this to anyone who would listen,” Ford said after the victory. “I think Theresa Hanson did something for this program that just hadn’t been done. She thought outside the box.
“To her, it didn’t just have to be the best Canadian coach,” continued Ford. “They went and looked for the person they thought was the best guy. I know there are plenty of qualified Canadian coaches for this job. But I was a guy who had NCAA experience and had experience turning around a program that hadn’t been doing well. I really applaud her for that, and I thank her for the opportunity that she has given me.”
Tougher days are ahead, including this Saturday’s test at GNAC heavyweight Azusa Pacific.
“First and foremost, when you put in this amount of work and then you come in and you get the payoff for it, you get more buy-in,” said Ford.
“This week we have a nationally-ranked opponent in Azusa Pacific,” he added, “so we’re going to have to have a new level of focus. We’re going to have to learn how to handle success now, and sometimes that can be just as challenging as anything else.”
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