After a miserable week, the University of Regina Rams finally had something to celebrate — Friday’s 32-17 Canada West football victory over the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
It was the Rams’ first game since the Oct. 5 announcement that their first three victories of the season had been declared forfeits by U Sports due to the use of an academically ineligible player.
“They responded really well,” Rams head coach Steve Bryce said of his players. “I told them at the end how I proud I am of them for responding after all that we’ve been through.
“My pre-game talk to the guys was all about, ‘Most people go through life and never really get a chance to face adversity and respond to adversity to find out what they’re all about, so you guys have that opportunity tonight. You can look yourselves in the mirror and you’ll know what kind of character you have.’ ”
The Rams entered Friday’s contest with an 0-5 record and only a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, but nonetheless won convincingly and were able to savour a positive result.
“That was the most important part — getting out on the field and doing what we’re supposed to do,” Bryce said on a rainy night at Mosaic Stadium.
“Actually getting back to football operations was a little bit of a relief for us.”
Regina was also without its star quarterback, Noah Picton, who missed the contest with an infected foot. Even so, his replacement — Seb Britton — threw two touchdown passes Friday and ran for another major in his first Canada West start.
“I think that really spoke to (the players’) camaraderie, how they rallied around Seb,” Bryce said. “They named him captain before the game, too, so they really wanted to show their support and their love for him.”
Britton, who completed his first nine passes to go 14-for-14 for the season, was 18-for-32 for 273 yards on Friday. He threw TD passes to Bennett Stusek and Daniel Scraper.
“It felt good,” Britton said. “Unfortunately for Noah, he wasn’t able to play in this game, but it felt good for everyone. It was good motivation going in, with everything that’s happened, and we felt good.”
Bryce was pleased, but not surprised, with Britton’s performance.
“We knew what he could do,” Bryce said of the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder. “We knew that he was a striker. We knew that he could throw a real fast ball. I don’t think the conditions were ideal.
“Seb’s a potential 400-yards-a-game passer. He’s got that frame. He looks like a Division 1 or a future NFL quarterback. He’s got composure. He’s got patience. He’ll stand in the pocket. He’s fearless. He’ll deliver and take a hit. I think he answered a lot of questions.”
Seven of Britton’s passes were caught by Ryan Schienbein, who gained 89 yards. Rams tailback Atlee Simon, returning from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss three games, rushed 17 times for 87 yards.
Cord Delinte sparkled on defence for the Rams, making two interceptions and adding a key third-down pass knockdown in the fourth quarter.
Aldo Gavlan added four field goals for the Rams.
Alberta’s Brad Baker went 18-for-36 for 219 yards, including a 24-yard scoring pass to Tyler Turner. Baker also scored on a one-yard TD run.
The Rams are to return to action next Friday against the host University of Calgary Dinos (6-0), who have clinched first place in the conference.
Bryce said the Rams are “very hopeful” that Picton will be back in the lineup for that game.
Organizationally, there is also the hope that a possible appeal of the U Sports sanctions will be successful, although Bryce has other priorities.
“I just know that whatever happens outside of our organization, that’s somebody else’s business,” he said. “Our business is football and getting ready to play. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that’s spot-on.”