Football fans are in for a wild one tonight at Griffiths stadium. For the first time since 2005, the Saskatoon Huskies meet the Regina Rams in the season opener. Nicole Betker is the sports information director for the Huskies. Jim Mullin will be calling the play by play for the game's broadcast on Shaw. They both joined Leisha Grebinski for a preview of the game.
While the big fireworks show is in Rotary Park, football fans can expect plenty of fireworks at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon tonight.
The University of Saskatchewan Huskies host the University of Regina Rams in the Canada West football season opener. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. CST.
It's a fierce provincial rivalry that has grown over the years. On Sept. 21, 2012, the Huskies and Rams matchup in Saskatoon set the Canada West single-game attendance record with 9,033 people.
Jim Mullin, play-by-play broadcaster for Shaw, said nothing beats the battle of Saskatchewan.
"I'm a broadcaster that is based out of Vancouver and we cover all of the games in the Canada West," Mullin told Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski. "The game that I request that we do every year is the Rams and the Huskies, just because of the rivalry."
While Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) aren't nearly as popular in Canada as college sports in the U.S., Mullin said he expects this matchup to be a special game.
"It's a real university football atmosphere, which is pretty unique.," Mullin said. "It's a little different than professional football. There's a different buzz in the air. It's really a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. I just love coming out here to Saskatchewan to do these games."
Nicole Betker, Huskies' sports information director, said the closeness of Saskatchewan's two university teams is what makes the rivalry.
"A lot of these boys are familiar with each other," Betker said. "They've played high school football together. They've played maybe junior football together or against each other. They really just get riled up to be that best university football team in the province."
Burko ready to lead the Huskies
The Huskies start the season ranked No. 9 in the CIS.
Quarterback Drew Burko is one reason for the team's higher expectations this season. The second-year pivot spent the off-season training with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"We expect big things from Drew," Betker said. "He's a really good rallying point for the boys and he's a strong quarterback."
Betker said she believes the playmakers around Burko will be key to his success.
"We are a little bit more experienced. A little bit older, a little wiser," Betker said. "We've got three fifth-year receivers and we've got our first-team all-Canadian in Kit Hillis, who set program records in receptions made in a season. So we're really excited to have a strong offense this year."
Rams look for new quarterback
The post-Marc Mueller era is underway at the University of Regina.
"A lot of turnover for the Regina Rams from last year," Mullin said. "They had 15 guys who were starters who have graduated and moved on. Especially in the big position with Marc Mueller moving on to be quarterback coach."
Stepping in for Mueller behind centre is University of Hawaii transfer Cayman Shutter.
"They’ve done some very interesting patch work in terms of bringing in Cayman Shutter," Mullin said. "He is a kid who grew up in Regina until the age of 10 and then he moved to Hawaii. He quarterbacked the high school in Hawaii that was Barack Obama’s alma mater to their first high school championship in 23 years."
Like Burko, Mullin said Shutter should rely on his weapons at receiver.
"The receiving core of the Regina Rams may be one of the most impressive in Canada," Mullin said. "Young, emerging receiver Addison Richards on one side. Kolten Solomon, who had a tryout with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, on the other. Jared Janotta was the team leader in receptions last year. Then you’ve got Mark McConkey who decided to come back for one more year after sustaining an injury early in the year last year."
McConkey currently has 157 career receptions, which is just 17 catches fewer than former Rams' receiver Chad Goldie as Canada West's all-time leader.
A tale of two teams
The Huskies haven't lost a season-opener since 2002, but they have struggled against the Rams in the past two seasons.
Last year, the Rams were 2-0 against the Huskies, including a 31-9 playoff victory in Regina.
Betker said the Huskies are hungry to end the slump against their provincial rivals. "We are a team with great pride and that loss doesn't sit well with us," Betker said.
Huskies' head coach Brian Towriss is entering his 30th season with the University of Saskatchewan. Rams' head coach Frank McCrystal has also spent 30 years in Regina, with 15 seasons in the CIS.
Other than the number of years served, Towriss and McCrystal run their teams quite differently.
The Huskies are known for developing players within their own system, while the past few seasons the Rams have started a number of high-profile American transfers.
"I think it’s a clear illustration of how different the two programs are," Mullin said. "I like to say the Saskatchewan Huskies are the program and the Regina Rams are the club."