First win on the line between Bears and Rams

Both the Golden Bears and Regina Rams will be searching for their first win of the season when they collide this Saturday, September 14 at 5:00 pm at Foote Field.

Alberta (0-2) has lost the opening two games of the season by scores of 65-41 and 39-36, the second finishing in OT. The rebuilding Bears have rustled up a lot of offence in their first two games under head coach Chris Morris, but haven’t yet found a way to turn that into wins

Regina is also rebuilding, having lost 20 fifth-year players from the 2012 squad, and comes into Edmonton having lost 40-33 to Saskatchewan and 34-27 to Calgary, two of the top teams in Canada West.

Despite the lack of the wins between the programs, Saturday’s tilt, which will be broadcast live on Shaw TV, is shaping up to a good battle.

The Bears and Rams have the top two aerial offences in Canada West, and the top two defences against the pass. Regina leads the conference in average passing yards, with 361.5 per game, while Alberta is second with 352. Against the pass, Regina also leads as they are only giving up 231 yards per game, while the Bears are yielding the second fewest at 249.

As prolific as the Rams have been at marching the ball through the air, however, the Bears have been better at getting into the end zone. Not only do they have six touchdowns via air mail, but they also have four from the rushing attack. Their total of 10 TDs and 38.5 points per game is second in Canada West. Regina sits at the bottom with seven majors, and an average of 30 points per game.

Fourth-year Alberta quarterback Ryan Schwartz is having a torrid start in his first season as a CIS starter. The North Vancouver born QB has amassed 894 combined yards (190 rushing and 704 passing), which is the most in the conference.

His favourite target has been freshman receiver Tylor Henry, as the two have connected 19 times for 242 yards and one touchdown.

The only combo that has been hotter has been Regina’s Cayman Shutter and receiver Kolten Solomon. Although he only has nine catches, Solomon leads Canada West in receiving yards (245 yards), average yards per catch (27.2), and average yards per game (122.5). Shutter, who previously spent three seasons at the University of Hawaii, paces the conference in passing yards with 361.5 per game.

The difference in the game, the difference between a win and a loss, could come down to Alberta’s ability to rush the ball against Regina’s defence. The Bears have two of the top six rushers in the conference. Rookie running back Ed Ilnicki, starting for the Spruce Grove Panthers high school team last year, is fourth in Canada West rushing with 212 yards and one TD through two games. Two spots below him is his quarterback. Schwartz has called his own number 24 times, resulting in 190 yards and two touchdowns. He boasts an impressive 7.9 yard average, and his longest of the season is a 40-yard dash.

Both the Rams and Golden Bears have struggled to stop the run this season with both teams ranking in the bottom third against the rush.

Yet while Alberta is generating 221 yards of rush offence every game, which is third best in Canada West, the Rams are dead last when handing the ball off. A committee of Rams, consisting of Dillon Dawson, Jens Johnson, and Michael Kiapway, have picked up just 69 rush yards in total through two contests. Kiapway, however, did roll over the Bears for 124 yards during a 31-17 Regina win on September 14, 2012 in Edmonton.

A win this Saturday would be huge for the Bears, as not only would it be their first in 19 games, but it would boost confidence and morale before the team faces off against the conference-leading Saskatchewan Huskies (Sept. 20 in Saskatoon) and the five-time defending Canada West champion Calgary Dinos (Sept. 28 in Edmonton).

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