Rams defeat Alberta but Manitoba seals their playoff hopes
The Rams have been dehorned
In a season that has seemingly been hanging in the balance since September, on Oct. 19 it was do or die for the Rams. Heading into their game against the University of Alberta they were sitting at the bottom of the Canada West conference with a 1-5 record. It has been a season of tough breaks for the Rams. They lost two games by a single point and played two games with their starting quarterback injured. However, despite these struggles, the team has continued to battle back and improve. This culminated in an all-important win for the young roster in Edmonton, where they bested the Golden Bears 31-17. Despite the team’s success this weekend, Manitoba sealed their playoff fate in Winnipeg, besting the Dinos 43-29. That win puts the Rams out of playoff contention for a second straight year. For QB Josh Donnelly, it was a great team effort.
“It was good to get a win coming off of a losing streak. I thought the whole team played well in all three phases of the game. [we got] disappointing news after the game, but our goal was to control what we can control, and the other game was out of our reach.”
For Donnelly, the game also shows the team that they can perform under adversity.
“I think it’s good knowing that we can win games under pressure in these situations going forward and having this kind of experience will be good for us in upcoming years.”
In the 2018-2019 season, one of the places the Rams have struggled is the first quarter of the game. In their previous six conference games, they scored first only twice, led at the end of the first quarter only once, and actually allowed the opposition to score on the first drive of the game on two occasions. In contrast, on October 19 the team came out of the gate flying. They got on the board first courtesy of a massive 80-yard touchdown reception courtesy of Josh Donnelly to Ryan Schienbein, and they followed that up with two more field goals, to lead the Golden Bears 13-1 after the first quarter. This was also due to fantastic defensive play.
In the first quarter, the Regina defence held the Bears to only 78 total yards and only two first downs. This is a vast improvement for a defence that has consistently been off to slow starts, only to lock it down when it is already too late. Brandon Brooks and Jaxon Ford led the defense in tackles, while Josh White picked up another sack, bringing his season total to 2.5. The offence also did their job, producing three touchdowns to win the game. The defence showed some weakness in the second quarter, allowing 10 points, but as they have all season long were able to lock things down in the second half, holding the Bears to only 6 more. Not coincidentally, inconsistency has plagued the Rams all season long. Shockingly, for a team that is 2-5, the Rams have actually been able to outscore their opposition in one half of the game on six out of seven occasions. This has been incredibly costly, as three of their losses came down to less than a single touchdown.
There is a case that the 2019 Rams are in fact a much better team than their record would indicate. While they are fifth in points-per-game, only ahead of UBC, the Rams certainly have the tools to produce much better. They have the third most passing yards, third most passing yards per game, and the most passing yards per attempt. Their weakness has been rushing, where they are second last, with only a paltry 96 yards-per-game. Individually, the Rams are even better. Rookie quarterback Josh Donnelly is third in Canada West in passing yards-per-game, and they have four receivers in the top ten for individual receiving yards-per-game, two more than the next best University of Calgary Dinos. Even in rushing, the weakest component of the Rams offense, they are perhaps better than results would make it seem. First year starter Semba Mbasela has averaged 57.7 yards-per-game, only 8/ypg behind second-best rusher Jeshrun Anti of Calgary.
The real kicker is the Rams’ red zone percentages. The Rams are tied for first in the league in terms of scoring from the red zone at 95 per cent. That means that 95 per cent of the time the Rams reach the opponents 20-yard line, they score. League leaders Calgary are the only team who also convert 95 per cent of the time. The difference is the team’s ability to convert into touchdowns. While Calgary scores seven points from the red zone a whopping 80 per cent of the time, the Rams only do so 40 per cent of the time, second to worst in the league. This is potentially due to a weaker running game; the Rams constantly depended on passing plays to score. They scored only five rushing touchdowns this season, three of which came in the first game.
Defensively, the Rams are also statistically quite good in some categories. They allow fewer points per game than U of M, U of A, and UBC. They also lead the league in sacks with 16. The big problem is passing-yards-per game, where the team allows the second most in Canada West. Overall, there is a strong case that the Rams aren’t just a young team that will develop into a competitor, they already are much better than the results have shown.
Youth is still their greatest asset. The team graduates only two receivers, Kyle Moortgat and Ryan Schienbein, plus only Brandon Brooks and Eric Wicijowski on defence. Even more encouraging is that their quarterback, two of their top receivers, and their running back are all first or second-year players. “Big Play” Riley Boersma has been a revelation in his second year, already collecting 431 passing yards in his first season as a starter. If this core can stay healthy, especially Donnelly who missed two games this season, they will come back better than ever in 2020. While it is unfortunate that they won’t get any playoff experience this year, the Rams team has shown they can compete with any team in Canada West, and with a little more consistency, should fight for playoffs next year. This is the plan for Donnelly, who has seen growth from the young roster all season.
“I think we grew a lot. During that run we got down ourselves a bit and dealt with some injuries, but I think we grew a lot as a group and are getting closer to reaching our full potential.”
The Rams conclude their season at home in their fifth-year send off game against the University of Manitoba Bisons on Oct. 25..