November 1, 2023

PREVIEW: Golden Bears ready for playoff showdown with Saskatchewan

Saturday night at Foote Field has been a long time coming for the University of Alberta Golden Bears.

18 years, in fact, as the Bears (6-2) are set to host the Saskatchewan Huskies (5-3) in the Canada West Hardy Cup Semifinals (5 p.m. MT).

It’ll be Alberta’s first home playoff date since 2005 when that edition of Edmonton’s original Green and Gold gridiron squad went 7-1 during the regular season – the program’s last winning campaign. Now, the 2023 Golden Bears are looking to keep their storybook season alive with a win over the two-time defending Hardy Cup champion Huskies.

“Everybody is excited and they’ve been excited all year. It’s a good group of kids and they’ve been working incredibly hard all year,” said Bears head coach and EE Wall of Honour inductee Chris Morris. “There really haven’t had to be any reminders this season to be more invested, or want it more.”

“They’re fully invested in this thing and they’re excited to take it to the next progression, which is the playoffs.”

Saturday, November 4 at 5 p.m. MT
Foote Field (University of Alberta South Campus)
Tickets | Webcast | Live stats | U of A game preview

There have been plenty of standouts this season for the Bears, including Elks 2023 rookie camp invite Eli Hetlinger at quarterback (1,939 passing yards this season), along with Saskatoon product Chase Tataryn at linebacker (52 tackles). Dual threat defensive back and kicker Jonathan Giustini also cemented himself atop the program record book in career points (270), field goals (58), and single-season field goals (22).

That trio has been key to an Alberta group that has bounced back from an injury-plagued season in 2022, which saw 14 starters out of the lineup for the majority of last year.

“We had a really good team last year at the beginning and we just lost everybody. It’s a good group and it was a good group last year, but we were decimated by injuries,” explained Morris of 2022, when the Bears finished 3-5 and a game out of the playoffs. “It’s the same core group that was here last year and I just think we have a good group of kids who will be with us here for a few years, so we’re excited about that.”

Speaking of bouncing back from injury, Alberta’s success in 2023 came thanks in large part to Matthew Peterson‘s Canada West-leading 1,128 rushing yards. The Brooks, Alta. product’s stellar season was enabled by a strong offensive line, which includes 2024 CFL Draft prospect Daniel Shin, who Morris describes as the “best centre in the country.”

“He was set last year to have a great year,” Morris said of Peterson, who suffered a high ankle sprain early in 2022. “Last year we also had three starting o-lineman hurt, so that was an obstacle too.”

“Mathew being healthy and him playing behind a nice healthy offensive line has been a good combination for us.”

2023 regular season  2-0 Alberta (26-22 Sept. 15 in Saskatoon & 23-20 Oct. 14 in Edmonton)
All-time playoff series 3-2 SSK
Last playoff meeting 2019 Hardy Cup Semi (28-23 SSK in Saskatoon)

Peterson paired with Shin and company will undoubtedly be key to Alberta’s hopes of downing the Huskies for a third time in the same season  – something they haven’t done since 1969.

“I don’t know if I agree with all that stuff,” Morris said of the challenge of beating the same opponent for a third time in a season. “Every game is an independent entity. We’re going to have a bunch of things that we’re going to try and get done on Saturday and they’re going to have a bunch of things that they’re going to try and do. Whoever executes their game plan, generally, is the team that’s going to win.”

“Playing them a third time, there’s no more tricks. They kind of know what we’ve got and we kind of know what they’ve got. You just go out and play and try to put your athletes in the best position possible to be successful.”

Led by running back Mathew Peterson (No. 30), the Golden Bears enter Saturday’s conference semifinal looking to advance to their first Hardy Cup since 2010.

Saskatchewan, who like the Bears are led by a former CFL offensive lineman, have been the cream of the Canada West crop over the last several seasons under longtime Montreal Alouette Scott Flory. It’s a safe bet the Huskies won’t be an easy out after advancing to the Vanier Cup the last two seasons.

“They expect to win. They expect to win in the playoffs, and they have won in the playoffs, so they’re going to be really prepared. They’re well coached and their kids play well. Their kids don’t give you things – whatever they’re assigned to do, they do correctly,” Morris said of the Huskies.

“They have a solid culture there and it feeds all of that, so we’ve got our hands full.”