Following a major upset win over Canada’s top-ranked CIS football team, the Calgary Dinos, the Regina Rams are gearing up to host their first home playoff game since 2007.
Adding to the good news, quarterback Marc Mueller is back in action after missing two games with a shoulder injury.
“It’s feeling as good as it could be, all things considered, and it’s not going to hinder my play at all,” Mueller said, before the Rams faced off against the University of Alberta Golden Bears in their last regular season game of the year. “I can take hits, I can land on it and things like that, so as long as I can do that and it doesn’t hinder any of my throws, that’s the big deal.”
While the game against the Golden Bears was essentially meaningless, Mueller said it was important for him to get back on the field and take some snaps.
“It’s been kind of left up to me, and I thought I needed to get back into a groove before playoffs,” he said. “I can’t just expect to show up on a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon against a playoff contending team and expect to play the way I was before the injury. I need to get back out there, I need to get my feet wet again and hopefully there’s not a drop-off at all.”
Taking over starting QB duties in Mueller’s absence was third-year Zach Oleynik.
The former slotback took his first snaps as a CIS signal caller last season, when injuries decimated the Rams at QB.
“There’s a lot of pressure to go in there and make the offense move, but I was just happy to take the role and try and make something happen,” Oleynik said. “Last year, it was a little bit different because I just kind of flew in there from receiver and Marc was out for the year, but this year we’ve got a lot of good things going for us, so there’s lots of pressure to step in and keep the team winning.”
During Oleynik’s two starts at QB this season the Rams went 1-1, including the Oct. 19 upset over No.1 Calgary.
However, the experienced team around him has made Oleynik’s transition a smooth one.
“As a veteran group, I think we have a few more leaders that are kind of taking the grasps this year and leading this team to some victories,” he said.
But it wasn’t the veterans who proved to be the big difference makers against Calgary.
“It’s just a great feeling to beat a top team like [Calgary]. We know we contend with the best in the country, and now we’re looking to go on a big playoff run.” – Joey Dwyer
First-year defensive back, Joey Dwyer, in just his second game filling in for injured veteran, Kirby Kezama, scored what would turn out to be the Rams only touchdown after picking off a pass from Calgary QB, Eric Dzwilewski.
“I was just the low man in the zone, and I turned around and the ball went over the receiver’s hands and right into my chest, and I squeezed it and took off,” Dwyer said. “I wasn’t taking any chances on getting caught on my first interception.”
The first-quarter interception gave the Rams an early lead that they would hold for the rest of the game.
“Calgary hasn’t trailed all year, and we know that they don’t play as well when they’re behind so it was really big to take that first-quarter lead,” Dwyer said. “It’s just a great feeling to beat a top team like that. We know we contend with the best in the country, and now we’re looking to go on a big playoff run.”
Dwyer’s efforts against Calgary, which included two pass breakups, five solo tackles and two assisted tackles, earned him the honours of Canada West Defensive Player of the Week.
“I was a little surprised when I first heard about it,” Dwyer said. “I never really thought about it. Some guys around the locker room were telling me that they think I should win it, but I wasn’t taking it too much into consideration … It was great to win it though, and get my name out there.”
After the Rams ended the 2012 regular season with a 19-0 shutout of the Golden Bears on Oct. 26, all eyes are now focused on Nov. 2, when the University of Saskatchewan Huskies come to town for the first Rams home playoff game in five years.
“It takes away all the distractions of playing on the road and the bus ride or the flights,” Mueller said. “It’s a big deal to have that, and it’s big for the program. It’s way better playing at home than it is on the road.”
Before the regular season wrapped up, it wasn’t known for sure if the Rams would be facing off against the Huskies or the Manitoba Bisons, but the uncertainty wasn’t getting to Mueller.
“We’ve played them both once. Both really good games, both really tough teams with really good players on them, so it’s not going to matter,” he said. “Whatever team comes to town, we’ve got to strap the horns on and get going for the playoffs.”
The 2012 CIS postseason kicks off Friday, Nov. 2 when the U of S Huskies come to town and resume their provincial rivalry with the hometown Rams.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.
Regina Rams headlines:
Veteran quarterback Marc Mueller went 7 for 12 and threw for 77 yards in his first game back at signal caller since Sept. 28.
Offensively, third-year slotback, Landon Buch, and fifth-year slotback, Connor Haas, had touchdowns for Regina, while second-year wide receiver, Addison Richards, led all players with 72 yards. Jared Janotta also pitched in on offense, grabbing a game-high four receptions.
Defensively, fifth-year back, Steve Famulak, and fifth-year lineman, Benton Gieni, registered sacks for the Rams. Logan Brooks had a game high 4.5 tackles including two for a loss while Ryan Wellman registered a fumble recovery.
With their 19-0 victory over Alberta on Oct. 26, the Rams (6-2) ties a school record for the most Canada West victories in a single season.
The victory over the Golden Bears also marked the first shut out victory for the Rams since 1999, when they joined the CIS.
The winners of the Canada West semi-final match ups will go on to compete in the Hardy Cup on Nov. 10.