Wow! That’s about all you can say after the Thunder’s 45-42 win in double overtime vs the Edmonton Huskies on Sunday.
If you thought the last-minute win at home a few weeks ago against the Saskatoon Hilltops was the highlight of the season, well this may have topped that! One of the most exciting games in Thunder history and keeps the Thunder unbeaten at 7-0.
The 6th ranked Huskies got on the board first going up 7-0 on a converted Brandy Burzak TD. After a few Thunder penalties and an apparent fumble recovery by the Thunder that was ruled an incomplete pass the Huskies marched down the field again. The Thunder had trouble stopping Burzak but were able to turn back the Huskies deep passing game. A huge forced fumble of Burzak gave the ball to the Thunder on their own 3-yard line. The first quarter ends with the Huskies up 7-0.
Thunder QB Carter Shewchuk puts together a nice drive early in the 2nd quarter with key passes to Isaac Foord followed by a first down pass to Rylan Sokul. The key to the drive was a 31-yard pass to Isaiah Woodley putting the ball on the Huskies 26. The Thunder were unable to reach the end zone and would have to settle for an Eric Maximuik field goal. The Huskies and Thunder trade 2 and outs before the Huskies try a 41-yard field goal that hits the uprights. Score remains 7-3 for the Huskies. The Thunder take over but again are unable to pick up much offense and are forced to punt the ball back to the Huskies. On the subsequent drive the Huskies march down the field and score on a 12-yard run by Alex Gayle. The extra point was good, Huskies lead 14-3. Thunder get the ball back starting from their own 31. A couple of incomplete passes later the Thunder are again punting. The Huskies would drive the field and would jump out to a 21-3 lead on a 4-yard bootleg by QB Declan O’Flaherty. The Thunder got the ball back with just 53 seconds left in the half and Shewchuk puts together a drive with completions to Sokul, Foord, Woodley and Sokul again, putting the ball on the Huskie 45-yard line. Maximuik stepped up and hit a big 51-yard field goal just before the end of the 1st half. Huskies 21 Thunder 6.
Things were not looking good and the Huskies would get the ball to start the second half. This was the first time the Thunder had been down this far in a game and their #1 CJFL ranking was in serious jeopardy. In the dressing room the team did not panic! Head Coach Scott MacAulay spoke to his players at the half. “I told the guys I didn’t care about the end score but they need to win the 2nd half. We need to be more physical and sell out for their teammates in the room”!
The half started with a Huskies punt single at the 11:32 mark of the 3rd quarter. The Thunder would have just 26 minutes to turn around a game that they had not played overly well in. The first Thunder series ends much like most of the first half with a Maximuik punt. The Thunder defense starts to take over the line of scrimmage and after a no yard gain on first down the Thunder come up with a big sack forcing the Huskies into a punting situation. The Thunder get a piece of the ball on the subsequent punt and a no-yards penalty gives the ball to the Thunder deep inside Huskies territory. A few plays later Shewchuk to Sokul on a third and goal touchdown makes it a 22-12 game. The two-point convert is unsuccessful. The Huskies get the ball back and with 3:47 left in the third quarter they hit on a deep pass and put a dagger in the hearts of the Thunder defense. Huskies are up 29-12. The Thunder go two and out again and the Huskies would again put the game, seemingly, out of reach with just over a minute left in the third quarter on a Gayle rushing touchdown and the following convert. Huskies up 36-12. Cue the Comeback!
With just 1:32 left in the third quarter the Thunder go back to their bread and butter the pass! A deep Shewchuk pass to Foord followed by a TD pass to Sokul! The Thunder convert the two-point convert making the score 36-20 at the end of the 3rd Quarter.
On the subsequent kickoff the Huskies get a big return to mid-field but the Thunder defense stands tall and force a 2 and out. The punt is blocked and momentum has definitely shifted to the visitors. Shewchuk completes a big pass to Woodley but an off the ball official rules it no catch. The Thunder is forced to punt the ball back to the Huskies. The Thunder defense again comes up huge with another 2 and out. Woodley returns the ball from midfield to the Huskies 40. The Thunder are only able to add a Maximuik 45-yard field goal. But now the deficit is just 13 at Huskies 36 Thunder 23. Another big defensive stance on a third down gamble by the Huskies gives the visitors the ball in the Huskies half. Another Maximuik field goal cuts the lead to 36-26. The momentum has turned and it seems like Thunder destiny is upon us but there is just 6:30 left in the game. The Thunder force the Huskies into a quick punt yet again and they take over the ball on their own 35. Shewchuk goes back to the air and hits Woodley on a pass deep into the Huskies zone. A goal line pass to Sokul bounces off a helmet and is intercepted by the Huskies on their own three-yard line. Game over, right? Not so fast! The Huskies try to pass their way out of the shadow of their end zone but go incomplete followed by a pass that hits the uprights. They choose to give up the safety, which will prove to be a factor in the final score. Thunder will get the ball back and are now within a TD and two-point convert away from a tie, but just 2:38 remains on the clock. Does this sound familiar to those of you in attendance at Mosaic Stadium on September 18th. Last few minutes needing a big drive! Well that’s just what the Thunder are good at! Shewchuk takes the field and leads his team down the field yet again. The Huskies know the Thunder are going to pass the ball but they are powerless to stop them. A few passes and a short run later and the Thunder have the ball on the Huskies 20-yard line, 49 seconds left! This time they won’t be able to count on the Nation’s top kicker, like they did in a huge victory in Saskatoon. They would need to put it in the end-zone and they would need to complete the two-point convert, just to tie! In this situation the Huskies were in a tough spot. Who do you guard? Sokul, the Ray Elgaard of Junior slotbacks, Foord the reigning All-Canadian, Woodley, perhaps the fastest player on the field or Hamid Mzafarri who had made himself a prime target in one of his best games of the season. Would they handoff to Brayden Long or hit him on a swing pass? So many weapons and so many choices. It would be the reliable Sokul as the Thunder complete the comeback with the two-point convert, after the first unsuccessful two-point convert was redone after a Huskie penalty. Do you need more drama? Due to penalties Maximuik is kicking off from the 50-yard line. The Huskies get it out of the end zone to preserve the 36-36 tie.
The Thunder get the ball first in overtime from the Huskies 35-yard line. Each team will get the ball for one possession. The team with the most points after both possessions will be the winner. Shewchuk hits Long for a 6-yard gain followed by a 14-yard gain by Foord. A few plays later the Thunder are forced into a short 17-yard Maximuik Field Goal. The Huskies return the favor with a 30-yard field goal sending the game to another overtime series.
The Thunder defense bends but doesn’t break giving up a 12-yard field goal. Thunder’s turn and a chance for the win. And it didn’t take long. Shewchuk hits Long on a swing pass with blockers in place and he takes it to the house for an improbable, nearly impossible come-back win! Thunder 45 Huskies 42. Whew! The long bus ride home from Edmonton for Thunder players, coaches and staff got a lot shorter after one of the greatest come-backs in Thunder history. The win officially locks up first place in the PFC and clinches home team advantage throughout the playoffs. Let’s hope next weekend’s home game versus the Calgary Colts is even half as exciting as this game!