REGINA – In the opening game of the Queen City's new crown jewel, the Regina Rams didn't disappoint.
With a Canada West record crowd of 16,500 in attendance to take in the first game at new Mosaic Stadium, the Rams proved yet again their turnaround season is for real, as the home team earned a 37-29 victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies.
Played at the city's new $278-million football cathedral, Regina's move from worst to first is showing no signs of slowing down this season, as the No. 4-ranked team in the nation improved to 4-1.
The Huskies, on the other hand, dropped their third consecutive game, falling to 2-3 in the process and out of the conference playoff picture heading into the upcoming bye week.
With Regina continuing to add to the win column, there's no question something special is brewing for the Rams, who went 0-8 last season, but have since been reinvented by first-year head coach Steve Bryce.
Putting on a show in front of the biggest crowd in conference history made the win that much sweeter for the conference frontrunners.
"We wanted to kick this building off appropriately with a Rams win and we wanted to attract a really good home crowd and show them what we're all about. I think we did that," said Bryce moments after the win.
"I told the guys at halftime that you're creating memories that you're going to be telling your grandkids about."
Billed the biggest game in program history since the Rams joined Canada West in 1999 – thanks in large part to the historic stadium opening – Regina stayed true to form, putting up the majority of their 454 yards of offence through the air.
Conference passing leader Noah Picton went 29-of-42 for 370 yards and four touchdowns, including an historic 11-yard TD pass to Ryan Schienbein at the 7:26 mark of the first quarter to post the first points in stadium history.
The catch was just part of a big day for Schienbein, who led all receivers with 189 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Along with Schienbein, Mitchell Picton played a key role for the Rams and their potent aerial attack.
The hometown slotback hauled in a pair of touchdowns in a span of less than two minutes late in the first half, as Regina took a 24-18 lead into the locker room, following a Sean Stenger field goal for Saskatchewan.
Offensively for the Huskies, Tyler Chow led the Huskies with 100 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a late major in the fourth quarter that cut the Rams lead to 37-28 and gave the visitors a glimmer of hope.
Chow's second major of the day, however, came with just 3:41 to play in the game and proved too little too late, as the closing moments provided some intrigue, but nothing in the way of lead changes.
Regina's Danny Nesbitt and Saskatchewan's Spencer Krieger traded interceptions on back-to-back drives, but neither big play yielded anything in the way of points, as the final moments ticked off the clock much to the delight of the new Mosaic patrons.
Following the conference bye week over Thanksgiving, Saskatchewan will shift their focus to the defending Vanier Cup champion UBC Thunderbirds (3-2), who travel to Saskatoon October 14 in a virtual must-win for the Huskies.
For the Rams, their road to the Hardy Cup has officially gone from pre-season fantasy, to distinct possibility.
They'll look to pick up their winning ways with a fresh set of reinforcements joining the squad on the road against the Alberta Golden Bears (0-4) October 15.
"I feel really good, because we were trying to survive this game. We have five returning starters after the bye week, so we feel really good about going into the last couple of weeks with the returning starters," Bryce pointed out.
NOTES: The crowd broke the existing conference football attendance record of 10,199 (Aug. 30, 2013 – Alberta vs. Manitoba, Investors Group Field)…It also surpassed Calgary's overall Canada West attendance record of 12,859, which was set last January when the University of Calgary Dinos and Mount Royal University Cougars squared off in men's hockey at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary...Regina returns home for the final regular season game in program history at old Mosaic Stadium on Friday, October 21 against UBC.