Air, ground and off a kick: Three Friday-night Kubongo touchdowns help Huskies stay unbeaten

“This journey was long. I won’t lie; I got a little bit emotional on the sideline.”

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The post-game fireworks played Ted Kubongo’s song Saturday night at Griffiths Stadium — pops, booms, cracks. Lots of noise, fun to watch.

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Kubongo ran with — and met opponents with — his whole body during Friday’s 43-22 University of Saskatchewan Huskies’ win over the visiting Manitoba Bisons. He’s playing football for the first time since 2019, stymied in the interim by pandemic and injury. A year ago, he was sitting on his couch, dealing with a ruptured patellar tendon after previously playing at both the University of Maine and at UBC.

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Then … Friday happened. Three touchdowns — starting with a Huskie-record 102-yard kickoff return on the game’s first play. Then, a 12-yard catch. Then, a 47-yard run.

“The guy got the triple-crown tonight,” said Huskies’ quarterback Mason Nyhus, referring to the fact that Kubongo’s majors came through the air, on the ground, and off a kick return.

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The previous return record was 95 yards, established by Errol Brown on Sept. 19, 1992 against the Calgary Dinos. Kubongo didn’t know he’d broken the 30-year-old standard until a reporter told him after the game.

“That’s news to me,” he said after learning about the record. “I did not know that — wow. I just caught the ball, and the thing is … it was crazy. I just had that feeling. I was literally at my house this morning, and I’m like … if I catch a ball, I’m going to speak it into existence; I’m going to return it back. It’s crazy how it came to fruition.”

Kubongo had rushed for 92 yards through Saskatchewan’s first four games — they’re now 5-0, heading into a Thanksgiving bye week — and he eclipsed all that Friday with nine carries for 121 yards, and three catches for 37 more.

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The first-year Huskie said he deeply appreciates what’s happening.

“I was out for a year and a half,” he said. “I haven’t played football since 2019, so it was definitely a long time coming. This journey was long. I won’t lie; I got a little bit emotional on the sideline. I was overwhelmed with everything, and I want to thank God — if it wasn’t for God and my faith, I wouldn’t be standing here right now. I’m happy (head coach Scott) Flory gave me the chance to be part of this team, and I worked my butt off.”

Huskies’ quarterback Mason Nyhus, for one, had been hoping Kubongo would land in Saskatchewan.

“I had the pleasure of going to the (CFL’s) regional combine with him and saw first-hand how great an athlete he was,” Nyhus said. “We kind of talked there, and talked over the off-season — I knew I wanted to get him here, because he had that type of potential. And he showed it tonight. I’m really proud he had one of those break-out games.”

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Kubongo did lose one first-half fumble, so it wasn’t all perfect — but that mirrored a strange opening 30 minutes for the Huskies, who were assessed a whopping 12 penalties for 101 yards during that time-span. The total included four on one play, to four different players, that moved them back half a football field.

“Man, it felt like a little bit of shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot, a comedy of errors in the first half,” said Flory, whose team trailed the now 2-3 Bisons 22-19 at halftime. “And then we settled down, we came out in the second half and played the way we should play, and we expect to play.”

The Huskies also got a four-yard touchdown catch from Kody Gutek, and a five-yard TD run from backup quarterback Ethan Watson. David Solie added field goals of 38 and 43 yards before a crowd of 4,598.

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Manitoba’s scoring came from Brendt Adams on a 14-yard catch and Jackson Tachinski on a one-yard run, while Niko DiFonte booted field goals of 17 and 37 yards.

Saskatchewan held Manitoba to just two second-half first-downs.

The league will take a bye this coming week, and the Huskies will host the Regina Rams Oct. 15 at 1 p.m.

Nyhus, meanwhile, is torn between his love of football, and his love of Thanksgiving turkey.

“I love football, so I’d love to keep playing,” he said when asked if he’s happy to get a bye week. “But my mom’s over there, and she’s going to have a nice little Thanksgiving meal. I’m happy to go to Regina (his hometown), but I want to keep playing football, of course.”

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