Players usually say they have been working toward a national championship all year. But for the University of But it's been a two-year journey for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team, after last year's season was cancelled because of the pandemic.
"This is the pinnacle and is what we work for all off-season and all season to get to," said Huskie fourth-year running back Adam Machart.
He and the team are preparing for Saturday's 2021 Vanier Cup, Canadian university football's national championship.
"You visualize being here, you mentally prepare, so we're feeling ready to go."
The Huskies will square off against the Western Mustangs in Quebec City.
It's been 15 years since the University of Saskatchewan Huskies last played in the Vanier Cup. They lost 13-8 to the Laval Rouge et Or in 2006 at home in frigid conditions.
Machart, a first team all-Canadian back in 2019, has saved his best for the playoffs.
Last Saturday, in a 14-10 win over the Montreal Carabins, Machart rushed for 158 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns, including the winner with five seconds left.
Machart said the Huskies have had a lot of success in third and fourth quarters. He said the offensive line, which averages more than 300 pounds per player, is a big reason why the Huskies have been so successful on the ground.
"There's no quit in those guys," he said.
"That just shows the resilience of those guys. I wouldn't be in the position I am without those guys."
Husky linebacker Nick Wiebe, who came to the Huskies this year after playing for the University of Oregon, is savouring this playoff run.
"It's been awesome," said Wiebe, who has been a stalwart on defence. "I don't think I've been around a tighter-knit group than these guys."
The last time these two teams met was in the 2018 Mitchell Bowl, with the Mustangs downing the Huskies 47-24.
They have competed in two previous Vanier Cups — in 1989 with Western winning 35-10 and again in 1994 where Western prevailed 50-40 in overtime.
Wiebe said clogging up the Mustangs' running game is the first priority.
"[They're] a hard-nosed downhill football team that is going to try to hit you in the mouth every play and I think we look forward to playing that kind of game," Wiebe said.
"We take pride in being a pretty gritty group on defence. So I think we're looking forward to the challenge."
Machart said scoring early is key to keeping the Mustangs on their heels.
"Making them have to take those long drives and trying to play catch up plays to our favour," he said.
"They're a big physical team, so you've got to keep your head on a swivel. Guys like that they love to hit. But you know, that's OK, we do too."
Wiebe said he felt this was a team could make a deep playoff run as soon as he joined the club.
"I saw the work ethic that these guys have and the work that they put in these past few years," Wiebe said. "When you have a team with the stature of ours and the history of ours and the talent that we have on our team, I think the expectation is always, you know, national championships."
Machart said he is looking forward to the challenge on Saturday.
"We've been working toward this for a long time," he said.
"The time has finally come and we get to put it all down."