By Emilie Medland-Marchen, September 10 2016 —
It was a beautiful day for football at the Dinos’ Kickoff game at McMahon Stadium on September 9. Thousands of students flooded the stadium to cheer on the Dinos in their first home game of the season. Facing the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, the Dinos ultimately came out on top with a final score of 35–8, improving their record to 2–0 on the year.
Squaring off against defending Vanier Cup champions and former head coach Blake Nill was no easy feat. But the Dinos faced forward throughout the game, hardening their defence and utilizing key offensive attacks from receivers Denzel Radford and Austen Hartley.
“Our coaches really tried to emphasize, ‘don’t worry about last year — that’s in the past and we can’t change that’,” Radford said. “We just need to focus on now, and anything that’s happened in the past is over and done with. This is our year to push forward and keep running them out.”
It was a Hardy Cup rematch from last year when the Dinos and the Thunderbirds battled for the Canada West title. The Dinos had to swallow their disappointment after losing that match 34–26, ending their phenomenal unbeaten season and missing the Hardy Cup for the second year in a row.
But tonight, the script was different for head coach Wayne Harris and the Dinos.
“[Our focus was on] execution and discipline,” Harris said. “And winning the turnover battle. Those were the things that we lost in the Hardy cup. It cost us the game, and possibly a chance for the championship. B.C. did a great job that day and were able to get some points on the board and shut us down for the most part throughout the game. Execution was what really made the difference tonight.”
In the first quarter, the Dinos rushed out of the gates, with quarterback Jimmy Underdahl hitting receiver Austen Hartley for a 10-yard Dinos touchdown.
The Underdahl and Hartley combination was a theme of the night, with Underdahl sending off pass after pass to his trusty receiver. The Dinos’ offence lagged slightly in the first half of the game, but picked up again with full force for a roaring second half.
“We had some mistakes and gave up some discipline, but we were a lot better in the second half,” said Harris. “I’m really proud of the way we played tonight.”
The play of the night was undoubtedly third-year Denzel Radford’s stellar 97-yard kickoff return in the third quarter after a touchdown from UBC. After running the ball all the way back to the six-yard line, fourth-year running back Quentin Chown legged the final seven for the Calgary touchdown and secured a 21-8 Dinos lead.
“I knew after they scored the touchdown that we needed a bit of a momentum change,” said Radford. “The guys opened up a huge hole for me and I just tried to hit it as hard as I could and get down the field so we could put ourselves in a good position to score and get the momentum back.”
Despite the Dinos’ offence lagging in the first half, the defence was steadfast in thwarting the Thunderbird’s charge throughout the game. Tom Higgins — who rejoined the Dinos this year as a defensive coordinator — cited the Dinos’ pressure on UBC’s quarterback as the key to Calgary’s success.
“We have a couple of different packages where we play with four defensive lineman and then three defensive lineman at times, and we try to mix things up and try not to be very predictable,” said Higgins. “We have to be able to apply pressure to the quarterback in order to have success. It has always been the same and it will continue to be the same — to be successful you need to protect your quarterback, and then you have to put pressure on the other quarterback. That’s what we did.”
The Dinos’ special teams also shined. Rookie Niko DiFonte, who joined the Dinos this year as a recruit from Winnipeg, displayed his kicking skills throughout the game. A 15-yard field goal in the fourth quarter by DiFonte secured a Dinos lead of 27–8 over their rivals.
“It was … I don’t even have words for it,” said DiFonte. “I hope it’s like this every game. If it’s like this every game, we should all shine like we did tonight.”
The Dinos played for a crowd of 7,512 fans in their first home game of the season. In front of the largest home crowd in a decade, that energy was not lost on the Dinos.
“Every time we can get a lot of fans like that, it really amps up our team,” Radford said. “It keeps us pushing to the end of the game and definitely gives us a little bit of an advantage against our opponents.”
For Harris, that energy was a significant factor in scoring the win for his team tonight.
“Anytime that we get a great support from the student body just gets the guys pumped up,” Harris said. “We hope that we can get that each and every game throughout the season. We’re not back home again for two or three weeks, so we hope to see the crowd out again. They really helped us out.”
After the success of Kickoff, the Dinos football team will go on to face the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon on September 16.
But despite the high of a win in front of a home crowd, the Dinos have their work cut out for them for the rest of the season.
“We know we’re going to have to work each and every game,” Harris said. “It’s going to be a very tough conference this year. Every game is tough — this was not an easy game. We’ve got a tough match next week with Saskatchewan, and it doesn’t get any easier after that. We just have to keep working.”