By David Song, November 12 2017 —
After compiling an impressive 7–1 record in the regular season, the Dinos football team opened the playoffs with a gritty 39–22 win over the University of Alberta Golden Bears on Nov. 4. That victory brought them to the 81st Hardy Cup at McMahon Stadium on Nov. 11 against the UBC Thunderbirds — their 10th consecutive appearance at the event.
“The culture here has always been about winning,” said third-year arts major and receiver Hunter Karl. “You don’t want to say it’s an expectation, but it’s an expectation we have for ourselves. We want to get to this point and get better at it every week. But the butterflies are always there. It doesn’t matter what year you’re in.”
Any butterflies felt before the Hardy Cup were seemingly tamed based on the smooth passes and snappy catches in the Dinos warmup. Still, the Thunderbirds’ high-powered offence struck first, scoring three minutes into the game with a 54-yard touchdown pass. The Dinos offence responded with equal force. After a 12-yard safety, Karl ran in a 27-yard touchdown reception from third-year arts student and quarterback Adam Sinagra to boost the Dinos to 10–3 at the end of the first quarter.
UBC’s defence stiffened in the second quarter, limiting the Dinos to only three field goals, all from kicker Niko DiFonte. Despite another Thunderbirds touchdown, the Dinos held a 20–14 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, Sinagra tossed a 6-yard touchdown to receiver Richard Sindani, putting them up 27–14. However, the Thunderbirds’ immaculate defence stood strong in the fourth quarter as they made their way to a 35–31 lead. Despite falling behind near the game’s conclusion, Dinos head coach Wayne Harris said the team kept their composure.
“We’ve got a lot of strong leaders,” Harris said. “They’ve been in these kinds of games before and they’ve learned from them. They’ve learned to keep believing and work hard right to the bitter end.”
Roughly three minutes after the Thunderbirds took the lead, Karl made his second touchdown after breaking loose in the end zone and catching a 28-yard pass from Sinagra. With only two minutes remaining in the game, DiFonte gave the Dinos at a tenuous 41-35 lead with his fourth field goal.
The Thunderbirds aggressively retailed, covering 92 yards in 12 plays and earning another touchdown that put them in a 43–41 lead. But the Dinos resiliently landed on the very edge of field goal range — 59 yards from the Thunderbirds’ end zone — with only 14 seconds left on the clock.
With firm belief in his team’s abilities, Harris let DiFonte attempt the daunting field goal. McMahon came to a standstill as he prepared for the kick. Without hesitation, DiFonte swiftly punted the ball, sending it spiralling into the endzone. His last-second kick secured the Dinos’ 43–41 Hardy Cup win and set a new U Sports record for longest field goal.
The Dinos flooded the field, bouncing off of each other in excitement. The team swarmed DiFonte, tackling and patting him with affection. DiFonte and his teammates described their monumental win.
“I don’t really have words for it,” DiFonte said. “I just followed my form. It was a perfect snap, perfect pin. Big shout-out to my special teams group. We all did what we had to do on that play, so I can’t take all the credit.”
“It’s going to be a story we talk about for 50 years,” Sinagra added. “I’m so proud of him. I’m so proud of this team and the way we battled all day.”
With their Hardy Cup win, the Dinos move on to the Mitchell Bowl on Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at McMahon Stadium. Once again, they will take on the University of Laval’s Rouge et Or — the same team that took the Vanier Cup from the Dinos last year.
“Let’s do it,” Sinagra said. “I’ve been waiting a whole year for this one. I’m just glad we put ourselves in a position to go out and play [Laval] again.”