Sometimes football games are like marathons-- you bide your time and proceed cautiously before turning on the jets at the end. The University of Calgary Dinos did just that en route to a 25-18 win over last year's Vanier Cup champions the University of Manitoba Bisons last Saturday.
The victory secures Calgary a playoff berth for the second straight season.
The win wasn't an easy one, however, as late October weather often provides unwanted conditions like strong prairie winds.
"The wind affected the game," remarked Calgary head coach Blake Nill. "When you have a windy game there is strategy that goes into play. . . I thought we handled that well."
"You almost 100 per cent are going to be dealing with wind in Manitoba," said Bisons head coach Brian Dobie. "The kicking game was affected by the wind for sure. The wind can be a deterrent as the ball can take off on you. Both punters struggled as the wind really affected the kicks."
Nill had a different opinion as he felt that Dinos kicker Aaron Ifield did a great job with his kicks.
"I thought we outperformed Manitoba in that aspect of the game," he said.
The win is the third straight for the Dinos as they improve their record to 5-2 and sit tied for first place in Canada West with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the Simon Fraser University Clan. If Calgary wins next week, they will play their first playoff game at home, if Saskatchewan loses Calgary will claim first place and have home field advantage throughout the Canada West playoffs.
Calgary jumped out to an early 4-0 lead against the Bisons on Saturday when Ifield punted the ball through the endzone for a single point then followed that up with a 40-yard field goal.
The offence was unable to score a touchdown in the first half, but Calgary's defence came to play early as they held Manitoba off the scoreboard until early in the second quarter. With two minutes remaining in the quarter, Bisons quarterback John Makie connected with Mike Mizerki for a 16-yard touchdown. The Bisons added a late field goal to give them a 12-7 lead at half time.
In the third quarter, there were several lead changes early as the teams continued to put up points. Dinos runningback Matt Walter took a handoff and sprinted 31 yards for a touchdown, giving Calgary a 14-12 lead. Manitoba responded to Walter's touchdown by adding two field goals to take an 18-14 lead into the final quarter.
Calgary owned the fourth quarter as they scored 11 unanswered points to regain the lead and hold it until the final whistle was blown. Five minutes into the quarter, Calgary quarterback Deke Junior threw a four-yard touchdown pass to K.C. Prince. With Ifield's convert the Dinos were up 21-18. The drive almost stalled as the Dinos were forced into a third and five to go situation. The Dinos surprised the Bisons as they performed a direct snap to Taylor Altilio who rushed for 11 yards and the first down. The rush sustained the drive and eventually led to the touchdown.
Calgary added another single point and a field goal to mirror the first quarter efforts and walked off the field with the win.
Both defences played hard-nosed, solid football as only three touchdowns were scored. Calgary's defence was able to hold Manitoba to only one touchdown on the day.
"[Calgary's] defence is very good," said Dobie. "They have excellent personnel and their style of play is very aggressive. They cause problems within your blocking schemes as they give you many different looks on defence. They have a good offence, but their defence is really the strength of their team and it's showing up every game for them."
Walter had a tremendous day as he rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown. The yards move Walter into first place in Canada West rushing yards with 829 on the season.
Junior is also having an impressive season as he is the third-ranked quarterback in passing yards in Canada West behind Laurence Nixon and Teale Orban of Saskatchewan and Regina respectively.
Nill said the individual success of his players is the product of a team effort.
"The offence is getting better every day," said Nill. "At practice yesterday, out of the 12 first squad offensive players, 10 were first years-- they are just little kids-- and they are beginning to click now and I am not surprise that they are coming into their own. We are getting better every day."