With painted chests, a full band and racing mascots, there is always something special about the Kickoff game. In front of what is often the largest crowd of the season, the Dinos football team welcomed a mostly freshmen audience of 5,309 to McMahon Stadium for the last event of orientation week. It was the best attendance for a Kickoff game since 2006 and the University of Calgary has put a lot of effort into making the Kickoff game an event rather than just a football game. The result is a carnival-esque pregame outside the gates, a raucous crowd in the stands and a charged atmosphere for everyone in the stadium.
It is no secret that attendance has been and still is a problem for all U of C sports. Despite the fact that U of C students receive free admission to every Dinos home game in all sports, most teams struggle attracting fans to regular season games. In an interview broadcast before the game, Dinos football head coach Blake Nill acknowledged the large role that students play in Canadian Interuniversity Sports and his desire for them to become more involved in Dinos football moving forward. The Kickoff game is an attempt to use the students who came as a part of orientation week and convert them into fans of a team that will perform well all season long.
The Kickoff game signals the end to the festivities for first-year students and the official beginning of the CIS calendar at the U of C. The past four Kickoff games have been won by the Dinos, including last year’s 30–25 thriller against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
This year’s game featured the Dinos — fresh off an opening game win against the University of Regina Rams — and the University of Alberta Golden Bears. The past couple of seasons, the CIS editions of the battle of Alberta have been — to deliberately understate it — one-sided. The last regular season game against the U of A prior to the 2012 Kickoff game ended 61–7 in favour of the Dinos. The Dinos have also won their past five meetings against the U of A.
This game had two teams with very different goals for the 2012–13 season. The Dinos were looking to completely shake off some of the rust shown in the game against the Rams, while trying to defend as four-time Canada West Hardy Cup champions. The U of A is not expected to challenge for a CW championship this season and were heavily overmatched in all facets of the game. The Golden Bears lost their first game of the season 32–0 against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and have serious problems on offense, especially evident against a powerful Dino defense. U of A would play two quarterbacks — one in each half — who were both ineffective in the face of Calgary’s tenacious pass-rush.
Entering the game, the Dinos were without star receiving recruit Elie Bouka and lineman Carson Rockhill who both sat out due to injury. Rockhill’s absence was precautionary and he is expected to play next week, while Bouka’s injury is more severe and his presence is questionable for the next game against the University of Manitoba Bisons on September 15.
The Dinos started quickly: they recovered a fumbled punt, then quarterback Eric Dzwilewski found receiver Brett Blaszko in the endzone to get an early lead. Defensive back Wyatt Getty blocked a punt which lead to another Dinos touchdown in the first quarter. That was all the Dinos would need in this game.
The first half was marked by Dzwilewski’s surgical passing execution. He would finish the half with 267 passing yards, and would be sat down in favour of backup Andrew Buckley at the start of the third quarter.
Blaszko finished the half with two touchdown catches and 117 yards receiving.
However, throughout the first half, the Dinos struggled with penalties, another symptom of early season growing pains. Over 60 yards in gains were wiped out, including an interception by Getty and a touchdown on offense as a result of multiple unnecessary roughness penalties and offside penalties. The U of A managed 67 total yards offense in the first half, but the Dinos had 13 penalties for 112 yards in the first half alone — more than double the offense generated by U of A in 40 minutes of football. Needless to say, Nill was not pleased.
“To be honest, I was embarrassed at our lack of discipline. I told the kids at halftime that they embarrassed the coaches and the program with the number of penalties that were called,” said Nill. “We are going to have to make sure we work hard to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. That is easily the most calls I have ever had against a program that I have coached.”
Nill also mentioned that the penalties disrupted the flow of the game and may have affected the atmosphere in the stadium.
“It was just too bad to have a crowd and an atmosphere like that and then have a flag come down every third play,” he said.
The score quickly began to get out of hand, which gave the U of C an opportunity to test out some new faces and give some reps to the backup players in game situations. This included a pair of running backs — Calgary native Denzel Morrison and highly recruited Mercer Timmis — who both had strong showings as the feature tailbacks in the second half. Both backs scored their first CIS touchdown during the game.
At quarterback, Buckley looked poised and calm in the second half, spreading the ball around and clearly relishing his opportunity in the spotlight.
“Buckley did well, he is a very good quarterback and we have to find opportunities to get him as many reps as we can,” remarked Nill on the play of his sophomore backup. In the third quarter, Buckley had a perfect completion ratio and had a touchdown pass to receiver Chris Dobko.
“Our coaches have done a good job preparing us and the offensive line did a great job. It was a very comfortable experience,” said Buckley. “We just wanted to stay focused on the sidelines.”
The Kickoff crowd also had an impact on Buckley’s game: “It was incredible. Anytime you can have that many people out to a game, whether they are cheering us on or making noise for the defense, it helps immensely.”
Calgary would eventually play all three of their quarterbacks including third-string Jimmy Underdahl.
“I thought it was good to get some experience out there. I was nervous to start off but it was easy to replace the guys in front of me because they did such a good job, the defense was tired and I was ready to go,” said Underdahl. “I think coach Nill did a really good job of setting us straight at halftime and making sure we were out there playing a physical and full football game.”
In football terms, it was a massacre. The game would finish 65–6 in favour of the Dinos. For only the fifth time in CW history, a team was able to score 65 or more points in a single game. The Dinos finished the game with 662 total yards offense to the U of A’s 188. Despite the disparity on the stats sheets, running away with a game can also pose challenges to a coaching staff.
“It’s important that you make sure you play the game with integrity,” said Nill. “You can adjust your approach to make sure you utilize the clock more. I have been on the other side of a game like that, but I expect both teams to come out and play full speed.”
In every respect, the Dinos dominated, though the 20 penalties for 160 yards is certainly cause for concern. As an added bonus, the playing time given to younger players in the second half will undoubtedly serve the Dinos well moving forward. The next stretch of football is progressively tougher for the Dinos as they head into Winnipeg for a date with the top-10 ranked U of M Bisons on Saturday.