Success in Canadian Interuniversity Sport football is difficult to achieve once. It is truly special when a team can repeat success over a number of seasons. A football program is an administrative and athletic ballet of developing, recruiting and organizing a vast multitude of athletes. With a 38–14 victory over the University of Regina Rams and a Canada West record fifth-straight Hardy Cup title, the University of Calgary Dinos have proven once again that they are a truly special football program. The 2012 Hardy Cup may not have been a Rembrandt, but the accomplishment itself is truly a work of art.
The Blake Nill era at the U of C has arguably been the most successful period in Dinos football history, winning four Hardy Cups, a Uteck Bowl title and a Mitchell Bowl championship. Notably absent from this list is a Vanier Cup, despite two appearances in the CIS title game in 2009 and 2010.
The 2012 team boasts some of the best individual talent in recent memory. Pivoted by the 2012 CW most outstanding player — third-year quarterback Eric Dzwilewski — the Dinos set numerous school records on offence. Dzwilewski was also nominated for the Hec Crighton trophy — the award given to the most valuable player in the CIS. On defence, linebacker Mike Edem was named CW defensive player of the year, finishing the season leading the CW in tackles for a loss, second in tackles and tied for fourth in sacks. The CW rookie of the year was Dinos receiver Brett Blaszko, who had five touchdowns, an average of 64.8 yards receiving per game and, perhaps most impressively, averaged 16.9 yards per catch in his rookie season.
For the third-straight year, the Dinos hosted the CW championship — the Hardy Cup. This year also marked the first time in CW history that the Hardy Cup was hosted in the same stadium three years in a row.
The Dinos entered the game as four-time defending champions and with a 7–1 regular season record. However, the only loss of the Dinos’s season came at the hands of the Rams, the same team the Dinos were pitted against in this year’s Hardy Cup. The Rams were led by the pocket-passing attack of their fifth-year quarterback Marc Mueller, one of the most proficient passers in the U of R’s history. Mueller is also the grandson of CFL legend Ron Lancaster, a point that has been mentioned ad nauseam throughout his career.
A balmy –16 C at kickoff, the game started off quite slowly with both teams playing not to lose rather than to win. The game was billed as a struggle of two outstanding defences and during the first quarter, it lived up to the hype. Appearing nervous, the Dinos were stalled on their first few drives and scored their first points on a safety conceded by the Rams and a short field goal. The defences both produced a turnover early — the Dinos forcing a fumble on their own goal-line and the Rams intercepting a deflected pass.
In the first half, some of the demons from the regular season surfaced. Time and again, Dinos penalties extended Ram drives and nullified big-gains. In the first half alone, the Dinos were penalized eight times for a total of 63 yards. The Dinos were able to move the ball well throughout the first half but lacked anything resembling execution in the red-zone. The Rams answered with a touchdown late in the second quarter, drawing the game close headed into the dressing room. The first half ended 8–7 for the Dinos but the score did not reflect the nature of the half. The Dinos offence dominated the half, racking up 254 yards of offence but only had eight points to show for it and no touchdowns.
The second half started off rough for the Dinos. The Rams came out flying and scored a touchdown early to take the lead. Mueller was able to shred the Dinos secondary early in the third quarter. The Dinos then turned to the dependable hands of running back Steven Lumbala, who broke a 56-yard run, spinning off two tackles, which led the Dinos to score their first touchdown of the game and take the lead back 18–14. Lumbala broke the 100-yard mark in the third quarter with 72 yards on a single drive.
The Dinos were able to strike again quickly with a perfect pass from Dzwilewski and a difficult catch from receiver Richard Snyder to increase the margin to 25–14 heading into the final quarter. This touchdown would seal a Dinos victory, though, as insurance, the Dinos scored 10 more points in the fourth making the final score 38–14.
“They brought over their halfback and we knew it was going to be a cover-zero with no one over the top. Eric [Dzwilewski] just threw a perfect ball and I managed to beat my guy there,” said Snyder, describing the touchdown catch late in the third quarter. “The offence was moving the ball in the first half but we just weren’t finishing. It was frustrating but we focused on punching it in rather than settling for field goals.”
Dzwilewski set a U of C record with 33 completions in the game, while finishing the game with 381 yards of offence, a touchdown pass and two rushing touchdowns.
“I am so proud of our guys and how we overcame the deficit. I think in the second half you saw a team grow up. Our young guys grew up and our veterans led,” said Dzwilewski. Despite the emotional high of winning the CW championship, the celebrations were tempered by the challenge of the Mitchell Bowl on Nov. 17 in Hamilton.
“We are going to celebrate this one, but tomorrow we are going to get ready for an even better opponent. We want to play the best teams in the country and have the hardest path, it truly proves who is the best team in the nation,” said Dzwilewski.
In a second half dominated by the Dinos, Lumbala was the centrepiece of the offence, rushing for 251 yards on 22 carries by the end of the game. The fourth-year St. Francis High School graduate had a superb regular season averaging 8.1 yards per carry and rushing for 636 yards in seven games.
“The O-line was blocking great, the receivers were making blocks downfield, it was a total team effort,” said Lumbala. “It was tough at halftime, we just told ourselves in the locker room that if we kept paying and kept executing, good things are going to happen for us. Once we got on a roll, we couldn’t be stopped.”
The Dinos will now face the McMaster University Marauders in the Mitchell Bowl, a school that has been ranked first overall in the CIS since week one of the regular season and are the defending Vanier Cup champions. Marauders quarterback Kyle Quinlan is an Ontario University Athletics first team all-star, the 2011 Vanier Cup MVP, the CFL property of the Montreal Alouettes and this past year led the CIS in passing touchdowns with 19. The Marauders are strong on both sides of the ball, holding opposing teams to an OUA best 15.6 points per game. The Marauders currently have 13 OUA all-stars on their roster and finished the regular season unbeaten.
The Dinos have accomplished their drive for five, but now must beat the best from Ontario in order to punch their ticket to the Vanier Cup in Toronto on Nov. 23.