After being down at halftime, the University of Calgary Dinos football team stormed back with 31 points in the second half, beating the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 41-23 and taking the final playoff spot in Canada West Fri., Oct. 26. The Dinos finish the year 4-4, making the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and the T-Birds finish with a 3-5 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Though UBC hadn't played a game since Oct. 13, they started the first half with purpose and opened up a 10-3 lead after the first quarter thanks to a Tyler Hamade touchdown set up by a 41-yard Derek Townsend punt return and a Shawn McIsaac field goal from 21 yards out.
The T-Birds' offence kept rolling in the second, starting off with a Tyler Codron 71-yard fumble return for a touchdown, making the score 17-3. Another McIsaac field goal put the T-Birds up 20-3 before the Dinos answered back. A Marc McVeigh interception gave the Dinos the ball at UBC's 36-yard line. After moving the ball to the 13-yard line, the Dinos set-up to kick a field goal only to have the T-Birds' defence go offside on the play, giving them a fresh set of downs. Sophomore runningback Anthony Woodson punched the ball in from 13 yards out, putting the score at 20-10 at the half.
"What I said to the kids at the half was we worked so hard only to have the season finish with a sub-par performance," said Dinos head coach Blake Nill. "It isn't [that] we really played bad in the first half. We had two turnovers that hurt us. We know we're a better football team than we showed in the first half."
It didn't take long into the third quarter for the Dinos to get back on the board after a spectacular 32-yard run by rookie runningback Matt Walter cut the T-Birds' lead to three points five minutes in. Walter finished with 65 yards and a touchdown on the day and 702 rushing yards on the season, second in Canada West. This started off a half in which the Dinos outscored the T-Birds 31-3.
The T-Birds' only points of the half came from a 19-yard McIsaac field goal with 4:14 left in the third. The Dinos followed that field goal with 24 unanswered points off of four touchdowns, three rushing and one passing and a field goal. Woodson's second touchdown of the day, the Dinos' fourth rushing, sealed the 41-23 victory.
"We made a few mistakes in the first half and by the second half our [offensive line] was pissed off and they were really pushing them around out there," said Woodson. "I was just happy to hide behind them and get the yards."
Woodson put up 245 yards in the game, sixth-best in school history, and finished the year tops in Canada West rushing with 1183 yards, second-best in school history. His 245 yards came with three lost fumbles, which is usually a confidence shatterer.
"After I fumbled the ball a couple times, I really wanted to make up for costing the team," said Woodson. "I was definitely motivated to do something good out there."
The Dinos rushed for 381 yards in the game and over 250 yards of those came in the second half.
"The O-line just took over," said Nill. "The alumni lost a former Dino [offensive lineman Steven] Rodehutskors and I said [in the meetings] that Rodehutskors must've been watching out for us. Our O-line went nuts."
The footballers set a team rushing-yard record with 2353 yards in the season, averaging almost 300 yards per game this season--over 100 yards better than the second-best rushing team. The previous record was 1938 yards set in 1975.
"People doubt our run game; they say you can't just keep running," said Nill. "But we find a way to run."
The Dinos will now have to find a way to run against the University of Manitoba Bisons in a playoff match up in Winnipeg Sat., Nov. 3. The Bisons finished undefeated for the second straight year and have won 17 straight games in regular season play. Last year, the Bisons lost in the conference finals, 32-15 to the eventual Vanier Cup finalists the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. This year, the Bisons had the best rush defence in Canada West and allowed just 110.8 yards per game and six TDs in eight games.
"Obviously right now they're the top team in Canada West," said Woodson. "We're going to go in there and we're not going to look down [on them]. We're going to respect them, but we're not going to fear them."
In their only meeting this year, a 35-28 win by the Bisons in Winnipeg back in Sep., the Dinos put rushed for 236 yards--the most the Bisons allowed all year--with Woodson leading the way with 134 yards and one TD. Only one other team put up more than 150 yards, the Huskies, who finished third in Canada West this year.
"It doesn't matter who you play in the playoffs," said Nill. "We're going to be ready to go."