Kick-ass kick-off

By Chris Koentges

Halfway through the third quarter, Nathan Thompson lay, like a beaten junkyard dog, on the turf near his own end zone.

He rolled awkwardly, attempting to rise, before slowly looking up at 250 lb. Dinosaur defensive lineman Brian Shewchuk-the man who administered the latest beating-then to the scoreboard. He decided to stay down. It was the smartest read the young Manitoba Bison quarterback made all day.

By game’s end, Thompson and the rest of the kids from flood City found themselves on the ugly end of a 59-14 Dino shellacking.

"We didn’t know we’d have a game like that," said Shewchuck, who finished the afternoon with three sacks.

The game was out of reach before most of the 3,076 fans had a chance to buy a 50-50 ticket or spread mustard on their hot dogs. Ryan Carruthers, fresh off a Montreal Alouettes training camp, didn’t even break stride, running under a perfectly thrown 80-yard touchdown pass from Darryl Leason. Disco: 7-0 Dinos.

A minute later, Sean Kelly busted through the Bison offensive line so quickly he blocked John Baunemann’s punt with his stomach. Ken Eslinger ran the ricocheted ball ten yards into the end zone. Presto: 14-0.

Before the quarter was done, Eslinger took advantage of some good field position and strong blocks to score his second of five touchdowns. Just like that: 21-0.

Eslinger, who missed most of last season after suffering a concussion in a car accident, showed little rust; his five touchdowns tied a Canada West record. Rushing for 160 yards on 25 carries, the fifth year running back stole the spotlight from his highly touted Bison counterpart Craig Carr, who finished the day with a sub-standard 61 yards on the ground.

"Kenny Eslinger had a very good day," mentioned head coach Tony Fassano after the game. "I thought that the O-Line really took it to them-particularly in the second half."

Eslinger also attributed his strong performance to the defence, who gave the high performance offence fantastic field position all day.

"The offence unleashed some weapons but it was the defence who stopped Craig Carr and gave us good field position," said the running back. "We only had to march 50 yards most times."

He was excited to get a game like this under his belt, build some confidence, even take an early lead for the rushing title.

"There’s a lot of very good running backs in Canada West," he explained. "I consider myself a contender but I wouldn’t consider myself a leader."

"Brendan Ward came in last year and we hadn’t seen that kind of running in about five years," continued Eslinger, who would take a trip to the Vanier Cup over personal accolades in a heart beat. "He wasn’t worried about rushing titles or records though."

Carr showed flashes of last season’s brilliance but the Bisons were unable to parlay his longer scampers into points and, on more than one occasion, took undisciplined penalties that negated the big back’s output.

The Bisons, who scored both their touchdowns with time winding down in each half, caught few breaks over the course of the opener. On the game’s most controversial-not to mention most exciting-play, third-year Dinos defensive back Brock Balog scooped up a Thompson pass and ran it 48 yards the other way for the team’s eighth touchdown.

Did the referees blow the call?

"You got to put your faith in the refs," joked Balog.

Fassano, his coach, was a little more candid: "We had a lucky break on it. It wasn’t an interception."

Besides starting full-back Jared Layton, the Dinos came out of the game relatively unscathed. Layton’s status is up in the air, but it’s certain he won’t suit up for next week’s contest against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.

With the game already sealed, Fassano’s heart almost stopped as Leason, still in at quarterback, tried to take on the entire Bison defence. He fumbled and got up slowly.

"He doesn’t like to avoid contact," he said. "If he has to run through a defensive lineman or a linebacker, he’ll do it. I don’t really encourage it but I don’t discourage it."

Second-year quarterback Lincoln Blumell replaced Leason on the next series, completing two passes, looking competent in his debut.

Other than the loss of Layton, the squad took few negatives from Saturday’s effort. Finishing with 289 yards in the air and 207 on the ground, the attack was balanced. The defence, suspect at times last season, was just as balanced.

"Our special teams have got to improve," said the coach, trying to think of problem areas. "Our return team has to improve."

Fassano won’t allow his players too much confidence at this stage of the game.

"You have to put things in perspective-it’s only the first game of the season," he said cautiously. "We have a long way to go before we know how good we are."

The Dinos will get a more accurate inclination next week when they travel to Toke Town to avenge last year’s Western final heartbreaker against the UBC Thunderbirds.

"Every player wants to get them at every position," stated Shewchuck firmly. "There are some scores to be settled."

If this is how the Dinos treat a team with whom they have nothing to settle, I pity the football club that merits wrath. I pity the T-Birds.


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