By Jon Roe
Cue the Coldplay – the Dinos football team is back at the start.
If the Gauntlet was the CBC (or the Calgary Flames, who shamelessly stole the concept for their game opening video this season), we would put together a sweet collection of backwards highlights to go along with that lede. But we’re not, so you’re going to have to use your imagination.
Through 10 weeks of football and eight games of action, the Dinos are exactly where most people were expecting them to be: back in Saskatoon to take on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for the Hardy Cup, Canada West supremacy and a shot at the national semi-finals.
“We expected it. We knew that [the University of Regina Rams] had an outside shot [at beating the Huskies in the Canada West semi-final], but we wanted to go to Saskatoon,” says Dinos quarterback Erik Glavic. “We want redemption on them.”
Ten weeks earlier, the Dinos took the long trip to Saskatoon for the regular season opener. Both teams were expected to finish in the top end of the conference standings. The game was a classic. The Huskies started strong and held a 14-4 lead until the final minute of the first half when a Matt Walter touchdown along the ground put the Dinos to within three.
A second Walter touchdown and a Husky safety gave the Dinos a 20-14 lead. Two field goals by the Huskies tied the game at 20 and sent the teams to overtime. After trading touchdowns in the extra sessions, the Dinos lost when they failed at a two-point convert in the dying seconds of the second overtime session.
“We made some key penalties, some kind of discipline stuff,” says defensive back Steve Truzak. “More or less the reason why we did that is it’s the first game. The jitters are out, it’s do or die.”
The Dinos punched their ticket to a rematch with the Huskies after unceremoniously disposing of the University of Alberta Golden Bears in the conference semi-finals 45-13 on Saturday, thanks to three Truzak interceptions bookended by kickoff return TDs by slotback Anthony Parker.
Parker broke through the Bears’ defences on the opening kickoff and took it a school record 108-yards to the endzone.
“As soon as I caught it, I new I had a big play,” he says. “The blocks were there, a huge hole, and I was able to take it all the way.”
Parker returned an onside kick for another touchdown in the final minute to cap off the Dinos’ second victory over the Bears in as many weeks.
“This game’s over, I’m already thinking about the Huskies,” says Truzak. “I wanna go there, I wanna capitalize and hopefully be off to Halifax, but that’s next week.”
After two weeks of dominance over the Bears, the Dinos defence looks like it’s starting to come together. They allowed on average 275.9 yards of passing against throughout the regular season, but gave up an improved 370 yards total in the last two games.
“There’s a lot of pressure on our defensive backs because we’ve been out there and we’ve been in the position to make great plays and we haven’t been great,” says the fourth-year Truzak, who is one of the few greybeards in the Dinos secondary, along with fifth-year Matt Grohn. “We’re slowly turning it up. In the last two games we have been great, and we have been shutting it down. Our defence has become a complete package.”
Head coach Blake Nill agrees.
“Defence is starting to play better,” he says. “We did a better job this week against the run. At the end there, they moved the ball in that last drive but overall I thought defensively we did a good job stifling them and now we gotta get ready for Saskatchewan.”
This is it. If the Dinos want to match their accomplishments of last year, they need to win to get a spot in the national semi-finals. The offensive records set this year and the 7-1 regular season record won’t mean anything unless they can extend their eight-game winning streak.
Nill has one thing he’s going to focus on in the remaining practices before another bus ride back to where they started the season.
“Just intensity,” he says. “. . . we can match the athleticism, we can match the physicality, we have to match the intensity.”