For the second week in a row, the University of Calgary Dinos football team took part in a blowout. Unfortunately for the boys in red, this time they were on the losing end.
Coming off an impressive Hardy Cup victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, the Dinos prepared all week -- and really, all year -- for their opponents, Laval Rouge et Or.
The Dinos had Laval where they wanted them -- McMahon Stadium with the home crowd and an environment suited to running the football (-23 Celsius and windy). The Dinos were eager to avenge their Vanier Cup loss from last November -- a 29-2 thrashing at Laval's hands.
The game started off promising for the Dinos, with defensive back Tye Noble taking an interception off Laval quarterback Bruno Prud'Homme's pass on Laval's fifth offensive play of the game.
"For the most part, the defense played pretty well with the field position we were given and I did as best as I could," said Noble.
As soon as the first quarter ended, however, the wheels came off and the Dinos's season came crashing down. The ground game completely evaporated with only 10 attempts for 43 yards, highlighted by 1,200 yard rusher Stephen Lumbala's three attempts for seven yards. Part of the dearth of rushing attempts was due to an unbelievable four fumbles -- Taylor Nill and Adam Ballingall on punt returns, Kevan Hafichuk on a fake punt and an inexplicable sequence where Chris Dobko ran the opening kickoff of the second half out of the end zone and then ran back only to fumble in the Dinos end.
"I don't even know how to explain it. We just made some uncharacteristic mistakes, especially for this team," said Dinos head coach Blake Nill.
It wasn't just an excellent opponent that ended the Dinos's season, however. At times, the officiating was highly suspect -- Laval's second touchdown was counted even though it was clear the receiver, Guillaume Rioux, was out of bounds.
To be fair to the referees, even with fair officiating the Dinos would have come short. Yes, the Dinos had good plays -- quarterback Eric Dzwilewski rushed for 82 yards, Noble had an interception for a touchdown and the defense kept Laval in check for the first half. Mistakes, however, like nine dropped passes, four that would have been first downs, and four special teams turnovers leading to 24 points against would kill any team's chance of victory.
"Four-straight years now we've been to a bowl game or national championship and lost," remarked Noble. "It's pretty depressing, [working] three or four hours every day of the year to have this happen . . . it's tough to deal with."
So, what's next for the Dinos? First, they'll say goodbye to six seniors this year -- running backs Anthony Woodson and the U of C's all-time rushing yards and rushing touchdown leader Matt Walter, defensive lineman Kyle Carbert and defensive backs Chudi Nzekwu and Michael Lau.
The future outlook, however, is overwhelmingly positive. The Dinos will mature next year -- Dzwilewski will enter his third year and playmakers Lumbala and Sam Hurl will enter their fourth.
Just as the Hardy Cup was a team victory, the Mitchell Bowl was a team loss. It is likely the Dinos will compete for their fifth-straight Hardy Cup and a spot in the Vanier Cup next year, but for Nill and the rest of the team, another long winter of reflecting on what could have been awaits.