After allowing the University of Saskatchewan Huskies a touchdown on the game's first possession, the University of Calgary Dinos struggled to mount any offence or defence that could halt the Huskies' eventual 34-13 victory in the driving rain at McMahon Stadium Saturday night.
A 69-yard touchdown run by Huskies receiver Jeff Hassler opened the scoring a mere 1:36 into the game, foreshadowing the formidable offence that would lead the Dinos 17-7 into the second quarter.
"They just came out with a tempo that my guys just didn't match. They seemed to have more jump in their step and wanted it more," said Dinos head coach Blake Nill.
Dinos star quarterback Erik Glavic ran in an early equalizer, but by the time the first quarter ended Saskatchewan led by 10 points thanks to a 20-yard field goal from Denton Kolodzinski and a 87-yard touchdown from Jade Etienne.
Another Saskatchewan touchdown from Braedon George made it 24-7 before the half. The Dinos managed to shrink the deficit with a pair of field goals from Aaron Ifield, but ultimately failed to match the prowess of the Huskies' charged offence, who went on to produce 570 total offensive yards, topping the Dinos' 345.
"They were difficult. They definitely have their stuff together, they execute well," said Dinos defensive back-turned-linebacker Sam Hurl. "I think as a defence we just have to get our stuff together, get our systems down. We've gained some confidence in that I think we're feeling a lot better."
Adding to the Dinos' frustrations were three first-half turnovers and roster shifts due to pre-game injuries including fifth-year linebackers Andrea Bonaventura, Geoff Paiement and Chris Folk. Making matters even worse for the Dinos was the late second quarter injury and subsequent departure of All-Canadian receiver Anthony Parker.
A torrent of rain stinted all third quarter offence freezing the score until the fourth but not before Huskies safety Bryce McCall nailed Dinos receiver Anthony Woodson in the torso, leaving Woodson on the field and delaying the game until an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital.
"I was concerned about it," said Nill. "I am always a believer that we've got to protect our athletes. I'm sure when all is said and done it'll be reviewed. We're moving on now. Thank God that Anthony wasn't hurt seriously."
After the scoreless third quarter, Saskatchewan added some extra insurance with Ben Coakwell's 20-yard dash for the end zone in the game's final minutes.
Despite the Dinos' flat performance and the absence of five out of six top linebackers, Dinos linebacker Hurl managed to successfully fill one of the vacant linebacker positions with only three days of preparation.
"It was a difficult transformation going from defensive back to middle linebacker, the mentality is completely different," said Hurl. "In the end it worked out really well."
McCall led Saskatchewan with seven tackles while Hurl accumulated 12.5 tackles including a sack.
"He just played outstanding," said Nill. "He has the instincts. He had a very good game. He made some mistakes, but he made up a lot with just effort and attitude. He's going to be there for us this week and who knows . . . That may be his spot."
The loss came as a huge disappointment to the Dinos following the Canadian Interuniversity Sport coaches' preseason poll which named the Dinos the top-ranked team heading into the season, the first time since 1993 that the Dinos as have occupied the top rung. To further the U of C's disappointment, the loss ends Calgary's three-year at-home winning streak.
"Obviously it's not the way we wanted to start the year. We knew it was going to be a tough game," said Nill, citing the strength of both Saskatchewan's and Calgary's football programs.
By defeating the Dinos, the Huskies extend their season-opener winning streak to eight years.
The Huskies head back to Saskatoon to take on the UBC Thunderbirds this Friday while the Dinos hope to win their next game against the Regina Rams in Calgary the same day. The Rams defeated the Manitoba Bisons 45-11 last Friday.
"We have to win-- we're a very good football team still and we can't afford to go 0-2 to start the year," said Nill. "Our focus is going to be on making sure that our young quarterback is given the right package to be successful and trying to improve on our defence and making sure that we just play physical football."
Eighteen-year-old quarterback Eric Dzwilewski will step up to the plate, filling BLG Award and Hec Crighton winner Erik Glavic's shoes for the coming weeks. Glavic sprained his right knee in the dying minutes of Saturday's game.
"Were feeling good. They are definitely going to be a difficult opponent, I mean look what they did to Manitoba," said Hurl. "We're definitely wary for that. We have respect but not too much respect. We've got to go out there at play our game and just knock heads."