By Jon Roe
The University of Saskatchewan Huskies line up to take a field goal. There are 18 seconds left on the clock. The University of Calgary Dinos lead 39-38. Huskies kicker Grant Shaw has enjoyed a great day, nailing all five of his previous attempts. This is only a 35-yarder. No problem.
The snap comes out. It’s bobbled. It’s finally placed down, Shaw misses. It’s wide and short. The Dinos run it out of their endzone to avoid the single. Game over. The Dinos win their second Hardy Cup in as many years.
“To be honest with you, I can’t even remember what happened,” says Dinos defensive lineman Deji Oduwole. “I just prayed right before and I just went in as hard as I could. I looked back, and the ball was missed. I don’t know really what happened. I was just excited and went on like that.
“Honestly, it was a surreal feeling,” he continues. “I just remember saying that after the game. It just seemed like I wasn’t even there. It was like an out-of-body experience, really. It was an amazing feeling and I would love to have that feeling over and over again, really.”
Now they must travel east to Halifax to face the Saint Mary’s University Huskies in as anticipated a match-up as you could possibly have in Canadian university football. Dinos head coach Blake Nill came over from the Huskies to lead the U of C to the Promised Land after years of miscues. Nill had coached SMU to six straight Atlantic University Sport championships and two Vanier Cups before he moved west. He brought with him Huskies players who have played key roles in the Dinos turnaround from a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since their last Vanier Cup championship, including linebacker Andrea Bonaventura, who was nominated for defensive player of the year last year, Oduwole and Brandon Rockhill, defensive linemen who have led a dominating Dinos front-seven that stopped the run all year, Steve Truzak, a veteran defensive back, and, controversially, star quarterback Erik Glavic, who Nill recruited initially for the SMU Huskies and who then eventually trekked west to play for the Dinos in January.
“I’m looking forward to going back there,” says Nill.
“It’s not just another football game but in some ways it is, right?” he continues. “We gotta go there focused on winning that game and having an opportunity to win a national championship.”
It may be harder to stay focused than for any other football game. For many Dinos, it’s a homecoming to where they started their university careers.
“No, it is weird,” says Bonaventura. “I knew this was going to happen. The first day I came to Calgary, I knew I was going to go back to St. Mary’s sooner or later and play the Huskies.”
And now those Dinos are there: the Huskies who trekked west, the coach who led them, and the quarterback who decided to join Calgary after a year on the sidelines. Halifax, against a vociferous crowd, a hostile atmosphere.
“I don’t think it’s going to be too pleasant, but we’re the visiting team,” says Glavic. “I’m sure it wouldn’t be pleasant for anybody. I’m sure there’ll be a couple extra boos going around this time.
“Anytime you go into a national semi-finals, you expect a tough game,” he continues. “I expect it to be very similar to Saskatchewan. Same type of environment, maybe a couple more thousand people and a little more jacked up maybe, especially with this whole issue or thing going around. In a national semi-finals, you can always expect a hard battle, a hard fight.”
This whole issue or thing may be okay in the mind of SMU’s head coach Steve Sumarah, but may not sit well with hardcore Bluenosers. Nill, who is happy to return, expects a mixed reaction.
“There will be some that are hostile, some that will be glad to see us,” he says. “But overall I have a feeling that they will play itself out in the first quarter and it’ll be down to football from there.”
Emotions aside, the Dinos still have their eyes on the football game and the potential prize: the national finals and the Vanier Cup. Nill was brought to Calgary to lead them there, a place the Dinos haven’t been since 1995, when they beat the Western University Mustangs to capture Canadian university football glory for the fourth time in Dinos history. He led those players west because he’s proven he can do it and must now focus them on the task at hand, regardless of the emotions, the hurt feelings, the loud Bluenoser faithful, the angry jeers, and the long journey that many Dinos have marched to get here, in Halifax, with that spot, that chance, that opportunity on the line.
“We know the Atlantic, how that conference did,” says Bonaventura. “St. Mary’s, they’ve had a strong tradition there for a while, the last couple of years. They’ve made it very far. Erik went to the Vanier with them several years ago. We know they want to get back there. They want revenge, especially on all the guys that left. They want revenge on the coaches that left that program. It’s going to be a hard-hitting battle. They’re going to come out firing on all cylinders and our guys will respond.”