By Ryan Laverty
There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this year’s Dino football team.
After back-to-back weeks of serious punishment on the road, the crew bounced back last Friday night at McMahon Stadium to stun the previously unbeaten second-ranked team in the nation, the Regina Rams, in a 35-33 nail-biter. And while he may not have come right out and said it, even Dinos Head Coach Tony Fasano was pleasantly surprised by the victory.
"Obviously we’re always out to win the football game," explained an elated Fasano. "What we were really questioning was the confidence the players have in each other. And that’s going to happen when you’re struggling."
The Dinos’ opening drive was reminiscent of their battle two weeks prior when they faced the Manitoba Bisons and couldn’t convert on their opportunities inside the 20-yard line. This time quarterback Brent Hargreaves marched the team down the field only to turn the ball over at the 12.
Led by former Calgary pivot Darryl Leason, the Rams took the ball 98-yards for the major. Regina kicker Jon Ryan increased the lead to 10-0 early in the second quarter on a 14-yard field goal. A two-possession deficit early on may have disheartened the hometown bench, but it didn’t show on the field.
On the next series Hargreaves proved his confidence in himself and his teammates by connecting in double coverage with his go-to-guy Jamie Elliott for 50-yards, setting up the first of two second quarter touchdowns.
Except for week one’s loss to the University of Alberta and despite the two recent blowouts, the Dinos defence has been excellent every week. This week was no different, even though they faced one of the top offences in the country. The Dinos’ crippling intensity held the Rams to a mere 206 yards of total offence in the first half. Regina was crippled further by the loss of Leason to a severe knee injury late in the second quarter. According to Fasano the team didn’t dwell on the second leading passer in Canadian Interuniversity Sport history leaving the game.
"We really didn’t focus on it, and we didn’t talk about it at halftime. We knew we had no control over plays they ran, or injuries they had," said Fasano. "So we just went out and concentrated on what we had to do and that’s why we were successful."
The second half was a seesaw of action as the momentum switched several times. The Rams opened the scoring in the third frame with a Ryan field goal, cutting into Calgary’s 14-10 halftime lead. Not to be outdone, the Dinos put the ball in the hands of their running backs and pu-nched it in for yet another score. Luke Mayer led all backs with a season-high 162 yards rushing, none more critical than his 18-yard break late in the fourth quarter. Despite two weeks of futile offence, Mayer wasn’t surprised by the team’s performance.
"We’ve been working hard all week–the o-line, the fullbacks–everyone," explained the second-year running back. "I had a real good feeling about this game because when you get a good team like U of R, there always seems to be one unexpected team they lose to. The way things were going I just had a feeling that team would be us."
The Rams never let up, relentlessly pursuing their goal of an undefeated season until the very end. That goal was nearly realized when a Rams’ onside kick was fumbled on the Dinos 40-yard line with 18 seconds left on the clock. But the hometown boys retained control and managed to stave off their opponents in the waning seconds.
It was a victory made twice as sweet after last year’s last second playoff heartbreaker at the hands of these same Rams. In the first round of the Canada West playoff Regina kicked a punt through the endzone to claim a one point victory over the favoured Dinos.
Over the next two weeks the team will regroup, refocus and recuperate for their next contest in Edmonton. They take on the U of A Golden Bears on Sat., Oct. 13 at 1:30 p.m. The Dinos will be looking for redemption for the 39-29 beating the Bears laid on them in week one.