By Jon Roe
Though both of the last two seasons have started with a zero in the win column for the Dinos football team and a loss to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, this is hardly last year’s squad.
Last year, the Dinos started the year with a 25-0 shutout loss in Saskatoon. This year, the Dinos dropped a 34-33 double overtime decision in Saskatoon on Friday.
Last year, it was a whitewash. The Huskies were too much, too soon for the eventual Hardy Cup champions. This year, the Dinos and Huskies fought for every yard through two overtime periods with the Huskies eventually prevailing when the Dinos failed to pull off a two-point conversion at the end of the second overtime.
“That’s the only way you can characterize it, it was a dog fight,” says fourth-year Dinos linebacker Andrea Bonaventura. “It came down to the nitty-gritty and every yard counted.”
In a game that was billed as a showdown of the top two teams in Canada West (the Dinos were ranked third in the country heading into the game, the Huskies fourth; the Dinos dropped to fifth after the game, the Huskies jumped to third), the Dinos aren’t satisfied just being able to compete with the Huskies.
“It was a good game, two very strong teams, but any way you look at it, a loss is a loss, whether it was by one point or by 25 points,” says fifth-year defensive back Matt Grohn. “We’re all disappointed; we’d like to be on the other end.”
The Huskies were able to rely heavily on the pass to move the chains, picking up 14 first downs passing compared to just five with the run, assaulting Grohn and his secondary teammates and showing perhaps that the team is still sorting out the loss of safety James Green to the Toronto Argonauts.
“James was a huge hit, you never replace someone like James, but we got some good young guys to fill in and everyone’s just got to step it up and take it to the next level,” says Grohn.
“With our d-linemen, how experienced they are and how well they’re playing right now, we expect to get a lot more passes,” he continues. “It all falls on us, we have to step up and make plays.”
But the team is miles ahead of where they were last year, says head coach Blake Nill. He admitted last week he wasn’t quite sure what to make of his team. After “one of the best football games” he’s been a part of, though, the picture is getting clearer for the Dinos.
“I’m a lot more sure right now that we are a quality team,” says Nill. “To go in there with that kind of physical game — last year we lost by 25 points, 25-0. This game could’ve gone either way, with just a difference of a couple plays. I was proud of our kids; I thought they did a great job. If we can continue along that way, we’ll be in good shape.”
The Dinos will have to continue along that way against the similarly winless University of Alberta Golden Bears on Saturday. The Bears lost 25-24 to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds after leading 24-6 at halftime.
“They had a tough game against UBC, watching film,” says Bonaventura. “I think they’re going to come out and be ready to play, fired up. They want a victory, especially here in Calgary. The rivalry’s huge, we know they’re going to come out ready to play.”
The Bears have won four of five against Nill-coached Dino teams, despite only possessing an 8-16 overall record the last three seasons. In the teams’ last meeting, the Dinos lost 20-9 on the final game of the regular season last year. The Bears are again not expected to be one of the top teams in the conference, but Nill knows there are no freebies in Canada West.
“We prepare for every game like it’s the most important game there is,” he says. “I want my guys to be ready to play.”