By Curtis Wolff
The Dinos’s final game at McMahon Stadium in 2013 was a microcosm of their entire year — completely underestimated and convincingly victorious.
Pegged as the underdogs in the Mitchell Bowl national semi-final despite an undefeated season, the Dinos stunned the No. 1 nationally ranked Western Mustangs on Saturday, Nov. 16. The Mustangs’s highly touted offence was shut down in a 44–3 rout that kept the Dinos’s fairy-tale season alive as they now advance to the Vanier Cup national finals.
While the Dinos advanced to the national semi-finals the last six years in a row, this is the first time since 2010 that they will advance to the Vanier Cup.
“I’ve had faith in these guys all year,” said fifth-year receiver Chris Dobko after his final game at McMahon. “We’ve been the underdogs since day one. People said we would finish fourth and lose every round of the playoffs.”
The Dinos struck first, capitalizing on a Western fumble on a punt return attempt after failing to score on their first possession of the game. Dinos kicker Johnny Mark hit a 31-yard field goal to put his team up 3–0.
Their lead was soon extended with a touchdown by receiver Brett Blasko. After a series of catches by receiver Chris Dobko, and a couple of runs by Canada West MVP running back Mercer Timmis, quarterback Andrew Buckley found Blasko by the sidelines and he powered into the endzone to put the Dinos up 10–0 as the temperature continued to drop on the field.
“We played a game like this a few weeks ago,” said Buckley of the cold conditions that the Mustangs were unable to adapt to. “We were mentally prepared coming in all week and we were just able to tough it out. We had a pretty good first drive and that just let us all know that we could all do it.”
Dinos linebacker Tanner Doll sacked Western quarterback Will Finch on the Mustangs’s next possession, forcing a punt. Finch, who may be considering switching to a non-contact sport after being battered by the Dinos defence all afternoon, struggled with the wind and an injury throughout the game and never found his groove.
The biggest play of the game came from Dinos receiver Rashaun Simonise, who raced down the sidelines on a punt return for a touchdown to put the Dinos up 17–0 in the first quarter. Simonise got some help from receiver Elie Bouka, who delivered a devastating block to the unfortunate Mustangs kicker to ensure the touchdown.
The Dinos special teams pulled out all the stops in the biggest game of the year so far. After the Siminose touchdown return, linebacker Brad Friesen blocked the Mustangs first field goal attempt of the game to keep them scoreless. After failing to get a first down on the following possession, Mark fooled everyone with a fake punt play as he ran for 49 yards — so wide open that he was almost strolling out of bounds.
A Western possession later in the second quarter finally put them on the scoreboard with a successful field goal attempt, but left Finch limping after he continued to be punished by the Dinos defence. On their next possession, Finch would throw an interception to Dinos linebacker Tanner Doll and get dumped by linebacker Iyanu Ojekale on the return. He would have to be helped off the field, as the Dinos managed to score a field goal after the turnover to finish the half with a 17-point lead.
The Dinos would score another touchdown on their first possession of the second half, a drive that was completely dominated by receiver Jake Harty, who caught a 24-yard pass from Buckley to increase the Dinos’s lead to 24–3.
The Mustangs would continue to be outplayed in the final quarter. With a historic upset well within reach, the Dinos did not let up. Timmis deliver another one of his classic rushes, going down the side of the field for a 41-yard touchdown. Then, with Mustangs backup quarterback Blake Huggins mercifully relieving Finch, the Dinos added an interception that was run back by linebacker Doctor Cassama for a touchdown.
“We just knew that we had to play for each other,” said Cassama. “We keep talking about family and being accountable for one another. We said the weather doesn’t matter. We have to practice in it but it’s the same for both teams. Let’s play like a family, like we have been doing the whole week, and the scoreboard will take care of itself.”
The Dinos now set their sights on the Vanier Cup, which will be held on Saturday, Nov. 23 in Quebec City, where they will face the hometown University of Laval Rouge et Or.
“It’s crazy. I came here in my first and second year and got to go to the Vanier and I’ve been waiting to get back here,” said Dobko. “I’ve been wanting to get back since we left those two times. I got some unfinished business. I want that ring.”