By Curtis Wolff
It took 12 games and a trip across the country to the national championship, but the 2013 Dinos football team were finally handed their first loss of the year in the Vanier Cup, losing to the University of Laval Rouge et Or 25–14 on Saturday, Nov. 23, ending a magical and improbable run.
The no. 3 ranked Dinos were able to take advantage of some Rouge et Or mistakes and turnovers to keep the game close — even taking a two-point lead late in the third quarter — but ultimately couldn’t keep Laval’s powerful running game at bay.
“It’s just that it’s tough. It’s always tough to lose,” said Dinos head coach Blake Nill. “I thought for a while there things were going good, but they just did what they had to do. There was no way we were able to compete on the line of scrimmage.”
Despite the phenomenal effort during the game and throughout the season, the loss was an almost impossible pill to swallow for the Dinos players.
“There’s only one way to remember [this season] — we lost in the Vanier Cup, so I don’t really know how else to think about it,” said running back Mercer Timmis, still reeling from his team’s first loss. “We lost when it counted.”
The atmosphere at Telus Stadium in Quebec City was electric, as the crowd of 18,543 was treated to a flyby from two helicopters before the national anthem and a jet afterwards.
The Rouge et Or’s running-back tandem of Pascal Lochard and Maxime Boutin stretched the Dinos defence to their breaking point throughout much of the game, racking up 184 and 190 rushing yards respectively.
Despite their offensive prowess, the Rouge et Or were unable to score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter and failed to capitalize on many opportunities. While they scored four field goals, a team safety and a single point on a missed field goal, Rouge et Or kicker Boris Bede also clanked the bar on two field goal attempts. In addition, Boutin had a touchdown called back due to a holding call well behind the play.
The Dinos offence emerged in the third quarter. Dinos quarterback Andrew Buckley unleashed a 42-yard bomb for receiver Rashaun Simonise, which was Simonise’s only catch of the game before being helped off the field with an apparent leg injury.
After a couple short-yardage running plays from Dinos backup quarterback Jimmy Underdahl, Buckley found receiver Jake Harty on the far side of the field for a touchdown to cut the Rouge et Or’s lead to 9–7.
The defence held Laval to only a field goal on the next couple of plays, lead by linebacker Doctor Cassama who had a key sack on Rouge et Or quarterback Alex Skinner.
On the next Dinos possession, Buckley would toss the ball to running back Mercer Timmis on a screen play, putting the Dinos in good scoring position. Buckley then took advantage of a fresh set of downs due to a Laval too-many-men penalty, finding receiver Chris Dobko in the endzone for a 14–12 lead.
The lead would not last. After kicking a field goal to go up by one at the end of the third quarter, Boutin and Lochard dragged the Rouge et Or down the field to capture their first touchdown of the game, putting them ahead 22–14 with 5:48 remaining in the game.
“Defensively, we gave up a lot of yards, but at the end we just couldn’t stop the run,” said Nill. “We tried putting bigger people in. We tried making adjustments. We just flat out couldn’t stop it. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
“We’re just not mature enough yet to be able to compete here when it counts,” he added.
An eight-point lead was more than the Rouge et Or defence needed, as they shut down the Dinos for the remainder of the game.
Neverless, Nill was proud of his team’s performance this year. The second-youngest team in the nation finished 11–1, battling adversity every step along the way — from the loss of their entire defensive core in the offseason, to the tragic death of teammate Daniel Lamola prior to training camp and a season-ending injury to star quarterback Eric Dzwilewski in their first game of the year.
“Most of those kids are 18- and 19-years-old that are on the field there,” said Nill. “And you know what, in the [third] quarter, they were in the lead. I’m very proud of them. They’re going to be back. They just need to get bigger and stronger.”
However, the Dinos’s accomplishments in the face of tragedy, injury and youth was not enough to satisfy Buckley.
“We’re not satisfied but we are proud of what we did,” said Buckley. “We’ve come so far from where we started. All the way at the bottom from March and May when we had a teammate die, and coming here — we’ve come a long way and we’ve really grown together as a family. So I’m proud of everyone out there.”
Although undoubtedly struggling to take his mind off the loss, Buckley was able to briefly reflect on the season that was.
“I’ve never been a part of a team like this,” said Buckley. “We were so close as a unit. We really cared for everyone out there, so that’s what I’m going to remember — just the family part of this team.”
This offseason will be a long one with the Vanier Cup loss on their minds, but Buckley is confident that his team will be back for another chance at a national title.
“We’ll go into the offseason — we’ll be bigger and be faster,” he continued. “And we’ll be back here.”