Dinos face Vanier Cup champs in non-conference tilt


Ben Matchett

August 23, 2013, CALGARY, AB (ISN) – The University of Calgary Dinos will start their 2013 football season in the same place they hope to finish it.

Stade TELUS-UL in Quebec City will play host to the 49th Vanier Cup game in late November – but its first CIS football action of the season will come Saturday afternoon as the Dinos face the defending Vanier Cup champion Université Laval Rouge et Or in a non-conference tilt. Kickoff goes at 1 p.m. local (11 a.m. MT). A French-only radio broadcast will be available on FM 93 Quebec City at www.fm93.com.

The Dinos are the five-time defending Canada West champions but have struggled outside the conference during that time, with only two wins over Saint Mary’s in their last seven games outside the conference – including last year’s season-ending Mitchell Bowl loss at McMaster. Heading into his eighth season with the Dinos with one of his youngest teams ever, Head Coach Blake Nill believes the experience at Laval will be significant and start the season off right.

“It’s more of an evaluation tool,” said Nill of the upcoming weekend. “For sure we want to play hard and do our best to succeed there, but there’s not that emphasis (on winning). Our season really will start the next week.

“Our guys will be seeing a lot of each other in the first three weeks on the road. It’s going to help us gel quickly and there’s no question that the Laval game is a key to our season this year.”

It’s a very different Dinos team that will take the field this fall after losing a slew of players to the Canadian Football League and graduation – including the bulk of the starting defence. Only two starters return on the defensive side of the ball – but according to linebacker Cory Roboch, things are progressing nicely with the defence.

“Even though we lost 10 of 12 starters, I think our defence is going to be really good this year,” said the third-year Bowness High School grad from Calgary. “We have a lot better athletes in the secondary and at linebacker. We’re all just getting our stuff together right now and each day we get progressively better.”

On the other side of the ball, Eric Dzwilewski returns for his fourth season at quarterback with the Dinos. One of just a handful of Dinos players to have played at Laval (in the 2010 Vanier Cup), the reigning Canada West MVP believes the Laval game will be important for the team’s development early in the season.

“I think most importantly it’s going to help our young players get good experience, see what a big crowd looks like, and see what a dominant team looks like,” said Dzwilewski. “We’re going to have good energy, and our goals are to just execute the game plan that the coaches give us, come back with no injuries, and have some fun out there. Everyone’s excited to get the opportunity to go to Laval.”

In addition to Saturday’s non-conference tilt, the Dinos’ trip will include an intersquad practice with the Rouge et Or on Friday afternoon.

“I’ve already had a number of pro teams call us and say they’re really looking forward to that practice,” said Nill. “The practices show a lot of individual focus and it’s going to show us night and day where we’re at with our group.

“We need to go out there and just compete with the top team in the country and show that we can compete at a high level. And if we do that, I think it will carry some momentum forward to the start of the regular season at UBC.”

The Dinos return to Calgary Sunday to begin preparations for their season opener Aug. 31 at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver.