November 20, 2013, QUEBEC CITY (ISN) – The University of Calgary Dinos have made their way to La Belle Province to compete for national supremacy on the gridiron and will take on the defending national champions in Saturday’s TELUS Vanier Cup at TELUS-Université Laval Stadium.
Quebec City is a familiar place for the Dinos, who will see their season end on the Université Laval campus for the fourth time in six years as they face the host Rouge et Or in search of their fifth national title. The game kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. local (11 a.m. MT), live on Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360, Radio-Canada, and Sportsnet 960 The Fan as the second- and third-ranked teams, both undefeated at 11-0, do battle.
The Dinos and Rouge et Or both enter the Vanier Cup undefeated, marking just the fifth time in the 49-year history of the championship game that both combatants go in undefeated after 2005 (Laurier vs. Saskatchewan), 1986 (UBC vs. Western), and 1966 (StFX vs. Waterloo Lutheran). Both are looking to become the 14th CIS program to complete an undefeated season, a feat last accomplished by Laval in 2010. It’s the fourth meeting in the last six years between the Dinos and Rouge et Or, with Laval taking all three previous meetings.
The Dinos started the season with an exhibition contest at Laval, falling 35-3 in a game that was tightly contested in the early stages when Calgary had its full starting lineup on the field. Strangely enough, it’s the third year in a row and the fifth time in eight years that Laval will face the team they took on in the pre-season for the Vanier Cup, while it’s the fourth time in six years that Calgary’s season will end on the Laval campus after the 2008 Uteck Bowl, followed by the 2009 and 2010 Vanier Cups.
THE WESTERN FACTOR
The Dinos made it to the Vanier Cup after a dominant 44-3 win last week in the Mitchell Bowl over previously undefeated, No. 1-ranked Western. It stretched the Dinos’ all-time record over the Mustangs to 4-1 after previous wins in 1985, 1988, and 1995 – and in all three of those seasons, Calgary captured the Vanier Cup. The 1985 and 1995 Western games came in the national final, while the 1988 Central Bowl win in London, Ont. sent Calgary on to face Saint Mary’s for the Vanier Cup at Varsity Stadium in Toronto.
Saturday’s Vanier Cup will be the first road game for the Dinos in 50 days. Calgary finished 4-0 on the road, most recently a 24-12 win over Saskatchewan on Friday, Oct. 4. After the Thanksgiving Day bye, the Dinos finished the regular season with two more home games, followed by three playoff contests to total five consecutive home weekends. Calgary is 38-2 in its last 40 games at McMahon Stadium and gets set to face a team that hasn’t lost at home in nearly a decade in Laval. The Dinos are 7-16 on the road all-time in the postseason, with the last away win coming in the 2009 Uteck Bowl in Halifax against Saint Mary’s.
Head coaches Blake Nill and Glen Constantin are certainly no strangers. They have faced off nine times before, including the 2003 and 2010 Vanier Cups – a 14-7 and 29-2 Laval victories, respectively. Nill is 2-7 against Constantin and 2-8 against Laval all-time, with another Vanier Cup loss coming in 1999. The 2003 Vanier Cup came while Nill was the head coach at Saint Mary’s University.
In 2009, Nill along with Queen’s bench boss Pat Sheahan simultaneously became the first CIS coaches to lead two different programs to Vanier Cup appearances. Nill has another opportunity to become the first CIS coach to WIN Vanier Cup titles with two different programs after winning back-to-back championships in 2001 and 2002 with Saint Mary’s. Nill is wrapping up his eighth season as head coach of the Dinos and, since taking over the reins in 2006, has posted an overall record of 47-17, including an 15-6 mark in the playoffs. Nill’s Dinos have won six consecutive Hardy Cups, emblematic of the Canada West championship – a new record in Canada West, surpassing a four-year run by Saskatchewan in the 1930s.
COMPLETING THE CYCLE
The Dinos added to their Canada West record, winning their sixth straight Hardy Cup title this year by defeating the Manitoba Bisons. That win completed the cycle for the Dinos, who have beaten a different opponent in each of those six years: Simon Fraser (2008), Saskatchewan (2009), Alberta (2010), UBC (2011), Regina (2012), and Manitoba (2013). Additionally, last week’s Mitchell Bowl completed a full Bowl game rotation for the Dinos, who have now played each other conference home and away in national semi-final action over the last six years – finishing with a record of 3-3 along the way.
THE ROAD TO THE VANIER CUP
The Regular Season
Things certainly didn’t start out all that well for the Dinos. After losing the vast majority of the starting lineup from the 2012 Mitchell Bowl at McMaster, the Dinos headed to Vancouver to open the season at UBC on Aug. 31. After throwing a touchdown pass in the third quarter of the game, the reigning Canada West MVP, Eric Dzwilewski, came up limping and was removed from the game with a broken foot – an injury from which he has still not returned. Thrust into the starter’s role, backup QB Andrew Buckley calmly took the team over and, thanks to the first of many spectacular runs by Mercer Timmis on the season, helped the Dinos score 10 points in the final four minutes of the game to break a 31-31 tie and take a 41-31 win over the Thunderbirds.
A week later, Buckley got his first start and led the Dinos to a 34-27 win on the road at Regina, though Calgary did need to knock away a last-second pass in the end zone to secure the victory. Coming home to face the Saskatchewan Huskies for their home opener, the Dinos scored 15 unanswered points in the third quarter thanks to a pair of Jake Harty touchdowns, thrilling a raucous KICKOFF crowd at McMahon Stadium with a 36-24 win over their longtime rivals. A week later, Buckley threw for 512 yards in a 48-24 win over Manitoba as the Dinos shot out to a 4-0 record at the halfway point.
Timmis scored four touchdowns as the Dinos thumped Alberta 76-21 on the road in week 5, setting up the opportunity for Calgary to clinch first place on Oct. 4 at Saskatchewan – the last time the Dinos played away from McMahon Stadium. Timmis’ season-long 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter sealed a tight game for the Dinos, who clinched first place with a 24-12 victory and headed into the bye 6-0.
Two weeks later back at home, Timmis became Canada West’s single-season touchdown king with three more scores in a 46-27 romp over the Regina Rams. And on Oct. 25, the 2013 Dinos put the finishing touches on their first-ever undefeated season with a 34-17 win over the UBC Thunderbirds.
For the second year in a row, the Dinos opened the postseason by facing the same team they had beaten the previous week, with both games coming at home. Calgary fell behind early 17-0 in a blizzard to UBC in the semi-final but rallied to take a halftime lead and, ultimately, dispatch the Thunderbirds 42-28. Under much better conditions a week later, the Dinos captured the program’s 15th Canada West championship with a 43-28 win over Manitoba, led by a career-high 279-yard performance by Timmis, to earn the right to host the Mitchell Bowl.
The Bowl Game
The Canada West title gave the Dinos the right to host the Centaur Mitchell Bowl, their third home Bowl game in four years after previously hosting the Mitchell in 2010 and 2011. Facing the No. 1-ranked Mustangs for the first time since 1995, the Dinos were dominant throughout the contest, jumping out to a 17-0 lead and keeping the nation’s most explosive offence under wraps all day. Western managed just three points on the day in a 44-3 Calgary win that saw the Dinos dominate in every aspect of the game – especially on special teams. They put together two fumble recoveries on punt returns, an 80-yard punt return touchdown by Rashaun Simonise, a blocked field goal, and two fake punts on another cold, snowy day at McMahon Stadium.
Doctor Cassama added a 71-yard interception return touchdown after taking the ball from teammate Brad Friesen, who had picked off the errant pass, while Timmis scored another long TD – this one from 41 yard– to go with his 16-carry, 139-yard rushing performance, earning MVP honours in the Mitchell Bowl. The Dinos out-muscled Western throughout the game, with OUA MVP Will Finch forced to leave the contest due to a hip injury after being held to just 105 passing yards in the game.
Timmis and Buckley are the two main stories on offence, but a young but effective offensive line has flown under the radar for most of the year. Three players – LT Jordan Filippelli, RG Ryan Preuter, and RT Braden Schram – started the season with a combined zero games of CIS experience, yet still managed to open big holes for Timmis and protect Buckley in the pocket. The line is anchored by veterans Sean McEwen and Sukh Chungh, both of whom earned conference all-star selection.
Buckley took over from Dzwilewski and put up impressive numbers all season, leading the Dinos to their first-ever undefeated season and, now, a berth in the Vanier Cup. The
kinesiology student, Canada West’s nominee for the Russ Jackson award who shared the all-star nod at quarterback, has a pedigree of success coming out of Calgary’s Rundle College and has yet to lose a game as a starting quarterback in CIS.
Buckley’s receivers were a mix of veteran talent and explosive youth. The reliable Chris Dobko, one of just two fifth-year seniors on the team, broke Don Blair’s school record for career receptions and continues to be a go-to inside man for the Dinos. He’s joined by the athletic Jake Harty, who had a big game in the Mitchell Bowl. On the outside, Canada West Rookie of the Year Rashaun Simonise has explosive speed.
Timmis, of course, has been the offensive catalyst for the Dinos all season long. He led the nation with 1,157 rushing yards on the year, setting new school and conference records – again, breaking those held by Don Blair – in both rushing (18) and all-purpose (19) touchdowns on the season. Timmis is the Canada West MVP and nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy.
All-stars: Buckley (QB), Timmis (RB), McEwen (C), Chungh (G), Dobko (SB).
Calgary had to replace 10 of 12 starters on defence, and the unit has continued to improve as the season has progressed. Doctor Cassama, who took over Mike Edem’s spot at will linebacker, followed in Edem’s footsteps to win the Canada West defensive MVP award, while a young defensive line anchored by all-star Tyler Langlais performed admirably for Calgary. In the secondary, halfback Cyril Iwanegbe had a breakout season with 33.5 tackles, while corner Adam Laurensse had a solid first year in CIS, finishing tied for the Canada West lead with four picks.
All-stars: Langlais (DE), Cassama (LB), Spoletini (SLB), Iwanegbe (HB), Laurensse (CB).
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Calgary’s special teams were a huge factor in the Mitchell Bowl, but have also been strong throughout the season. Placekicker Johnny Mark is a two-time All-Canadian (2011, 2012) and was again the most accurate kicker in the conference this year, while Simonise is a threat in the return game.
All-stars: Mark (PK).
THE GAME NOTES
• The athletic teams at the University of Calgary have been officially the DINOS since 1998, when the name was changed from Dinosaurs. References to the Dinosaurs should be limited to teams that competed BEFORE 1998.
• A Dinos win Saturday would be the 46th CIS national championship in the University of Calgary’s history and the fifth Vanier cup title since the program started in 1964. Calgary has also captured 136 Canada West conference titles in that span, including 15 conference football championships.
• Only two players remain on the Calgary roster from the 2010 Vanier Cup game against Laval, receiver Chris Dobko and quarterback Eric Dzwilewski. Dobko is the only player that will play in the game, with Dzwilewski – who was named the 2010 CIS rookie of the year in his previous trip to Quebec City – still out with the broken foot he suffered in Week 1 at UBC. Dobko led the Dinos with 54 all-purpose yards in that game, all on kickoff returns.
• One Dinos player was born in Quebec, receiver-turned-defensive-back Élie Bouka. Bouka was born in Laval, Que. and joined the Dinos after starring at Cégep Montmorency.
• The Dinos will wear their road white Nike jerseys in the Vanier Cup. It’s the sixth time in their nine appearances the Dinos have worn white, with wins in 1985 and 1988 and losses in 1993, 2009, and 2010.
• The trip to Quebec City is the Dinos’ first road trip since Oct. 4 when they defeated Saskatchewan 24-12 in Saskatoon. After the bye week on Thanksgiving, the Dinos played five consecutive games at McMahon Stadium, culminating in last week’s Mitchell Bowl win over Western. Kickoff on Saturday will be the first road game for the Dinos in 50 days.
• Calgary is the last team to lose the Vanier Cup to a team playing at home (1993, Toronto; 2010, Laval)
• Nill is the third Dinos coach to lead the team to a Vanier Cup appearance after Mike Lashuk (1975) and Peter Connellan (1983, 1985, 1988, 1993, 1995).