Keeping the Calgary Dinos out of the end zone for an entire half is a small victory. Unfortunately for the Huskies they couldn't go bigger than that.
In the week's only top-10 matchup in CIS football, Calgary took home their second win over Saskatchewan, again by a 12-point margin, this time 24-12 in Saskatoon. Mercer Timmis rushed for 172 yards, half the Huskies' entire output on the night as part of Calgary's near-600 yards of offence.
The Dinos were moderate favourites going into this one. I had them as about 7 or 10 points ahead, closer than it would theoretically have been in Calgary, but still enough to make the final result not terribly surprising even if we took a roundabout way to get there. We saw 10 total fumbles, three interceptions, four missed field goals, and a fake punt. There was drama, certainly, if nothing else.
Jim Mullin, broadcasting the game for Shaw along with former U of S QB Laurence Nixon, made the point that this game, from Saskatchewan's point of view, was similar to what the Carabins experienced two weeks ago, when they suppressed Laval on one side of the ball but couldn't put anything together on the other. It did have the same feeling as that game, especially about halfway through the fourth when it appeared the Dinos were heading directly for a 12-point lead after a fake punt succeeded but they then had a pass intercepted in the end zone. The Huskies' fate would be the same in the end but it did give us some uncertainty.
In fact, this was looking good for the home side early on. Calgary's two first-quarter turnovers meant they were fortunate to be down only 7-0 after one and 11-6 after two. They did not score a touchdown until 35 minutes into the game.
However, as so often seems to happen, an underdog's success in the first half does not continue into the second. Call it random chance, call it regression, call it updated instructions from the coaching staff ... I don't know which is true. Mullin pointed out that the Huskies have been greatly outplayed in third quarters against Calgary recently. Tonight it's enough to say Saskatchewan scored just one point to Calgary's 11 in this third quarter — and that one came on a typical situation for them: a first down deep in Calgary territory turned into just a rouge after they a) failed to advance further as well as b) missed a field goal.
Late in the fourth, Timmis rumbled 80 yards for the major that gave the Dinos a two-score lead for the first time: 24-12 with time running out and it did indeed run out at exactly that score. It was his 14th rushing touchdown of the season, far, far ahead of the next-closest running back in the country, and a Calgary record with two games to go to extend it. (No word yet on if his success is all part of a long-term strategy to restore to one the number of football stadia named after his family.)
I was looking forward to seeing Drew Burko play but he wasn't at his best at the helm of an underwhelming U of S offence, throwing for 269 on 17 of 38. (For that matter, Andrew Buckley didn't complete half his passes either.) There were no outstanding plays from Burko throughout most of the first half, partly because he had easily-open receivers whom anyone could find when he wasn't rushed and mostly because he couldn't find any of them when he was. His interception was really poorly overthrown; when the ball was first put in the air I saw one receiver, maybe five to ten yards away from Burko, and presumed there was no way he was the intended target ... until the camera continued panning and there wasn't another black jersey in the area.
Even his successful plays didn't help, though not really through any fault of his own. Burko found Mitch Stevens on a beauty of a pass, perfectly placed for 22 yards, and to open the third, he found Garrett Burgess for 25 that brought them inside the 20. Both of these very impressive plays, showing off his strength as well as field vision, resulted in exactly two points when the Huskies didn't capitalize. It's an easy narrative to say that was their undoing, but they needed more than "better situational offence" for this game to have an effect beyond the end of the regular season.
With the win, the Dinos clinch home-field advantage for the Canada West playoffs — sound familiar? — and they'll only have to leave home for the Vanier Cup should they get that far. (They probably won't, but that's an argument for our later Mitchell Bowl coverage.)