A common expression is that when football is played in harsh conditions it usually favours the slower teams. The reasoning is that slow teams can’t get any slower. While the Calgary Dinos are not slow by any means, the snowy conditions for the Mitchell Bowl definitely deflated the high-powered Western Mustangs in Saturday's 44-3 Dino win.
Blaming injuries is often seen as excuse but when any team, minus Laval of course, loses a Hec candidate in a national semifinal game they usually will be unable to overcome that. Western, playing with an injured Will Finch, was unable to get anything established offensively.
The Dinos' defence had an excellent game plan as they were able to get pressure on the Mustangs and shut down the vaunted zone read that Western had running all season long. Once they got their hits on Finch they forced the quarterback to become one-dimensional. Many of his passes sailed and the Dinos made the Mustang receivers pay. Tanner Doll and Doctor Cassama punished the would be pass-catchers. While his injured hip certainly played a part in the lack of passing accuracy, credit needs to be given to the Dinos. Cassama added a late touchdown when Brad Friesen handed him the ball off an interception.
Finch tried to make a return in the second half but the injured sophomore was unable to overcome his ailments. While that could have been a Willis Reed moment, Finch was unable to sustain anything on offence. He finished the game with 105 yards passing on 9 for 20. In relief, Blake Huggins went 1/11, for just one yard.
As mentioned, the Calgary defence was confident with their game plan; in the first half it was easy to see they were looking to rally to all check downs. One of the most impressive plays was by Doll when he separated Justin Sanvido from the ball (I thought it was a head shot).
Offensively for U of C, Andrew Buckley and Mercer Timmis impressed. Buckley, the third year quarterback who was forced into action early in the season after an injury to Eric Dzwilewski, was tremendous. He showed zip on most passes and was able to hit all of his routes. He was especially impressive when throwing the intermediate routes over the middle. He finished the game 18/27 for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
Timmis, a second year running back, was able to show his athleticism early on in the game allowing the Dinos to establish the run. With scouts watching he was able to show some of the tangibles CFL teams look for, creating space for himself in the open field. He torched the Mustangs, finishing with 139 yards and one touchdown.
Specials show Calgary's dominance
As usual, special teams seems to play a major role in the OUA’s demise in these big games. Like McMaster last year, Western’s sloppy play on special teams lead to some big issues.
Simple things like the offensive guard not stepping down to the A gap on a field goal attempt can (and did) lead to a major play for the Dinos. And on punt plays, Western’s force (contain man who forces the punter to kick the ball) failed to rush the punt. Johnny Mark wisely called the kick off and scampered for a long first down. That wasn’t a planned fake — it was a simple read by the punter due to Western's irresponsibility.
Later in the third quarter Calgary ran a designed direct snap for a first down on a punt. Western had only two guys in from guard to guard. A significant flaw which the Dinos were able to exploit for another first down.
There was also a Mustang fumble that led to a FG on a punt return as well as Rashaun Simonise's 80-yard return which had everything to do with Calgary’s return team being so disciplined. The returner didn’t have to make a single defender miss.
Many people sleep on special teams but in Canadian football those hidden yards add up. While the "fake punts" didn’t lead to any points, they shifted field position; which is extremely important during these snow games. The OUA as a conference has been terrible on specials over the last few seasons. While it isn’t the biggest issue to have — I mean, the AUS would trade its inability to have a quarterback — it still can add up to cost teams in big games.
With Calgary finally returning to the Vanier Cup it shows the West moving to the OUA high school model. Teams need to generate money to pay for coaching now so that they can develop 18-year-olds properly. The OUA realized that the junior model was not going to work and were first to make this move. Unfortunately, the ‘5 in 7’ rule that hurts the West and the AUS does not affect the juggernauts in the Q. Maybe this year it will be different.
Notes: Punter/kicker Johnny Mark went 3 for 4 on field goals but also finished with 24 yards rushing due to his successful conversion on the punt ... Calgary also got touchdowns from Jake Harty and Brett Blaszko ... the lone points for Western came from Lirim Hajrullahu who went 1 for 2 kicking.