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Courtesy David Moll

Vanier Cup heartbreak for Dinos football

By Emilie Medland-Marchen, November 29 2016 —

The Dinos football team’s outstanding season came to an unfortunate conclusion on Nov. 26 in Hamilton at the 52nd Vanier Cup.

The team missed a chance at hoisting the cup for the first time since 1995 in a tight 31–26 loss to the Laval University Rouge et Or. The win marks the ninth Vanier Cup title for Laval, while the loss for Calgary is the fourth time in nine years that the Dinos were stopped in their tracks by the Rouge et Or in their quest for the Vanier.

An explosive start saw the Dinos take a 14-point lead in the first quarter of the game. But the first quarter also saw the loss of star quarterback Jimmy Underdahl, who was once again hit by the knee injury that plagued him all season. Injured in a Laval sack, Underdahl would not return to the field that night and was replaced by second-year quarterback Adam Sinagra.

Following the sack, Laval forced a quick-strike play with nearly five minutes left in the first quarter to make the score 14–7 for Calgary.

In the second quarter, both teams earned field goals and Calgary maintained their lead. Rookie Niko DiFonte fired off a 43-yard field goal that brought the score to 17–10 at halftime.

DiFonte pounded out his second field goal of the night to give the Dinos a 10 point lead of 20–10 at the start of the third quarter. But fate caught up to the Dinos in the third. A game-changing sack on Sinagra caused the Dinos to lose possession of the ball and ultimately led to a Laval touchdown. With the score climbing for the Rouge et Or, the Dinos began to lose the last remnants of their early focus.

In the fourth, DiFonte kicked two more back-to-back field goals to earn the Dinos a slim 26–24 lead at the start of the fourth. Laval fought back, taking a 31–26 lead off a one-yard touchdown run with just 2:33 left in the game.

In the drama that followed, Calgary had two shots to get back into the end zone. The Dinos fought right to the bitter end, driving down the field to Laval’s 23-yard line but ultimately couldn’t convert on third and 10. The Vanier Cup went to Laval as the Dinos dropped, devastated, to their knees.

A dramatic image of third-year linebacker Iyanu Ojekale crumpled up on the ground after the game, unable to fight back tears, defined the heartbreak for the Dinos. As the  rain fell on Tim Hortons field, head coach Wayne Harris reiterated his immense satisfaction with the outstanding Dinos season.

“I have never been more proud of a team,” he said to his players in his last field address of the 2016 season.

And the Dinos do have a lot to be proud of this year. Earning not one but two defining victories over bitter rivals the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in two key moments of the season — Kickoff and the Hardy Cup — the Dinos fought their way to the Mitchell Bowl. In a season riddled with injuries, the team’s depth shone through with a series of rookies overperforming to fill the shoes of injured veterans. DiFonte was the unlikely star of the year, kicking for Dinos leads at key moments that won the team multiple victories on their path to the Vanier Cup.

The final score between Laval and Calgary was closer than it ever had been before. In the past two Vanier Cup appearances for Calgary — both of which took place against Laval — the Quebecois powerhouse decimated Calgary in a score of 25–14 in 2013, and 29–2 in 2010. This year’s score of 31–26 combined with Calgary’s early lead shows that the Western rivals are knocking on the door of Laval’s legacy. In the coming years, the Dinos will have a chance to challenge Laval for dominance in Canadian varsity sport — and that’s something that should make Laval very nervous.

For now, there’s still time to mourn a tough loss. But looking forward, this year’s Vanier Cup result shows that the Dinos football team is on a forward path towards dominance in Canadian football.

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