The Vanier Cup was in town, sitting on the sidelines, as the Bisons football program played its final regular season football game at University Stadium on Oct. 20. The Bisons have won the CIS National Championship three times during the stadium’s 45-year history, most recently in 2007.
It was fitting that on the very same day, the Bisons finally clinched a playoff berth for the first time since that undefeated championship season in 2007 with a thrilling 37-31 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds.
In the week leading up to this game, head coach Brian Dobie admitted that there was some uncertainty at quarterback, after Cam Clark was pulled at halftime during a devastating 44-39 loss against Saskatchewan. Clark got the start and enjoyed the spoils of a fantastic rushing performance by the Bison running backs.
Anthony Coombs led all Bison rushers with 177 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries, as the Bisons rushed for a team total of 296 yards and four touchdowns. Andrew Barry picked up two goal line touchdowns while Kienan LaFrance scored the other rushing touchdown.
Led by fifth-year quarterback Billy Greene, the Thunderbirds were completely shut down for most of the first half as the Bisons headed into the locker room at halftime with a commanding 30-4 lead. However, no lead has been safe for this year’s Bison squad.
Greene and the Thunderbirds offence would start their comeback with a 98-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. Things started to really unravel for the Bisons in the fourth, as Greene threw three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter that evaporated a 20-point lead and put the T-birds in the lead 31-30.
With less than eight minutes remaining in the game, the Bisons managed to rally for a touchdown to reclaim the lead, but a failed 2-point conversion left the door open for Greene to break the hearts of the Bison supporters in attendance.
Manitoba failed to put the game away after Bami Adewale intercepted Greene and returned the ball down to the UBC 10-yard line, which gave the Thunderbirds just under three minutes to drive the length of the field for the game winning points. The comeback would come up short, as the Bisons would force a turnover on downs and clinch a playoff berth.
With 12 fifth-year players never getting the opportunity to play in the post-season up until this year, to get there in the final year makes it all the more special.
“I’m not ready for this victory lap to be done,” fifth-year linebacker Thomas Hall said. Hall was redshirted during the 2007 season, but has since become one of the key team leaders, “You see it in our younger guys’ eyes, you see it in all the fifth-year guys. When we win, [the younger players] look in my eyes and say, ‘this one’s for you guys.’”
“Our team is rallying around it. We’ve got a great core group of fifth-years and then all those younger players making plays. I think we’re all finally starting to realize what it means to rally around that, be Bisons and win the games we’re supposed to win.”
The Bisons wrap up the regular season Oct. 27 on the road versus the Calgary Dinos, who clinched first place despite last week losing their first game of the season to the Huskies.