It was an opportunity for Manitoba to move into a tie for second place and all but secure a playoff spot. Instead, a dramatic 28–24 loss to the UBC Thunderbirds in the final home game of the 2013 regular season has dropped the Bisons to 3-3. The Bisons are in jeopardy of finishing with a losing record for the sixth season in a row since the perfect season and Vanier Cup victory of 2007.
In week three, the Bisons completed a wild comeback in the fourth quarter over the Thunderbirds on the road. UBC entered this past weekend’s game just one win back from the Bisons in the standings, looking for redemption.
Both teams were sluggish to start the game. Nick Boyd opened scoring with a 32-yard field goal. Boyd had missed on a 40-yard field goal attempt on the Bisons’ opening drive of the game.
UBC took over in the second quarter. Carson Williams came in at quarterback for the Thunderbirds and connected with David Scott on a 58-yard passing play. Greg Bowcott came in for a third-and-one from the Bison two-yard line, driving his way into the end zone. A Bison two-and-out led to UBC scoring a punting rouge on their next possession, making it 8–3 for the visitors.
It was a tough quarter for the Bison offence. Of the seven drives in the second, five ended with a Boyd punt after a two-and-out. QB Jordan Yantz was sacked and stripped of the ball on another. The turnover led to a UBC touchdown. UBC also hit a field goal. It was 18-3 for UBC heading into halftime.
The Bisons needed a big play to get them back in the game, and it came early in the third quarter. After an illegal kickoff gave the Thunderbirds the ball at the UBC 40, Bami Adewale forced a Bowcott fumble, which DJ Lalama returned 50 yards for the Bison touchdown. The score cut the Thunderbirds’ lead to 18–10 and brought the announced crowd of 1,457 to their feet.
The game came to a grinding halt on the Bisons’ next offensive drive. After Yantz connected with Nic Demski on a 24-yard pass to the UBC 3-yard line, defensive back Miguel Barker came in to make a tackle. Barker removed his helmet after the hit, clearly in a lot of pain. He was taken off the field by stretcher as a precaution.
Once the game had resumed, Kienan LaFrance punched the ball in to make the score 18–17.
Things went awry for the Bisons in the final minute of the third. A Thunderbird punt hit return man Matt Sawyer in the shoulder, bouncing its way into the arms of the UBC cover team. The gaffe gave the Thunderbirds great field position and resulted in a field goal. UBC led 21–17 heading into the fourth.
The ground game started to work for the Bisons early in the final quarter. Anthony Coombs ripped off a 41-yard run. A pair of Yantz rushes set up a five-yard pass to Coombs that put the Bisons back in front. The score tied Coombs’ personal season touchdown record (nine, which he reached in 2011 and 2012) and tied him with Matt Henry for second most career touchdowns in Bison history.
The lead was short lived. Williams found Micha Theil with a 15-yard touchdown pass to the back of the end zone.
The Bisons were desperate to respond, but the UBC front seven mounted incredible pressure on Yantz and the offensive line. The Thunderbirds sacked Yantz four times in the final 10 minutes, including a crucial loss of yards on the Bisons’ final drive of the game.
Getting the ball back with two minutes left, the Bisons started their drive from their own 44. On the first play, UBC nose tackle Donovan Dale sacked Yantz. An 18-yard run by Yantz set up a key third-and-one around mid-field. LaFrance muscled his way through and earned a new set of downs, and one last chance for a comeback. Yantz completed a 20-yard pass to Nic Demski, who went out of bounds at the 35-yard line, and pass interference on the next play gave the Bisons a first down at the UBC 20.
With nothing to show on the first two downs, it all came down to the pivotal final play for the Bisons. With Coombs running a wheel route, the offensive line made time for Yantz, who threw a perfect pass into the end zone. Coombs looked to have caught the ball in the back of the end zone, but Riley Jones slapped the ball out of his hands at the last possible moment.
“Unfortunately I was turned around when I caught the ball,” said Coombs, after the game. “He got a good angle to swipe it.”
“I lost my focus for one second and he made a great play,” said Coombs.
While the dropped pass seems like the most obvious reason the Bisons lost the game, the players and coaches know better.
“To be honest, I thought it was our poorest game of the season,” said head coach Brian Dobie.
“We didn’t lose the game on the last play,” said fourth-year defensive lineman Lauren Kroeker. “If you went [into the locker room] and talked to every single guy, they could name you three different plays they got beat on.”
With the loss, the Bisons (3-3) are now tied with UBC for third in Canada West heading into the conference bye. With games remaining against Saskatchewan (4-2) and Alberta (0-6), dreams of a home playoff game remain – but only if the Bisons win out.