The University of Manitoba Bisons football team didn’t end 2015 quite the way they wanted – falling in the conference semi-final. There were, however, a number of bright spots during the season. Below are the Manitoban’s top 10 stories and moments from this year’s campaign.
- Dyck and Dyce record first CIS touchdown receptions
After redshirting in 2014, wideouts Trysten Dyce and Anthony Dyck both got their chance to perform in all eight regular season games this year. Dyck started every game on one side, notching eight receptions for 139 yards, while Dyce saw considerable time opposite him, hauling in 12 passes for 170 yards.
Both players also had one touchdown reception – hopefully the first of many for the up-and-coming pass catchers.
Dyck’s first career major was a 29-yard grab in a week 4 away game against Alberta, while Dyce’s was an eight-yard reception on the road versus Regina – a game that his father Bobby, the interim head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was at.
- Turner impresses in debut
Christian Turner – a former linebacker with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks who was converted to defensive end upon transferring to Manitoba in 2014 – spent most of this past season as a backup. When starter Braden McCarthy went down in game six against Regina however, Turner stepped up.
His first start was the following week against Alberta, and the brother of current CFL defensive lineman Junior Turner was nothing short of spectacular, amassing 10 total tackles to go with 2.5 sacks, including a play where he chased Alberta pivot Ben Kopczynski down from halfway across the field.
Turner displayed a high motor and was Manitoba’s best pass rusher against the Golden Bears. He finished the regular season with 21 tackles, 14 of which took place at the end the year.
- Fox trucks Dinos defender
Former Calgary Colts running back Cameron Fox was a valuable piece of the Bisons’ “three-headed monster” in the backfield this season. Frequently used in goal-line situations, Fox finished the season with 34 carries for 120 yards and three touchdowns.
It was one of Fox’s six receptions on the year that got him onto this list, though.
In Manitoba’s home debut against the Calgary Dinos in week 2, Fox took a routine pitch at the line of scrimmage and absolutely bulldozed a Calgary defender when it appeared he would be stuffed for a short gain.
Fox lowered his shoulder, causing the Calgary linebacker’s helmet to go flying. Fifty-one yards later, he had set the home squad up with tremendous field position. The hit was hands down the largest all year on either side of the ball.
- Fong gets first interception of season in style
After falling 156 feet down a Vancouver Island waterfall this past May, it was somewhat shocking that Bisons safety Tyler Fong was able to play at all this season. Despite sustaining a broken rib and punctured lung, Fong was back better than ever at training camp in August and started the regular season in impressive fashion just a few weeks later.
With the ball at Manitoba’s four-yard line, Fong stepped up from his safety position to record a diving interception on a pass thrown by Saskatchewan quarterback Drew Burko. It was the first pick of the year for the Bisons in a game that they would go on to win after trailing 13-7 early on.
- Barry runs through Golden Bears
Another player who showed inspiring resilience in 2015 was fullback Andrew Barry. He tore his ACL in the season opener one year prior, requiring reconstructive surgery. Barry was originally told that he wouldn’t play football again, but he proved that assumption wrong, starting in all eight regular season games this year.
Traditionally used as a lead blocker and goal-line back, Barry saw his workload increase in the herd’s final home game of the season against Alberta. The hulking 235-pounder put up a season-high 13 carries for 82 yards and a major in the game, en route to a 29-7 win.
- Walker executes wildcat formation to perfection
Entering the 2015 season, the Bisons had fairly large shoes to fill due to the departure of versatile slotback Nic Demski to the CFL. The worry about finding an adequate replacement for Demski was quickly erased when rookie Jesse Walker stepped on the field for training camp.
The Mission, B.C. product stepped into the vacant starting slotback position early on, and didn’t relinquish his duties all year, recording 533 receiving yards and four touchdowns, along with 121 rushing yards and a major.
While the bulk of Walker’s rushing yards occurred on jet sweeps, his only rushing touchdown occurred in the wildcat formation in week 6 against Regina.
Trailing 8-7 with five minutes to play in the first quarter, Walker lined up behind centre in the shotgun formation and took the direct snap 37 yards to the house – evading several Rams defenders near the sidelines in the process.
The Bisons would go on to win the game 49-46.
- Lyles opens game with kick return touchdown
While Walker was an immediate playmaker from day one, fellow rookie Jamel Lyles did him one better – becoming an immediate game-changer.
The Surrey, B.C. native was dynamic in all facets of the game as he led the conference with 1,564 all-purpose yards and was named Canada West Rookie of the Year.
One of Lyles’s more memorable plays took place against Calgary in week two. Battling against the team that was considered the best in the nation, Manitoba knew they would need a quick start. Lyles gave the herd exactly that, taking the opening kickoff 107 yards to paydirt.
While the Bisons didn’t end up winning the game, they were the only team to go toe-to-toe with the Dinos in a competitive matchup all season. The final score was 46-38.
- Martens wins CIS debut
In his second year of eligibility and third with the team, backup quarterback Foster Martens saw his first action as starter in week seven against Alberta. Stepping up for injured captain Theo Deezar – who went down with a concussion the week prior – Martens managed the game perfectly, going 13-of-20 for 165 yards with no interceptions.
The quarterback hailing from Steinbach has shown tremendous growth during his three years with the herd, and the victory over the Golden Bears was the culmination of his commitment and hard work with the squad.
- Ihanza scores game winner on first career CIS catch
It’s not often that your first career CIS catch is a touchdown, but for Lerenzo Ihanza, that’s exactly what happened. Trailing 28-24 to Saskatchewan in the regular season opener, Ihanza, a backup slotback, got into the game due to a small injury to Alex Vitt.
While he was only in the game for one play, it made all the difference in the world.
Just over a minute into the fourth quarter, Deezar hucked a ball from the midfield stripe that had no business being caught by any Bisons receiver. It fell in and out of the hands of two waiting Huskies defenders and into the outstretched arms of Ihanza, who went 58 yards for the game winner.
While the rookie only had one other grab all season, he can lay claim to arguably the most memorable first-career catch in team history.
- Deezar breaks team passing record
Theo Deezar had the game of his life in week three against the UBC Thunderbirds, throwing for a Bisons record 519 yards and four touchdowns. While the herd didn’t end up winning the game, it was still an exciting contest to be present for with both offences lighting up the field for over 1,000 yards overall.
Deezar finished the regular season with 2,385 passing yards and was a thrill to watch all year. He still has a few seasons left with the team and if he can keep his 2015 pace up, should have a good chance of eclipsing a few more Bison passing records.