The U of M Bisons rounded out the regular season on a foggy Saturday afternoon with a 38-34 loss to the visiting UBC Thunderbirds.
The herd came into the game needing to win by 10 or more to avoid the University of Calgary Dinos in the first round of the Hardy Cup playoffs. Instead they blew an 18 point lead and will face the undefeated Dinos next weekend.
“My fear, I think, was that we would be thinking about ‘We have to win this game, we have to win it by 10,’” Bisons head coach Brian Dobie said post-game.
“So the theme was about the first quarter, the theme was ‘Come out of the gates hard, come out of the gates fast, win your early reps, be physical, run, fly around, don’t take a penalty, be smart,’ like all the things ideally you want a team to [do].”
The herd started the game strong, forcing a punt on UBC’s first drive of the game with a sack by Kent Hicks. Manitoba charged down the field and backup quarterback Jamie Ybarra found Dylan Schrot in the end zone with an 11-yard pass, for an early 7-0 Manitoba lead in the first quarter.
Ybarra got the call late Friday, when starting quarterback Des Catellier was deemed unable to play. Catellier was injured during Manitoba’s 27-4 loss in Saskatoon on Oct. 20.
“I felt great all week, coaches were kind of being encouraging with me,” Ybarra said postgame.
“I found out pretty much yesterday that I’d be getting the start today so […] felt I was prepared and coaches and everything, the guys around me made sure I was in a position to […] succeed.”
On the next UBC drive, the Thunderbirds got all the way down to the Manitoba one-yard line. In a controversial moment, Shae Weekes forced a fumble but the referees ruled the play a tackle, setting up a Trey Kellogg one-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7.
Manitoba responded two plays later as Schrot broke a tackle and went on a 66-yard run. Jesse Walker punched in a short-yardage play to get the first down, Manitoba inched up the field and Walker rumbled in for the score to end the first quarter up 14-7.
The herd extended the lead early in the second quarter. Ybarra handed off to Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette and he ran wide and right, breaking the plane at the goal line for a touchdown.
Brad Mikoluff added the convert and Manitoba was up 21-7.
Shai Ross helped push the lead even further, catching a tricky pass at the back of the end zone for the score. The Thunderbirds picked up a pair of field goals and Mikoluff had one, sending the clubs into halftime with Manitoba ahead 31-13.
But Manitoba let the lead slip away in the second half.
In the third quarter, UBC cut the Bisons lead down to 31-20 with a Trivel Pinto touchdown and Greg Hutchins convert. Hutchins added another field goal late in the quarter, bringing the Thunderbirds within eight at 31-23.
The Thunderbirds got even closer in the fourth quarter, as Pinto snagged his second touchdown of the day. Ben Cummings charged into the end zone for the two-point convert and suddenly Manitoba’s lead was gone.
The two sides could not break through for the win and the game went to overtime.
In the extra frame, Mikoluff gave the herd the advantage lead with a massive 50-yard field goal.
“Coach kept asking a couple times, ‘Do you think you got it’ and I kept saying ‘Yes’,” Mikoluff said.
“And I kept walking on the field, they kept calling me back and walking out and, just went in there knowing the guys in front of me were gonna do their job. So just went in there just focused in there really well.”
However, UBC took the game with a Cummings touchdown to win 38-34.
With the loss, the herd will take on the undefeated University of Calgary Dinos in the first round of the Hardy Cup playoffs. Calgary won the only game between the clubs this season by a 34-16 score.
“Let’s go, let’s pull off the biggest upset in the nation,” Dobie said.
“We can do it, because yeah we have been that close […] well we’re that close, let’s just take the final step and that would be the game of your life.”
The Bisons will take on the Dinos in round one of the Hardy Cup playoffs, Nov. 3 at 12:00 p.m. MDT in Calgary.