Herd suf­fers thrill-a-minute loss

Bisons, T-birds com­bine for 99-point barn­burner

SundayXtra - - FOOTBALL - By Melissa Martin

SOME­HOW, when it was over, the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba Bisons had at least in­jected some thrill into a football game that never seemed like it should end in their favour.

They lost, to be clear. On a balmy night at In­vestors Group Field, the Bisons fell 51- 48 to UBC, leav­ing them 1-2 on the sea­son and win­less at home.

Still, it was a night in which Bisons pivot Theo Deezar broke the team’s pass­ing record, and dragged the whole team up the score­board with him. A night in which the air game ruled, some hot guns scored, and just a sin­gle lucky break in the dy­ing minute would have stolen the Bisons the game.

On the other hand, there was the slew of ill-timed penal­ties that had head coach Brian Do­bie breath­ing fire in the locker-room at the break. There were the two missed field goals, the blocked ex­tra point, and the back-break­ing kick­off re­turn UBC’s Trivel Pinto de­liv­ered 103 yards to Man­i­toba’s door. Above all else, there was the well-man­aged op­po­si­tion, led by a savvy young UBC pivot freshly trans­ferred from the NCAA, that the Bisons had their hands full try­ing to con­tain.

It was a night, in short, in which the home side hung with the Thun­der­birds as much through will as by pre­ci­sion. A night in which they scored first, slumped to a 41-20 deficit mid­way through the third quar­ter, then some­how closed the gap to “al­most, so close.” That’s young teams for you though; at least they want it.

“The proof is in the pud­ding,” Do­bie said. “We are not there yet. We have a lot of fight, but we’re not there yet. We need to work to get bet­ter, and what they have to take away is this: they can’t look at the record. No­body’s made the play­offs yet... and ev­ery quar­ter is so im­por­tant in ev­ery game.”

The Herd did squelch the visi­tors early, push­ing the Thun­der­birds’ first drive flat and snuff­ing the sec­ond with a sack. In be­tween, Deezar had gone to work: in just his sec­ond play from scrim­mage, Deezar threw an el­e­gant pass to rookie re­ceiver Jesse Walker, a 45-yard touch­down snag to open the scor­ing.

That would set the tone for a game that would be fought largely through the air. Not that Deezar knew it would turn out that way, at the time.

In fact, the Bisons planned to lean on the run game, where they have a stock­pile of ex­plo­sive tal­ent. But it never re­ally caught on fire. So they switched it up.

By the time the game was done, Deezar had thrown for four ma­jors, and his 519 yards soared high over the Bisons record of 450 set by Jor­dan Yantz two years ago. He didn’t know, un­til af­ter.

“I’d take the win over that any day,” Deezar said. “It’s just the way we were call­ing the game. It’s for­tu­nate we were able to put up that many points on the board, but un­for­tu­nate it wasn’t enough.”

That’s be­cause af­ter the first quar­ter — one in which UBC man­aged just 37 yards, to Man­i­toba’s 104 — Thun­der­birds pivot Michael O’Con­nor lived up to his hype.

The first-year quar­ter­back, a re­cent Penn State trans­fer, started dic­ing up the Bisons’ de­fence in the sec­ond quar­ter. He con­nected with eight strikes over that span, and two ended up in Man­i­toba’s end zone. It was just the be­gin­ning: he wound up go­ing 26-for-38 for 398 yards and four touch­downs.

No mat­ter what the Bisons did, it looked as if the Thun­der­birds would just keep on tak­ing flight. For in­stance, af­ter Ryan Jones hoofed a 31-yard field goal late in the sec­ond, UBC re­turner Pinto snagged the en­su­ing kick­off and busted it 103 yards down­field for that spec­tac­u­lar scor­ing re­turn, and a 20-10 UBC lead.

The Thun­der­birds opened the sec­ond half with a clever on­side kick, one which they re­cov­ered. (Do­bie later called the play “ag­gres­sive, con­fi­dent and gutsy on (UBC) coach Blake Nill’s part, and it was ex­tremely well ex­e­cuted.”)

On the first drive of the sec­ond half, O’Con­nor threaded two quick passes to help bring his team to the Bisons’ 21-yard line. On the third play in that drive, run­ning back Bran­don Deschamps slipped into open space and sprinted un­har­ried into the end zone.

In the end, the dif­fer­ence was just a cou­ple of field goals. UBC’s Quin van Gyl­swyk put away three; the Bisons’ Jones notched two, and missed two from 42 yards.

The Bisons go on the road to Ed­mon­ton Fri­day, where they’ll face the Al­berta Golden Bears.

TREVOR HA­GAN / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Man­i­toba’s Jamel Lyles (28) is brought down by UBC de­fender Dante Vig­ini dur­ing first-half ac­tion Satur­day night.

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