VANCOUVER - In front of a national television audience on Global, the UBC Thunderbirds didn’t disappoint in their first Canada West football home playoff game in four seasons.
A rain-soaked crowd at Thunderbird Stadium watched as the T-Birds picked apart the defending Hardy Cup champion Manitoba Bisons to the tune of 52-10 to advance to the 79th Hardy Cup next weekend.
In the other Canada West semifinal Saturday, the No. 1-ranked University of Calgary Dinos had a tougher time downing the pesky Saskatchewan Huskies, who battled the Dinos before eventually falling 37-29.
The results add up to a matchup made in storyline heaven, as head coach Blake Nill takes his T-Birds into McMahon Stadium on Saturday, November 14 to face his former team with the conference title on the line.
“They’re veterans, they’re good athletes and physically mature,” Nill said of his former squad, which won six of the last seven Hardy Cups before Nill’s departure for UBC in the offseason. “It’s going to be a real challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.”
UBC and Calgary’s matchup in the Hardy Cup marks the second meeting between the two programs this season, after the Dinos took care of business in the season opener back on September 4 with a 49-16 victory at home.
“I’ve always said that in order to be the best, you have to beat the best and compete against the best. Calgary is the best team in the country,” Nill pointed out.
“They’re ranked No. 1 for the simple reason that they’re strong in almost every position.”
Calgary, for their part have not minced words regarding the shift in culture that occurred this season under new head coach Wayne Harris, who stands in stark contrast to the fiery and vocal Nill.
“He’s very different from our last coach. His style is so much more … empowering, I guess is the best word,” Dinos quarterback Andrew Buckley told the Calgary Herald earlier this week.
“He instils so much confidence in everyone. On the bench during games, he’s always got that quiet, calm, confident look on his face. You can tell he believes in what we’re doing, that whatever circumstances we’re facing, we can get it done.”
“That’s the vibe he gives off.
“As a player, if you’re down 10 points, you look at him and seeing he’s calm it’s reassuring that you’re not panicking from the top down.”
Harris’ calm demeanour paid off Saturday, as the Dinos emerged victorious after trailing the Huskies 16-8 at the half in Calgary’s first real taste of adversity all season long.
The Dinos dominated Canada West during the regular season, going 8-0 with an average margin of victory just north of 40 points.
Calgary, who took their first lead of the game with a 24-yard Mercer Timmis TD run with 10:10 left in the fourth quarter, were heavy favourites in the contest, but came out flat against a Saskatchewan team that squeaked into the playoffs at 3-5.
While the Dinos didn’t bring their best to the table against the Huskies, count Manitoba head coach Brian Dobie among those expecting a much better performance from Calgary in the Hardy Cup.
“If I had to put money on it, how do you not put it on the No. 1 team in the nation that’s had an incredible year. On paper, they should win it,” Dobie said.
“With coach Nill bringing his UBC Thunderbirds back in there, I’m sure Calgary will work their butts off to be prepared, because they know what’s coming.”
The 79th Hardy Cup goes Saturday, November 14 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary. Kickoff for the game, which will be televised live coast-to-coast on Global Television, is set for 12 PM MT (11 AM PT).