Dinos stun No. 1 Western, end Mustangs’ season

CALGARY – The third-ranked University of Calgary Dinos held the top offense in the nation to just three points, capturing Saturday’s CIS Mitchell Bowl with a 44-3 victory over the No. 1 Western Mustangs in a national semi-final stunner at McMahon Stadium.

Facing the Mustangs juggernaut that rolled through the Ontario conference with an average of 57.2 points per game, 647.8 yards of total offense and 422 passing yards, the Dinos needed an all-out effort in all phases of the game and dominated Western, which managed just a single field goal and 256 yards of offence on the snowy turf in Calgary.

The Dinos (11-0) will face the host, No. 2-ranked Laval Rouge et Or (11-0) in next Saturday’s Vanier Cup at TELUS-UL Stadium in Quebec City. Kickoff goes at 1 p.m. on Sportsnet 360 and Radio-Canada.

“This is in the top two or three of my career,” said Calgary head coach Blake Nill, who takes his youthful charges to the Vanier Cup for the third time in five years. “This is so special right now, because these kids really haven’t proven anything prior to coming here, they don’t understand what they just accomplished, it’s really just been a terrific year up to this point.”

In the battle between the Hec Crighton nominees from Canada West and the OUA in Calgary running back Mercer Timmis and Western pivot Will Finch, Timmis had the upper hand, picking up yet another 100-yard game to finish with 139 yards on 16 carries, including a 41-yard touchdown romp early in the fourth quarter.

Finch, on the other hand, was hassled relentlessly by a physical Calgary defense and was injured in the opening half, favouring his hip throughout the game. After being helped to the dressing room in the late stages of the second quarter, he reappeared in the third at the controls for Western but couldn’t get the passing game together, completing just nine of 20 passes for 105 yards and an interception. His replacement, Blake Huggins, fared little better, going 1-for-11 for 1 yard and one pick.

“It’s one of those games where everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” said Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall. “It started with Will right off the get-go; he kind of pulled that hip and he wasn’t the same. They gave it to us on special teams, they gave it to us on defense and we dropped the ball. Sometimes when things go sideways like that it’s hard to get it back on the rails. Credit to Calgary, they did a great job – a great job on special teams, they had a good offensive game plan, they threw the play action well.”

Calgary’s special teams were a huge difference in the game, producing a punt return touchdown, a blocked field goal and a pair of fake punts to keep drives alive. They also benefitted from eight Western turnovers on the afternoon.

The Dinos jumped out to the early lead in the first quarter thanks to a Johnny Mark field goal after Calgary picked up a Western fumble on the Dinos’ first punt of the game – a sign of things to come. The Dinos followed with a six-play, 81-yard drive that was capped off by a 15-yard TD pass from Andrew Buckley to Brett Blaszko, then got a spectacular 80-yard punt return touchdown from Canada West rookie of the year Rashaun Simonise to take a 17-0 lead just 10 minutes into the game.

After the teams traded field goals in the second quarter, Calgary took a 20-3 lead into the halftime break.

Jake Harty capped off an 11-play, 80-yard drive midway through the third quarter for Calgary with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Buckley to make it 27-3. Then, early in the fourth, Calgary capitalized on another Western turnover. After the Mustangs gambled on third-and-10 on their own 41-yard line, the Dinos took over – and one play later, Timmis was in the end zone with yet another score in what continues to be a remarkable season for the sophomore from Burlington, Ont.

The Dinos added 10 more points in the fourth quarter to close out the game: a 71-yard interception return major by Canada West defensive MVP Doctor Cassama, followed by another Johnny Mark field goal.

Western turned over the ball eight times in the contest: four fumbles, two interceptions and twice on downs. Yannick Harou’s 17-carry, 87-yard performance was tops for the Mustangs along the ground, while Brian Marshall was Western’s top receiver with three catches for 45 yards.

Calgary was led by Timmis’ 139-yard rushing effort, with backup Cuong Thai Lieu getting into the act with 93 yards on 12 carries of his own. Buckley had an efficient day , completing 18 of 27 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, finding Harty seven times for 79 yards while senior slotback Chris Dobko hauled in five catches for 80 yards.

Rookie linebacker Brad Friesen was the top defensive player for the Dinos with eight total tackles, while Pawel Kruba led Western with a seven-tackle outing.