The University of Calgary Dinos know what’s headed their way; a Rouge et Or storm front ready to beat down on them just like it did last November in Quebec City.
Quarterback Eric Dzwilewski remembers what that felt like, standing on the sidelines, watching his Calgary teammates getting pelted before jumping into the fray and getting a personal taste of defeat – in the Vanier Cup championship game, no less.
But Friday’s Mitchell Bowl match-up between top-ranked Laval and No. 2-ranked Calgary has some different twists, enough to convince the Dinos they can weather their Eastern foes.
For starters, Laval lost a game during the CIS football season. (That brings its total to just five losses over nine seasons.) More important, Laval has to make the cross-country trip to Calgary to play in Friday’s game at McMahon Stadium. (The 2010 Vanier Cup was played at Laval with the home team scoring a 29-2 decision over Calgary.)
“First of all, it was a great experience,” Dzwilewski said of the Dinos’ Vanier Cup venture. “To see the atmosphere, to get game experience, that’s crucial. It was very hard watching the game result but now we’re getting them at our house. I’m not calling it revenge, it’s … awesome. I’m happy we get another shot at them.”
For the Dinos to get to next week’s Vanier Cup game at B.C. Place, they’ll have to go through the six-time national champions on what is expected to be a wintry night at McMahon. That Calgary is even in a position to challenge is a tribute to the guiding hand of head coach Blake Nill, who wasn’t sure how his team would perform when the season kicked off.
Gone from the lineup were 12 players who had started in the 2010 Vanier Cup. Quarterback Erik Glavic graduated. Four players (offensive linemen Alex Krausnick-Groh, Paul Swiston and receivers Anthony Parker, Nate Coehoorn) were selected in the CFL’s Canadian draft and stuck with their pro teams. All four had CIS eligibility remaining.
“I knew the guys coming in, the ones we felt could fill those voids, were quality kids,” said Nill, who has won better than .700 per cent of his games over six seasons. “At the same time, they were relatively inexperienced. I think we were fortunate to win our first two games [against Manitoba and UBC] We were able to win on the last drive of both those games. We could have been 0-2 but we started to build a quiet confidence.”
It helped that the Dinos returned three of five starters along the offensive line along with running backs Steven Lumbala and Matt Walker. A productive ground game allowed Dzwilewski to find his way as the No. 1 quarterback. It all came together last week as the Boise, Idaho native passed for one touchdown and ran for four leading Calgary to a 62-13 bludgeoning of UBC. The victory gave the Dinos a fourth consecutive Canada West title.
“When Eric came back [for the 2011 season]he was in relatively good shape. His frame of mind was good and he continued to improve,” Nill said of his 19-year-old quarterback. “He’s got boat loads of talent. But I think there’s more to come.”
The Dinos insist they know what they’ll get from Laval – a relentless offence backed by a big, punishing defence. According to Nill, the benefit of having played Laval in each of the past two postseasons is that the “wow” factor has dissipated. Calgary knows what it’s in for – a step up in competition.
The young quarterback is fine with that.
“Definitely, we wanted to play Laval,” Dzwilewski said. “This is the cliché I’ve been telling myself all week: to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. We’re coming for them.”