SPORTS

Manitoba and Calgary square off in 1 of 3 CIS regional finals Saturday

11/13/2014 12:35 EST | Updated 01/13/2015 05:59 EST
One team had a near-perfect season, the other played .500 football, but the outcome of Saturday's Hardy Cup game is far from an easy call as the Canada West-leading Calgary Dinos face the University of Manitoba Bisons.

It's one of three CIS regional championships Saturday.

In the others, the Montreal Carabins face Laval Rouge et Or for the RSEQ Dunsmore Cup and the Guelph Gryphons and McMaster Marauders square off for the OUA Yates Cup. In Atlantic Canada, the Mount Allison Mounties have already claimed the AUS Loney Bowl.

The Bisons, at 4-4 this season, would seem long odds against the Dinos, who finished at 6-2 but were really 7-1 on the field. They had to forfeit their first game, a 71-3 rout of Alberta, due to ineligible players.

But that one loss Calgary suffered was their last game of the season at the hands of the Bisons (who won 50-31 at home to split their two-game series) and Manitoba head coach Brian Dobie said they don't feel like underdogs.

"It's always nice to be able to play the underdog card and us against the world and the little engine that could," he said. "Not now."

Even in their first game in September, Manitoba was tough to handle as the Dinos squeaked by 42-41 at McMahon Stadium.

Dobie said Calgary is still the team to beat in the West but the Bisons are going in with a little confidence.

"Absolutely respecting Calgary but knowing that we're a real good football team too," he said.

Dinos coach Blake Nill isn't taking anything for granted either and said he knew the Bisons were good when polled before the season.

"The Bisons were my choice as the team to . . . finish atop Canada West," he said.

What kept that from happening was an abysmal record on the road. The Bisons couldn't lose at home and couldn't win, not even once, any place else during the regular season.

"I won't even call it a road jinx, I don't know what I'd call it," said Dobie, who snapped the unnameable skid with a 47-39 come-from-behind win over the Huskies in Saskatoon to get to this final.

He has to hope the magic lingers when they visit Calgary on Saturday.

Both coaches have had to cope with a lot of injuries, but that too is nothing new.

"We're stretched, I think most teams are at this point of the year," said Nill, who has helped turn the Dinos into a dynasty in Canada West with six straight Hardy wins, including last year's 43-28 victory over the Bisons.

"More than anything I believe it's the culture of the program," he said of the reason for their success. "We approach the running of the program with a certain philosophical point of view, we recruit with that point of view and the kids come into the program with that in front of them."

"We've been fortunate to bring in the kind of athletes that fit that model."

The Bisons and Dinos will be playing winter football, it appears.

"Last night we had five footballs pop during practice," Nill said this week after sub-zero weather locked itself over the southern Alberta city.

"It tells you that it's playoff time."

Heading east, No. 2-ranked Montreal is making its second straight appearance in the RSEQ final and sixth since 2002.

But once again they face powerhouse Laval, tops in the CIS rankings all season and making their 12th consecutive bid to represent Quebec after a 74-18 rout of Concordia.

Laval has dominated CIS football in recent years with a record eight Vanier Cups, is coming off back-to-back wins in 2012 and 2013 and has won six in the last 10 years. They've also won 11 straight Dunsmore Cups.

Montreal and Laval met twice this season and split for their only losses, both finishing 7-1.

McMaster won the Vanier Cup in 2011 and made it back to the final in 2012, only to lose to Laval. Guelph hasn't managed to win the Yates Cup and get out of Ontario since 1996.

Both teams finished the regular season at 7-1 but the Gryphons lost their only game at the start, to the Marauders, while McMaster dropped their last in Ottawa and had to come back and beat the Gee Gees 42-31 in a semifinal to advance. The Yates Cup game is being played in Hamilton.

The CIS semfinals are set for Nov. 22 and the Vanier Cup will be played Nov. 29 in Montreal.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said in the 14th paragraph that the Dinos and Bisons meet Sunday instead of Saturday.

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