The last game

Last Saturday, the Bisons and Regina Rams competed in the last game to be played at University Stadium, a game that also had a playoff spot on the line. Both teams were battling hard for the last available playoff position in the Canada West conference. The Bisons came into the game with a 3-4 record, the Rams 2-5. With the Rams already holding the series tiebreaker between the two teams, the Rams would get the playoff spot if they won the game despite the two teams sharing the same record.

Bison head coach Brian Dobie dutifully summed up the various emotions surrounding the historic nature of the game, as he spoke about his personal connections to the stadium.

“Every Bison has a story to tell,” said Dobie. “I played there in the early ‘70’s and I’m now the head coach; I’ve been here a long time. We’ve always taken pride in being the poor kids on the block: The kids who didn’t have the nice facilities, the kids who just . . . fought, and we did it with pride.”

“That stadium is a big part of a lot of people’s lives“

Fifteen hundred football fans braved the cold, windy weather to cheer the two teams, including three members of the University of Manitoba’s faculty of engineering marching band — impressive dedication considering they had midterms starting the upcoming Monday.

“We showed up because the engineering band has got a rich history at this stadium, and since this is a last home game we figured we needed to be represented out here.”

Turnovers, which have plagued the Bison offence throughout the season, reared their ugly head early and throughout the game. Bisons QB Khaleal Williams threw four interceptions, including one on the first Bison drive of the game. With the wind working in their favour in the first quarter, Rams kicker Chris Bodnar scored the first point of the game with a 41-yard rouge for a 1-0 lead. The Rams played confidently for the remainder of the first quarter, capitalizing on Bison miscues and scoring 15 unanswered points — a lead the Bombers never fully recovered from.

The Rams quickly scored again in the second quarter with a five-play completion, capped off with a 13-yard pass from Zack Oleynik to Adrian Charles. The Bisons were able to complete two back-to-back scoring drives, as both Williams and Anthony Coombs smashed through the Rams offensive line for one-yard touchdown runs. The second quarter ended with a great 26-yard field goal from Nick Boyd as the Bisons came within five points of tying the game, heading into halftime with the score 22-17 in favour of the visitors.

A member of the University of Manitoba engineering band spoke optimistically about the Bisons chances at halftime: “Right now the Bisons are sandbagging and they are going to come back in the fourth quarter. We’re just making Regina think they are going to win and then we are going to just bury them.”

Unfortunately the prediction did not come true, as the third quarter saw no touchdowns from either side. Bodnar kicked three consecutive field goals from the 11, 35 and 43 to secure a 31-17 lead.

The fourth quarter was quite uneventful, Regina nursing their lead and conceding two safeties and a rouge as they held on for the 31-22 victory.

Despite an early fumble that was recovered for a TD, Coombs had an otherwise solid outing. With the Rams prepared to shut him down whenever he touched the ball, Coombs courageously broke through for a touchdown and managed to accumulate 92 combined yards through the air and on the ground. Bison WR Stu Schollaardt played a respectable game, as he fought through the Rams staunch defence for 62 yards on four catches.

In the locker-room, Bison defensive back Adam Mazowita commented on the game: “Everyone gave 100 per cent out there and in the end they played a little bit better, but we are really optimistic about next year. [ . . . ] We have a new stadium and new home with hopefully better results.”

As the individual with the most history with the stadium, coach Dobie was the best candidate to give the final word. “I honestly believe you usually get what you deserve in life. [ . . . ] We gave up too many sacks and we turned over the ball too much and we took too many penalties. Regina stepped up and took advantage of our mistakes.”

The loss ends the Bison season and provides a disappointing bookend in the history of the University Stadium. Fortunately, the future still looks bright for the Bison football program, as a team made up of young, promising players like Coombs move into a brand new stadium and look to grow on the experiences and lessons learned through a difficult 2011 season.