The University of Manitoba Bisons football team is on its way to the playoffs.
It’s the first playoff appearance for the Bisons since 2007, when they won the Vanier Cup. The Bisons will travel to Calgary for the Canada West semifinal on Nov. 3, a rematch of last Saturday’s wild regular-season finale, which Manitoba lost 78-54.
The Bisons earned their spot in the post-season with a 37-31 win against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Oct. 20. Last year the team was in the same position and failed to clinch their playoff berth.
Evan Gill, a third year player for the Bisons, could not be happier.
"It’s huge," said the Windsor Park resident. "It’s been five years now since we made any kind of playoff push. Last year we had an opportunity to clinch and we fell short so being able to pull through this year is just huge for us."
Gill spent the early part of the season adjusting to playing a new position after switching from defensive end to defensive tackle. While many players wouldn’t like to switch positions at the start of a season, Gill said he’s pleased with the coaches’ decision. At 6-foot-4, he feels the new position allows him to use his size more to his advantage.
"The decision to change me to defensive tackle was just a more fitting move for both myself and the team," he said. "They wanted to move me there because it just works better with my abilities and it’ll help set me up for a higher level in the long run, and it’s been a pretty good year so far."
Although Gill wasn’t on the team back in 2007, he was still around for the Bisons’ last trip to the Vanier Cup. Gill’s grandfather, Pat, was the team’s equipment manager for 44 years.
Pat’s passing last year has given Gill and his teammates the extra push they needed to get to playoffs this season. As third-year linebacker Thomas Miles says, they’re not just doing it for themselves; they’re doing it for Pat.
"Forty-four years with a team is a pretty long time," Miles said. "He was a huge part of this club. I think Pat would be proud and I also think Pat would expect us to be here because Pat knows his football and he knows we’re a good team."
Gill and Miles spent many years playing football together before their time with the Bisons. They were high school teammates for the Churchill Bulldogs, winning the ANAVETS Bowl in 2008. Although they were only in Grade 11, they had a taste of victory that they would like to experience again this year.
"It’s very important for the program to get back to its winning ways," Miles said. "I think now we’re getting over that hill and we’re on our way to becoming a successful football club."
The Bisons and the Dinos will be televised on Shaw TV at 6 p.m. on Nov. 3.