They’ve had a flair for the dramatic all season. And the University of Manitoba Bisons served up another nail-biting, heart-pounding, nerve-fraying dandy Friday night.
The Bisons needed every tick on the clock in knocking off the Saskatchewan Huskies 37-36 in arguably the best football game at Investors Group Field all season.
And in the process they’ve advanced to the Hardy Cup Final next weekend against either the University of Calgary Dinos, a perfect 8-0, or the UBC Thunderbirds, 4-4, who play today at McMahon Stadium.
The Bisons got three fourth-quarter touchdowns from slotback Nic Demski in rallying from a 36-24 deficit with less than 10 minutes to go to seal their first playoff win since 2007 and first over the Huskies since 1973 — head coach Brian Dobie was a receiver on that squad — to positively thrill the 2,242 in attendance.
"I’ve coached here just about two decades," said Dobie. "That’s not the Vanier Cup, that’s not the national semi, but I’ll tell you what — that was unquestionably one of the best wins in the 18 years I’ve been here and one of the big wins in the history of our program.
"That was ‘only’ the CanWest semifinal, but we fought hard to get here. We fought hard to host, to finish second, and we accomplished that. Homefield was an advantage today. What I said to our team is this team has an incredible amount of character. Saskatchewan scored 24 unanswered points on us tonight. Most teams in the country, not all, not the elite teams, fold at that point. That’s human nature.
"But as I said to our guys, Laval wouldn’t fold, Calgary wouldn’t fold, Western wouldn’t fold. Manitoba didn’t fold. Good teams are resilient and find a way."
Dobie had been 0-3 in the playoffs against Brian Towriss, his rival with the Huskies. The two clubs split the regular-season series, with the Huskies winning 36-34 here in Winnipeg and Manitoba sealing homefield advantage in the playoffs with a 33-26 victory in Saskatoon on the second-last week of the schedule.
Jordan Yantz shook off an iffy first half to throw for four TDs — the other to Andrew Smith — while Anthony Coombs rushed for one score for the Bisons. Yantz finished 23 of 36 with the four TDs against two picks.
But, even with Demski’s TD with 83 seconds left the game still had some life left as Huskies’ QB Drew Burko drove Saskatchewan into field-goal range in the dying seconds.
But Denton Kolodzinski’s would-be game-winning 44-yard field goal attempt barely left the ground and was blocked at the line of scrimmage.
"We just proved that we can’t quit on ourselves," said Yantz. "That’s how winners win. We fought all game. That’s 60 minutes of battle."
Demski, the Oak Park High School product, finished with seven receptions for 115 yards and the three scores.
"I was pretty down on myself in the first half because I wasn’t getting anything personally," said Demski. "I told Smitty (Andrew Smith) I just need to get hit hard and that happened in the second half and I woke up."
If the Dinos win against UBC today, the Bisons will travel to Calgary next Saturday. But if the T-Birds shock Calgary, the Bisons will be home again next weekend.