For an instant, Anthony Coombs held a University of Manitoba Bisons victory in his hands, long enough to hear the crowd roar and see teammates on the sidelines leap to their feet. But the comeback wasn't quite to be, as the Bisons football squad fell 28-24 on Saturday to their visitors from B.C.
It was just a little mistake, the running back said later. When he hauled down the end-zone pass from quarterback Jordan Yantz, he was so caught up in the thrill of winning the game that he didn't secure the ball against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds linebacker Riley Jones. Jones smacked his hand into the ball, and Coombs felt it tumble to the ground. Pass incomplete, UBC still with the lead, 20 seconds left to play. Game over.
For a few long heartbeats, Coombs lay on the ground in disbelief, before his teammates reached their hands down to pull him to his feet.
"I lost my focus for one second, and he made a great play," Coombs said after the game, speaking softly before media. "I couldn't believe that happened on such a silly mistake. For some reason, I thought he was just going to let me score, and that was gonna be that."
With the loss, the Bisons fell to 3-3 on the season, and go into their bye week knowing they'll have to battle their final two games to figure in to the Canada West playoff race. They had hoped to seal this one to give them a stronger shot at getting one more home game at Investors Group Field, a playoff one this time. "It feels miles further than what it was before," Coombs said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us."
But a loss is never on just one play, it's always about what happens before. The Bisons dug their own hole with a sluggish start, as they struggled to keep drives alive and rarely managed to connect. They did pop a field goal in the first quarter to open scoring -- set up by a determined 52-yard punt-return dash by receiver Nic Demski -- but generated little else against the Thunderbirds through the first 30 minutes of play.
Yeah, that wasn't great. The teams went into the half with the Bisons trailing 18-3.
"It was very disappointing in how we came out of the gate today," Bisons coach Brian Dobie said. "To be honest with you, I thought it was our poorest game of the season... Ironically, had we won the game, probably it wouldn't have been justice. UBC deserved to win that football game."
The Bisons did mount a brave comeback. It started when they scored just 28 seconds into the second half, when linebacker DJ Lalama gobbled up a fumble and took it 50 yards for a touchdown. They even grabbed the lead briefly in the fourth when Coombs brought down a five-yard touchdown pass from Yantz to give the Bisons a 24-21 lead. But the Thunderbirds simply marched back down the field for their own major after that, sealing their own score when pivot Carson Williams threw a 15-yard touchdown catch to Micha Theil.
There was a scary moment in the second half, when Thunderbirds cornerback Miguel Barker went down hard after tackling Demski from behind. He was stretched out on the field for almost 30 minutes, surrounded by medical staff and worried teammates, and was finally taken away from the stadium in am ambulance. After the game, Dobie said that Barker did stand up and was able to move his limbs, and expressed hope the defender would be OK.