If just a few things had been different, little tweaks, the Manitoba Bisons' comeback against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies might have been complete.
But in the final minute of Saturday night's match, a handful of decisions conspired to steal the game back for the visitors, who beat the Bisons 36-34 before 4,864 fans at Investors Group Field. It was a wild finish after the Bisons had rallied hard through the final frame, coming back from an eight-point deficit after the third quarter to lead the game. A character loss, then.
"We have not had that kind of fight in us since 2007," U of Manitoba coach Brian Dobie said. "They were controlling the game, and we didn't pack it in. It was a great football game. It was a classic Saskatchewan-Manitoba game. Kudos to them, they did what they had to do, but we did what we had to do."
'They were controlling the game, and we didn't pack it in. It was a great football game'
They both did it all so fast. The Huskies were down a single point with just over one minute left, when they brought a drive to the Bisons' one-yard line; on third down, they pushed instead of going for the field goal. They didn't break the plane, so the Bisons took over on their one-yard line, but couldn't move the chains. So the Bisons punted, a 38-yard Nick Boyd boot, and a few plays later the Huskies kicked a field goal.
Still, the Bisons had a chance, even as the final seconds ticked down. But in a strange finish, a messy formation saw a receiver far off-side before the referee blew his whistle, but the clock ran down; the Bisons contend it should have left them with nine or 10 seconds left, enough to squeeze in another play, perhaps to get in field-goal range.
"I want to look at film," Dobie said.
Most days, a loss like this would be called a "heartbreaker," the way the Bisons ebbed and surged and came within a minute of winning. But after the game, the sound of clapping sang from the Bisons locker-room, and pivot Jordan Yantz held his head high.
"I've never actually smiled this much after a loss," he said, after finishing 25 for 41 for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
"We were literally seconds away. When you face that type of adversity, somebody can only overcome it. And this team has some fight."
No surprise that one of those Bisons to fight was star tailback Anthony Coombs, who stampeded all over the Alberta Golden Bears in Week 1 and turned in another ground show Saturday night. Coombs rushed for 85 yards on 10 carries, and caught five passes for another 117. Two of those rushes ended in touchdowns.
Not to be overlooked, though, was slotback Nic Demski, who came alive in the second half and was instrumental in several Bisons drives. In the third quarter, he hauled down three Yantz passes in a row to bring the Bisons from their own 30-yard line to the Huskies' 16. Coombs finished that drive off, dancing around a mess of defenders to take the ball into the end zone. But everyone saw who was the engine that made it go.
"When I went over to him after that drive, I literally said, 'this entire drive is all you, man,' " Dobie said. "He's a baller, and he comes to play."
Demski finished the game with 105 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches, and is looking to build on the chemistry he showed with Yantz on that drive.
"It's not hard playing with a guy who can put the ball where it needs to be," he said.