ON the cusp of their last regular-season home game, members of the University of Manitoba football team still hold the thrill of their first win fresh in their minds.
It's hard to believe how the season has flown by as the Bisons sit at 3-2 and are battling for a prime playoff berth.
If all goes well in their next three tilts there could be another Bisons game at Investors Group Field this year, a playoff this time. Still, it's strange to possibly, with this Saturday afternoon's battle against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, be seeing the last game action in the stadium this year.
"If you blink, you're going to miss the season," said quarterback Jordan Yantz before heading into Thursday practice with his squad.
Well, it's been a heck of a ride. Since that Aug. 30 home tilt against Alberta, the one that ended in a wild 65-41 win in front of thousands of riled-up fans, the Bisons still haven't quite gotten over the comfort of the new digs. If players aren't in the weight room, they say, they have wireless Internet set up to do homework and couches to kick back and swap tips about the games.
"Our whole team basically lives in there," said second-year defensive back Connor Lesperance, named Canada West football's defensive player of the week after a razzle-dazzle showing against the visiting Regina Rams last weekend. "We're all in there eight hours a day."
That, players agreed, has paid off in their play: coach Brian Dobie has said this group has the most fight of any Bisons team he's known. That was certainly on display the last time the Bisons played the Thunderbirds, a thrilling last-minute 36-34 win in B.C., and it showed in last Saturday's homecoming game, where Lesperance came off the bench to gobble up two interceptions and help paste the Regina Rams 34-15.
That's looking backwards, though, when the Bisons have a big task ahead. After their stunning loss at home in Week 3, the Thunderbirds will be seeking vengeance Saturday, and the Bisons are hungry to keep clawing ahead, especially with tough Saskatchewan looming after next week's bye.
"We're kind of in a must-win basis for the rest of the season," Yantz said.
Still, a moment of reflection: Yantz was one of Canadian university football's hottest recruits coming into this season, and he chose Winnipeg based on Dobie's "above and beyond" recruiting. Heck, the Bisons even picked up a passel of the pivot's junior Vancouver Island Raiders teammates to surround him with. But the stadium, that was a very big part. So far, it has met all of his expectations.
"The best decision of my life," he said.
Now, one more chance -- but, he hopes, not the last -- to play in front of these Bisons fans. Kickoff against the Thunderbirds is slated for 1 p.m., and after last weekend's game was blanketed by chilly rain, Yantz and Lesperance said they hope to see fans turn out for one last regular-season hurrah.
"We've had some pretty tight, close nail-biting games and fourth-quarter games," Yantz said. "I think it's exciting football to watch, and fans have put in a good showing for us."