The looming thunder stayed away, and so Friday was a beautiful night for a football game, and this time there was fun football to go with it, too.
Not just exciting but historic, even, as the University of Manitoba Bisons opened their CIS season by becoming the first adult team to win at Investors Group Field (the Winnipeg West under-16 team won four there in July). It was how they won that made it great, as they rolled over the University of Alberta Golden Bears in a staggering 65-41 win, the third-highest points tally in Bisons history, in front of an estimated 6,500 cheering fans.
They had the most points ever by a Bison team at the half, when they carried a score of 46-24 into the break; then there was running back Anthony Coombs, who stampeded all over the visitors en route to 223 rushing yards on 16 carries, with three touchdowns -- even after the Bisons sportingly rested him in the fourth, once they had the game firmly in hand. "I've got to give him more scholarship money," head coach Brian Dobie quipped.
Heck, the game was historic just for existing. It was the first time in 47 years the Bisons have played a regular-season game at night, hampered as they were by the old, lightless university field. They had a huge cheering section to witness it, the highest in the team's regular-season history, a spokesman said: where the Bisons usually average about 1,000 fans a game, on Friday, they sold or gave away 10,199 tickets, and most of those turned out.
And the Bisons gave all those newcomers a show they won't soon forget. It was a wild one, especially once the scoring gates broke open in the second quarter, and despite some sloppy defence on both sides the game was always fully entertaining. By the time it was over, it was hard to remember that the Golden Bears hit the scoreboard first, with a 28-yard Stephen Fabian field goal early in the first quarter -- because the Bisons rammed back hard.
It started when they turned in two touchdowns in the first quarter, getting on the scoreboard when tailback Kienan LaFrance's one-yard push finished what slotback Nic Demski started with a slick 62-yard run. Just over four minutes later, pivot Jordan Yantz -- a red-hot recruit making his Bisons debut -- connected with receiver Andrew Smith for a seven-yard touchdown pass.
Uh, come to think about it, we may not have the space to list all the Bisons' scoring plays, as points began to flood in from all over. The Bisons put back four touchdowns and a field goal in the second frame alone, starting when Yantz found Smith again for an 11-yard catch into the end zone. Later, with 12:51 gone in the second, Yantz tossed it off to Coombs, who took it 37 yards to the bank.
Less than one minute later, safety Tyler Fong plucked off a pass by Alberta pivot Ryan Schwartz and ran it 75 yards to the Alberta house; just over a minute later, Demski hauled down a Yantz pass inside the end zone. The fun didn't stop there. Coombs got even hotter in the third quarter, racing 84 yards for a touchdown on just the first play after the kickoff. Just over four minutes later, he'd add another 62 yards to his stunning rushing totals, blowing by Alberta coverage to take it home put the Bisons up 60-26.
The Bisons eased up then, taking out Yantz in favour of backup Marc Paquette; Yantz finished having gone 14 for 19 for 215 yards, and Dobie thinks the quarterback has a whole lot more to offer once he settles in.
"I thought Jordan came out pretty pumped," Dobie said. "He's a competitor, and you can see how he plays... I thought that detracted from his ability to perform as well as he could. I thought he was a little hyped up."