Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
CALGARY – With ice in his veins and snow on the sidelines, Niko DiFonte delivered the kick of his life Saturday in one of the greatest Canada West football games ever played.
With no time on the clock, the Calgary Dinos kicker provided and ending for the ages, sending a 59-yard field goal through the south uprights at McMahon Stadium, as the Dinos earned an epic 44-43 win over the UBC Thunderbirds in the 81st Hardy Cup.
DiFonte's boot will go down as one of the biggest moments in Hardy Cup history, as the second-year kicker set both a Canada West and U SPORTS record in the process.
"I just knew I had to stay calm, follow my form and I would be ok and I did. Fortunately it came off and we have another game next week," said DiFonte of his mindset moments before making the kick, which sent Calgary to next week's national semifinal.
"My team believed in me so I believed in myself and that's just all it took."
With a previous personal long of 49 yards, DiFonte pushed his range to new heights on a cool, windless day, as the Dinos earned their second consecutive Hardy Cup and 17th overall in program history.
DiFonte delivering in the clutch was a fitting conclusion to yet another exciting chapter in the UBC-Calgary rivalry. Saturday's meeting marked the pair's third consecutive meeting in the Hardy Cup – something which had never happened before in the history of the contest.
After posting the highest scoring game in Hardy Cup history a year ago – when the Dinos earned a 46-43 win at home – this year provided even more in the way of drama, as the teams combined for 87 points.
With the score 28-21 heading into the third quarter, the conference's top teams provided an electric final 15 minutes, combining for 38 points.
Trailing 41-35 with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, UBC marched down the field with poise. With just 16 seconds on the clock, Alex Morrison's six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael O'Connor put UBC out to a 42-41 lead on what momentarily appeared to be the game-winning score.
A Thunderbirds rouge on the ensuing kickoff made it 43-41, as the host Dinos had their backs firmly against the wall.
With their Hardy Cup title defence slipping away, Calgary managed to push the ball 23 yards down the field, leaving DiFonte with a 59-yard attempt to win it.
Cue the heroics.
"With that last timeout we said 'I need 10 to 15 yards' and we got about six and I knew that was pushing the limits, but he's made those in practices. I had a lot of confidence in him," said Dinos head coach Wayne Harris, who used his final timeout with eight seconds remaining in hopes of one dialing up one more big play.
"He's just a tough kid. [He was] mentally tough to come in and kick in that situation under those circumstances."
"When he's on, his kicking leg is strong. It's as strong as anybody's out there."
Strong indeed, as the Dinos kicker broke Jerry Foster's U SPORTS record of 57 yards set for Saint Mary's back in 1986.
As for when DiFonte knew the kick was good, it took a few moments to hit the kicker – literally.
"When Hunter (Karl) grabbed me and threw me around like a ragdoll," DiFonte explained on when he knew he'd made good on the biggest moment of his football career.
With their thrilling Hardy Cup win now in the books, Calgary gets set for another trip to the national semifinals, as they'll host the Laval Rouge et Or in the Mitchell Bowl Saturday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. MST.
The matchup, which will be the Dinos' 16th trip to the national semis in program history and eighth in the last decade, is another playoff rematch for Calgary after falling 31-26 to Laval in last year's Vanier Cup.
"Laval's been one of the top teams in the country for so many years now," Harris pointed out. "We've had them here at home once, this will be the second time, and we haven't beat them yet, so we're going to have to come up with a great game plan to come out ahead in that one."
NOTES: Saturday's victory marked Calgary's eighth Hardy Cup during their streak of 10 consecutive appearances…The two teams combined for 1,070 yards of total offence on the day…Both O'Connor and Dinos QB Adam Sinagra went 26-for-37…O'Connor finished the day with 357 yards and five touchdowns, while Sinagra had 344 yards and three TDs…Calgary's Robert Stewart was the game's top rusher with 198 yards…Dinos receiver Hunter Karl had a game-high 187 yards receiving…Next week's Mitchell Bowl is the 23rd time overall that a Canada West team will host a national semifinal, with CW teams sporting a combined record of 19-3.