FB: Hardy Cup Semifinals preview

FB: Hardy Cup Semifinals preview

Brian Swane, Special to Canada West

EDMONTON – The Calgary Dinos marched their way through the 2018 Canada West football season to finish atop the standings with a perfect 8-0 mark.

Now the two-time defending conference champions are just one win away from playing in the Hardy Cup for a record eleventh straight year.

The 2018 Hardy Cup Playoffs kick off Saturday, with Calgary hosting the Manitoba Bisons in one semifinal, and the Saskatchewan Huskies visiting the UBC Thunderbirds in the other. The winners will meet in the 82nd Hardy Cup on Nov. 10. All games are available on the Canada West Football Showcase and Canada West TV.

This Dinos team looks a little different from those that have brought Calgary its recent gridiron glory. A large roster turnover in the off-season saw the graduation of several student-athletes, leading many first- and second-year Dinos to assume greater responsibilities.

"With the leadership that has come from our veteran players, the young guys have stepped into starting roles at a bit more than the level they have in the past and have all certainly met our expectations," Dinos coach Wayne Harris said.

The young Dinos have not merely survived, but thrived in the wilds of Canada West, outscoring the opposition by an average of nearly 27 points per game. All they have to do now is keep it up when the lights are brightest in November.

"Playoffs are always a good challenge," Harris said. "The games mean more and there is no second chance. They're aware of that. A lot of them have been involved in big games throughout their football lives, whether it's with us or high school level or (somewhere else), so that will be helpful along the way."

The excitement that has long been Canada West's hallmark reached new heights in 2018; heading into the final week of the season, there were no less than half a dozen scenarios for the two Hardy Cup semifinals, with the Dinos having three potential opponents.

"Canada West is a very competitive conference from top to bottom, so I'm not surprised at all at the level of competitiveness between each of the teams and knowing that every game is going to be a tough game," Harris explained.

Coming off consecutive games in which they topped 50 points and did not allow their opponents to find the endzone, the Dinos enter the playoffs on a roll. Whatever their formula, clearly it's working.

"Our approach is basically the same, we don't change a lot of that," Harris says. "The way we prep each week Is very consistent, and our guys know what the expectations are. We're not going to go out and try to do more than what we're capable of, so the guys just have to continue to stay focused on the important thing and preparing the right way."

No. 1 CALGARY (8-0) vs. No. 4 MANITOBA (3-5)

Saturday 12 p.m. MDT

McMahon Stadium - Calgary, AB

WHERE TO WATCH:

  • SaskTel 48 SD/348 HD
  • TELUS 9997 SD/997 HD
  • Bell MTS 1802 HD
  • Also available on Canada West TV

While Calgary has won back-to-back titles, Manitoba is returning to the post-season after a two-year absence. The teams' lone regular season meeting came Oct. 12 at McMahom Stadium, where the Dinos surged to a 34-1 lead and eventually won 34-16. With record-setting pivot Adam Sinagra under centre, Calgary boasts Canada West's most prolific offence both in points (44 PPG) and yardage (570.9 YPG). The Bisons backfield features Jamel Lyles and Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette, who combined to rush for more than 1,000 yards. These two programs account for 10 of the last 11 Hardy Cups, and their last playoff meeting was in the 2014 championship game, won 27-15 by Manitoba.

 

UBC (5-3) vs. SASKATCHEWAN (5-3)

Saturday 2 p.m. PDT

Thunderbird Stadium - Vancouver, BC

WHERE TO WATCH:

  • SaskTel 49 SD/349 HD
  • TELUS 9998 SD/998 HD
  • Bell MTS 1802 HD
  • Also available on Canada West TV

The T-Birds are red-hot, closing out the season with three straight wins, including a 38-34 overtime victory at Manitoba in the regular season finale to clinch second place in the standings. Likewise, the Huskies are also picking up steam at the right time, winning two straight, by an average of 33 points. UBC defeated Saskatchewan 20-10 in Vancouver on Oct. 12, a game that started UBC's current win streak and was also the last time the Huskies lost. Saskatchewan ranked second to Calgary in offence during the regular season (492.6 YPG), while UBC forced 17 turnovers – the most among Canada West's four playoff teams.