The Calgary Dinos are coming to Winnipeg this weekend. The Manitoba Bisons have been aware of that for months.
But there are probably not more than 100 people on this planet who truly believed the Bisons would be welcoming the Dinos in to town for a battle of the unbeatens.
Surely the Bisons had belief in themselves, as you’d expect, but they were most certainly not expected to be in this position, as modest as it is, having knocked off two higher-ranked opponents to get to 2-0 ahead of what will be their toughest test of the Canada West season.
The Bisons got a modicum of respect in the pre-season, getting in the “Others Receiving Votes” section of the national poll, but if there was going to be any hype surrounding them, they were going to have to drum it up themselves.
And that hype machine has been running smooth so far.
The Bisons exposed the then-No. 7-ranked UBC Thunderbirds’ porous defence in a 31-24 win in Week 1, and followed that up with a quality, gritty home victory over No. 8 Saskatchewan on Saturday. And that’s how you get to 2-0.
And it’s an important 2-0 considering the tough schedule the Bisons got to start the season. At No. 7, vs No. 8, vs No. 3 and at soon-to-be-ranked Regina as four of your first five games. Heading in, the saving graces to the Bisons schedule were the stretch of three home games in a row and a gimme game against Alberta in Week 4, but certainly the layout put an onus on Manitoba to start strong and find some early wins in the form of upsets.
In both of the Bisons’ wins they’ve shown bits of what they’re about. In Week 1 it’s going on the road and knocking off a formidable offence with 2011 Hec Crighton winner Billy Greene at the controls. In Week 2 it’s overcoming an early deficit, then a late deficit, and converting some huge plays down the stretch to redeem themselves and beat a perennial contender.
With a serious wind — and even by Winnipeg standards this thing meant business — in their faces for the fourth quarter, the Bisons drove 75 yards in less than a minute and won the game on a Cam Clark-to-Nic Demski touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. This came after Demski had fumbled a punt return attempt earlier in the quarter that allowed Saskatchewan to kick a field goal for a brief lead.
Perhaps most encouraging for the Bisons is that they won the game without having much in the way of production from their vaunted rushing attack. They generated just 66 yards on the ground, but Clark — making just his second CIS start — threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns and the Bisons needed every ounce of that effort.
And they’ll likely need it again Saturday when the Dinos, the four-time defending Canada West champions, come to town. We don’t have a great indication of how good Calgary truly is as of yet, with home wins over Regina and Alberta not the truest tests. But undoubtedly this will be the Bisons latest benchmark game.
They’ve passed the first two tests. Pass this one and they won’t have to be their own hype machine anymore.
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