Hanging in there
The University of Regina Rams are set to take on the powerhouse Calgary Dinos in Canada West semi-final action Friday night in Cowtown after a 31-22 decision victory over the Manitoba Bisons on Oct. 28.
The Rams have experienced so many ups and downs this season that it is a miracle the playoffs are here – and that the Rams are in them, for that matter. Regina went from being ranked first in a conference preseason coaches’ poll, to losing three straight games along with its first string quarterback in a matter of weeks.
After a few trial and errors with second- and third-string quarterbacks, as well as more injuries, converted slotback Zach Oleynik provided a true spark to the offence and essentially got the ball rolling.
After rattling off two consecutive wins against the Alberta Golden Bears and Manitoba Bisons, everything was looking up for the Rams and many people believed that this would be the turning point in their season.
To many people’s surprise and some people’s disgust, the Rams lost the next two games in a row. Although both games came down to the final play of the game, a loss is still a loss, no matter how close the score was.
The Rams hopes and dreams of a playoff spot that at one time seemed guaranteed came down to the final game of the season in a clash against the Bisons. It was a winner-takes-all game, as the winner would move on and the loser would be sent home early, cut and dry with no strings attached.
The Rams jumped on the gun early and didn’t stop firing until the final minute of play. The Rams have had a horrible habit of giving up half time leads, but this game would be a different story.
A massive defensive play that occurred just five minutes into the contest had the Rams pumped more that they already were. Linebacker Jorgen Hus managed to block Manitoba’s punt while defensive back Steven Famulak had the quick thinking to scoop of the ball and scamper into the end zone to register a major for the visitors.
Adrian Charles would be the next to hit the end zone for the Rams after catching a 13-yard pass from Oleynik barely into the second. After a team safety and two Chris Bodnar converts, the Rams had a 15 point cushion over the Bisons, though there was still 14 minutes left in the second quarter.
Manitoba was not about to give up, as Khaleal Williams finished off a four-play, 41-yard drive to put Manitoba on the board just two minutes later. Anthony Coombs, who has been a beast for the Bisons all season, went to work for his team four minutes after that as he also capped a 41-yard drive with a touchdown.
The Rams lead had suddenly slipped to one point, but a second touchdown by Charles with just under three minutes left in the half put them up by eight.
The Bisons weren’t ready for the locker room as Nick Boyd hit a 26-yard field goal to cut the lead back down to five points at the break.
An action-packed first half paved the way for the Bodnar show in the second half of action.
Bodnar hit field goals from 35, 43, and 11 yards to put Regina up by two touchdowns with one quarter left to play. Manitoba would never be able to fully make up the deficit – two team safety’s would be all the points that Manitoba would muster in their last half of football in 2011. The Rams went on to secure the victory and a spot in the postseason.
With the regular season behind them Regina will be preparing to take on the No. 1 team in the conference. Although the odds are not necessarily in the Rams’ favour heading into the game, anything can happen – that is the beauty of football.
Calgary is currently riding an eight-game winning streak against the Rams and has won three out of the past four playoff battles between the two teams. The time is now for the Rams to stop the streak.
Friday night’s game will be a battle of the running backs, as the first- and second-ranked players go to work. Steven Lumbala vs. Adrian Charles will be a battle in itself to see who best running back in the CIS is.
Consequently, it will be a defensive showdown, as both teams will be looking to eliminate the other team’s running back – whichever team stops the run will win the game.
What started as a season with so much promise has gone through many setbacks, but ultimately the Rams are right where they need to be. It’s the playoffs, it’s a new season, and anything goes.