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October 27, 2016

Bisons Have Final Shot At Playoffs

Winnipeg, Manitoba - Manitoba Bisons Football vs Alberta Golden Bears in week one CIS regular season action September 16. Jeff Miller Bison Sports ©2016

They’ve got the scars. Man oh man, do the University of Manitoba Bisons ever have the scars to show for the crazy ride their 2016 Canada West football season has been.

Yet, here they are heading into the final game of the football regular season at 3-4 and still with a shot at making the playoffs. All this after a bizarre year that has seen them hammered by injuries, suffer some heart-stomping losses, survive an outbreak of the mumps, and then win a seven-overtime contest last week just to get to this point.

So, battle hardened, emotionally and physically? Yeah, you could say that.

“It’s definitely not how we would have written it up at the beginning of the year,” said Bisons linebacker DJ Lalama. “I really think we could be 5-2 right now, but for a couple of tough losses.

“But at the end of the day now we just need one more.”

DJ Lalama

The Bisons are at home at Investors Group Field Saturday night – following the Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs Ottawa REDBLACKS matinee – against the University of Regina Rams in a must-win scenario.

Only four teams make the playoffs in Canada West and the Bisons, at 3-4, are currently fifth, tied with the UBC Thunderbirds. Manitoba can still finish as high as third if the stars align right, but it has to begin with a win against the Rams.

Both Calgary and Regina, at 5-2, have clinched playoff spots, as have 4-3 Saskatchewan. Manitoba has the tiebreaker against Saskatchewan, but not against the T-Birds.

FTB-Lalama to tackles 300

In a three-way tie for the final spot – where Manitoba, Saskatchewan and UBC all finish 4-4 – the Bisons would win the three-way tiebreaker to finish third.

That’s a long-winded way of saying Manitoba must take care of business Saturday night, just as they did last week in rallying to tie the Alberta Golden Bears late and then win an epic seven – yes, seven – overtime game, 67-59 – the longest in Canada West history.

“We’re in a must-win and we’ve been facing those kind of situations all year,” said Bisons head coach Brian Dobie. “We were in two extended overtimes, we’ve lost heartbreakers, we’ve had great wins… our guys are ready to play.

“This is why you play. You don’t play to win 50-3, you play to win or lose in those kinds of games. That’s what it’s about.”

This resiliency is a heckuva story right now, but the challenge only becomes that much more daunting Saturday night. The Bisons are facing a Rams team that features quarterback Noah Picton, who leads the country with an average of 389.6 yards passing per game, is completing 69.4 per cent of his passes and has thrown for 22 touchdowns.

Oh, and the Bisons secondary has been missing three key starters for most of the season.

“He’s a Hec Crighton nominee, no question, but we’ve got to treat him like any other quarterback,” said Lalama of Picton. “We’ve got to keep him in the pocket, force him to make plays that he doesn’t want to make.

“This one looks like it’s going to be an air show, one of those which-team-scores-last-wins games. Our defence would like to see it turn out differently.”

Dobie is quick to point out that Manitoba’s Theo Deezar is third in the country passing yardage at 2,428 and that the Bisons, courtesy 11 OTs this year – including a four OT loss to UBC – do lead the conference in scoring with an average of 36.4 per game.

“They’re going to throw the football and we know what to expect,” said Dobie. “But, on the other side of that, Theo Deezar and our receiving group and offensive unit… we’re leading Canada West in scoring and we’re one of the top offences in the nation.

“So, if you’re going to the Bomber game and you’re a football addict in this town, go visit the Rum Hut, have a few burgers and hang around for our game because you’re going to see a lot of points.”

WINNIPEG, MB - Bisons vs UBC September 19: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Jeff Miller-Bison Sports-

REGINA RAMS  (5-2) at MANITOBA BISONS (3-4)

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: Live webcast (canadawest.org – fee required); 101.5 UMFM/umfm.com
Recent meetings: The Bisons are 17-12 against Regina since the Rams entered Canada West in 1999. Manitoba is 11-3 vs. the Rams at home. The Bisons and Rams did meet earlier this year in Regina, with the Rams rallying for a 41-38 win.
FYI: Bison kicker Brad Mikoluff was selected the U Sports Special Teams Football Athlete of the Week for his work in the 7 OT win over Alberta. Mikoluff went five-for-six in his field goal attempts and, even though he is only in his fourth week as the starting kicker, is now fifth in the conference in scoring with 55 points.

NOTE: Bomber fans should keep their ticket for re-entry and free admission to the Bison game.

Manitoba FTB prelimLineup_game8_REG-Oct2916