It was a game whose conclusion would have defied the logic of a thousand seasoned bettors.
It came on a field goal attempt the football gods, 999 times out of that 1,000, would have pushed wide or pulled up short based solely on its audacity.
Somehow, though, it sailed through those McMahon Stadium uprights.
On the final play of the Canada West’s championship Hardy Cup game, Calgary’s Niko DiFonte out-kicked even his wildest dreams, booting a 59-yard walk-off field goal, the longest ever in the history of Canadian university football.
Final score: Calgary 44 UBC 43.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, I guess,” said a stunned UBC head coach Blake Nill after DiFonte’s blast, one which came after UBC had rallied to take a 42-41 lead with 16 seconds remaining when receiver Alex Morrison made an end-zone touchdown catch on a six-yard pass from quarterback Michael O’Connor.
“Your season is over, and that’s what’s bothering me,” Nill continued. “We did a lot of good things but not enough of them.”
Said ‘Birds receiver Marshall Cook, the former Nanaimo-John Barsby grad who fuelled UBC’s second-half rally when he caught a key late touchdown grab: “The word ‘heartbreak’ is probably the best way to describe it after all the things that we were able to do to come back late.”
And O’Connor may have best captured the raw anguish of the moment when he said “It just rips your heart out. It’s a tough one. This won’t go away any time soon. Last year’s game (a 46-43 Calgary win) eat a way at me for a long time and this one was even closer. It’s going to eat away at all of us and it will only motivate us more for next year.”
The kick surpassed the previous U Sports best of 57-yards kicked back in 1986 by Jerry Foster of St. Mary’s. It also appears to have tied for the third-longest field goal in Canadian football history, coming in three yards shy of the 62-yard CFL record boot of Paul McCallum in 2001. It was also DiFonte’s sixth field goal of the game.
Plagued by a slow start in which its offence had possession of the ball for just eight minutes over the entire first half, UBC nonetheless hung within shouting distance because of the big-play savvy of its pivot O’Connor.
Fifty-four yards over the middle to Ben Cummings on the ‘Birds first series for a 7-0 lead.
Fifty-one yards to Trivel Pinto to pull his team to within 17-14.
Forty yards to Morrison to keep UBC within 28-21 with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
Twenty-four yards to Cook at the corner of the end zone about three minutes into the fourth quarter to cut Calgary’s lead to 31-28.
By the time the clock hit 9:24 remaining, the football gods were seemingly wearing blue-and-gold.
A ricochet interception by Bashiru Sise-Odaa gave UBC the football and set up a 15-yard scoring run by Cummings and gave the Birds a 35-31 lead.
Calgary’s Treshaun Abrahams-Webster, however, would later intercept O’Connor. Dinos’ pivot Adam Sinagra then fired a 28-yard touchdown to Hunter Karl for a 38-35 lead with 5:57 left.
O’Connor, who passed for 357 yards, responded by throwing his fifth TD of the game, fittingly caught by Morrison who it turns out, was playing in the final game of his UBC career.
Morrison sensed the pass was a little short and broke back towards it, despite tight coverage from Calgary’s Adam Laurensse, to make it 42-41.
Calgary gave up a single on the ensuing kick-off, and then after gaining 23 yards in two plays, gambled that DiFonte, whose longest previous make was 49 yards, could hit from 59.
The snap came with just two seconds remaining in the game.
“Never have I hit that, but my teammates believed in me,” he told Canada West TV after the game, one which keeps the Dinos at home next week to host Quebec champion Laval in the Mitchell Bowl national semifinal.
Added Sinagra to Canada West TV: “I was praying to God, I was praying for Niko. I have never seen him kick one that far in my life.”
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