This is no Cinderella story.
More like the one with the three bears.
One was too hot. The other too cold. And this one, they’re looking to get just right.
A University of Alberta Golden Bears football program that has been a decade in the making under Chris Morris is about to appear in its first Hardy Cup since 2010.
And if it seems like an overnight success, given last week’s 40-17 win over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West semifinal was Morris’ first playoff win as a head coach, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention.
“We’ve been decent the last few years,” said Morris, whose squad has made the playoffs three out of the past four years, following a long and lengthy drought for the program. “In Canada West, everybody’s good, so just getting to the playoffs means you’re a pretty good team. Obviously, we’ve got some elite players here who will get drafted and all that sort of stuff. But that’s what everybody in Canada West has.
“So, I don’t really see it as being only this year. I thought we were really good last year, and then we got decimated by injuries halfway through the year. That was tough. I get it, everybody sees it as the first time we won a playoff game, but we’ve been knocking at the door for a while here.
“I’m very happy that we got to win that game and get the monkey off our backs. Now, it’s just we want to see how far we can go together.”
On Saturday (2 p.m., CanadaWest TV) the Bears will be at UBC playing for the 86th Hardy Cup and the conference banner it accompanies.
It will be the sixth playoff meeting between the Bears and T-Birds, and the first since the 1987 Hardy Cup. In fact, all five of their previous playoff collisions have been over the Hardy Cup, with the Bears earning a 4-1 advantage.
But while history is on Alberta’s side, this season has been lopsided out of their favour, with UBC (6-2) sweeping the season series and handing the Bears (6-2) their only two losses and capture the top playoff seed.
“We’ve played well all year. Just to UBC are the only games we’ve lost,” said Morris, whose side fell 54-37 on the road Sept. 22 and 23-10 at Foote Field on Oct. 28. “They’re a really good team and they’ve given us more than we can handle the first two times we played them.
“We think we can play better, so that’s going to be our objective, is just worry about ourselves and see if we can just put our best product out there.”
The regular-season matchups wove two opposing storylines.
“It’s funny, the first time we played them, our offence played pretty good but our defence didn’t play well,” Morris recounted. “The second time we played them, our defence played really well and our offence didn’t play well.”
So far, the Bears’ porridge has been too hot and then too cold, leaving only one option, according to the story.
“If they beat us a third time and all three phases of the game play well, then hats off to UBC, right?” Morris said. “We’d like to play our best game and see where we go with that.”
The Golden Bears have six conference all-stars, including two unanimous selections to the offensive team in centre Daniel Shin and running back Matthew Peterson, while UBC have an incredible 14, including offensive lineman Theo Benedet and quarterback Garrett Rooker, who led CanWest with 283.3 passing yards per game and 16 touchdowns.
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“We’re happy with where we’re at but we’ve got some pretty important work to do here and we think we can match up really well with UBC. We’ve just got to play well,” Morris said. “We haven’t played our best game yet. We played really, really good against Saskatchewan.
“This is a great group of kids, they work incredibly hard year round. They take a lot of pride in playing their best football and we haven’t done that yet this year. Let’s do that. If we can put that product on the field and play our very best game, then we’re happy.
“And the result will be what the result is.”
CanWest will announce its major award winners Thursday, with Peterson in the running for some heavy duty hardware with his conference-leading 141 rushing yards per game.
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge