VANCOUVER— Blake Nill has never pulled punches, and the UBC Thunderbirds head coach wasn’t about to start a new trend Friday.
“You can call it what you want but it was an ass-kicking,” Nill said following his team’s 31-17 loss to the Calgary Dinos at Thunderbird Stadium. “When we had momentum, we were stopping the run and making plays, but then we stopped executing and they just rolled on us. Our response on the sidelines was dead quiet, and that is my responsibility.”
No. 6 UBC fell to 3-2 while No. 2 Calgary improved two 5-0.
And yet it was a night where blame couldn’t be placed on any one phase of play or any one player.
Bottom line: In a game where a victory would have put them in first place in the Canada West and allowed them to dictate their own finish within the conference, UBC must now, in all likelihood, beat Calgary in the post-season to have any chance at national title contention.
Still, while no UBC player or coach was satisfied with any facet of the loss, another reality is that the Thunderbirds are not a full notch in class behind the Dinos, despite what the numbers might have said heading into the game.
Calgary came in having outscored its foes by 131 points over its first four games, and UBC by 39 points.
Yet a UBC team which led 10-9 at the half, gave up three touchdowns in the third quarter, its fatigue evident and certainly a prime area of attention for the team has it heads into a league-wide bye week.
“It’s been that way for a year-and-a-half,” said Nill. “We hang in there as best we can. But we need to have more from our offence. How many dropped passes were there today?”
UBC opened the game like a team bent on pulling an upset.
Defensive halfback Malcom Lee intercepted Calgary quarterback Adam Sinagra at the ‘Birds one-yard line, and later, UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor rocketed a pass over the middle to receiver Trivel Pinto for a 42-yard score.
Jack McDonald, a South Delta Sun Devils product, hauled in a 13-yard pass from Sinagra to tie things 7-7 before Greg Hutchins put the ‘Birds on top 10-7 with a 39-yard field goal.
An injury to Calgary lineman Spencer Roy, who was later helped off the field, generated a delay that was so extended, officials elected to begin halftime with 4:24 left in the second quarter.
UBC surrendered a safety after the break, their lead cut to 10-9.
Calgary then began to dominate up front, getting their two-pronged running attack untracked with Jeshrun Antwi (14 carries, 78 yards) and Robert Stewart (11 carries, 64 yards) providing a very effective change of pace.
That, in turn, led to more success in the passing game.
Singara threw a 20-yard pass to Michael Klukas before Antwi ran for a 18 yard score, and then caught a 20-yard strike from Singara.
When the dust cleared UBC was trailing 30-10 with little hope of affecting change in the fourth quarter.
“Their offence is very difficult and we have just got to match their level,” continued Nill, whose team closed out its scoring with O’Connor’s 11-yard pass to Alex Morrison in the fourth quarter. “It’s a shared responsibility. I am not throwing my coaches under the bus, but we are not winning football games.
“It’s unfair to say it’s totally on the kids. There is a level of coaching, myself included, where we have to find a way to get more out of these kids. That is on me. But part of it is on the assistant coaches and the players have to hold their share, too.”
Friday’s loss was a slap of cold reality the ‘Birds now have to face up to.
While they were losing to Calgary, Regina (3-2) beat Saskatchewan 40-30, and that means because UBC opened its season with a loss at Regina, the ‘Birds are sitting in third place with three more games remaining.
UBC is at Saskatchewan Oct. 14, and at Manitoba Oct. 21 before playing its final home game vs. Regina on Oct. 28.
All is certainly not lost for the Thunderbirds, yet Nill knows things could be different and he knows he has the horses to get it done.
“It’s not that we don ’t know how to win, there’s 24 national championship rings on that sideline,” he commented of the fact that so many of the players from the 2015 Vanier Cup national championship team still remain and continue to play major roles.
Two years ago, this was the exact juncture of the season in which UBC caught fire and won a national title. It’s a cue the current edition needs to believe is once again possible.
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