The UBC Thunderbirds suffered a major setback in their season following a 57-7 loss in Calgary to the Dinos. (Photo by David Moll property of Dinos Digital Media
Feature University Football

After UBC’s 57-7 loss at Calgary, ‘Birds coach Nill says “Let’s be honest, we were intimidated on the field…”

The most lopsided loss of the Blake Nill era at UBC was so decisive that its head coach and sole architect couldn’t help but ask some pretty heavy questions.

“Maybe we treated our program with rose-coloured glasses,” Nill said softly on Friday night as the No. 6 ‘Birds (1-1) headed to Calgary International Airport for a late-evening flight back to Vancouver after suffering a 57-7 drubbing at the hands of the host No. 5 Dinos (2-0).

“I mean, maybe we’re not as good as we thought we were,” continued Nill, whose ‘Birds seemed to give up big play after big play as if they were the leading men in some kind of epic Greek tragedy. “And for this group of kids to come out and not be able to respond, with the importance of this type of game, against a team so hyped up for their kick-off opening game? To lie down and allow a totally dominant performance, where I don’t think we showed one area where we can say that we even competed? I think it means that either we misjudged our program, or we as coaches misjudged our preparation. And maybe we’re not as good as we thought we were, obviously, based on that score.”

An entire off-season script had been penned around the heartbreak of a walk-off loss to Calgary in last season’s Hardy Cup conference championship final.

To be that close on the final game of their season, and then in the opening moments of the ensuing season, to be that far?

And right now, with the Dinos back in Vancouver for a rematch in only two weeks time, the gulf seems every bit as deep and wide as the Rockies themselves.

Yet like the scripting of that aforementioned ancient tragedy, the football gods were not content to simply watch UBC fall victim to one big play after another. No. In fact they seemed to go out of their way to up the dramatic plot lines which led to UBC’s pain.

Like the fact that just minutes into the game, on its first offensive possession, Calgary quarterback Adam Sinagra fired a 62-yard touchdown pass to pure freshman Tyson Philpot, the B.C. kid who starred at North Delta’s Seaquam Secondary.

So much more, obviously, happened in between.

But then early in the fourth quarter, UBC’s pain reached an epic peak.

Last season he was terrorizing opposition defender in high school as a senior with North Delta’s Seaquam Seahawks. On Friday, Tyson Philpot was an unstoppable force against the UBC Thunderbirds. (Photo by David Moll property of Dinos Digital Media)

Calgary’s defence first denied UBC’s offence on four straight snaps inside the Dinos’ five-yard line, ultimately taking over on downs at its own three. Then, on its very next play, Sinagra proceeded to throw a 107-yard touchdown pass to who else but Philpot, for a 42-7 lead.

It was just that kind of night.

Of course, given the 50-point margin of defeat, it seems almost silly to mention the fact that UBC was missing some key players.

It’s speediest receiver, Trivel Pinto; it’s powerful running back Ben Cummings; it’s most multi-dimensionally special do-it-all Marcus Davis.

Perhaps Friday’s game never becomes the fine mess it does with that trio in the lineup?

Nill wasn’t about to dismiss the theory outright, yet he correctly pointed to bigger overall issues.

“When we have Ben and Trivel and Marcus all back, we are going to be at a different level,” the coach said. “But the point is, we talked about this all week, that this was the time for (other) kids to step up.

“But we were totally intimidated,” he continued, “and let’s be honest, we were intimidated on the field today. We were physically dominated. That might be the biggest (losing margin) of my entire career. I’m not positive. But it’s got to be Top 5.”

UBC’s only score came on a 25-yard run by quarterback Michael O’Connor, and it came early enough in the game that you would never have imagined what was in store for the visitors.

Dinos’ kicker Niko DiFonte, the same guy who ripped out their hearts with that Hardy Cup rainmaker, scored 19 points on the night. Nineteen! He was 3-for-3 as a place-kicker, 6-for-6 on PATs, and he got his rouge count up to four.

Sinagra had 15 completions, but five TD passes. Philpot scored his two touchdowns so suddenly, that along with his 186 yards in receptions, he earned the right, for a night at least, to go by his dad Cory’s old Quick 6 moniker.

For UBC, cold reality is game at Regina this coming Friday, followed by a rematch with the Dinos for homecoming on Sept. 22.

Calgary will be here before they know it, and if they don’t pick themselves up quickly enough, they could meet a similar fate from the Rams.

“We’ve each got to look in the mirror and we have to decide,” Nill continued. “We have to be better as a collective group of coaches and athletes. Hopefully, if we work towards that, maybe by the end of the year we will move in the direction we thought we were headed.”

Nill shared a similar sentiment in the post-game with the guy who succeeded him in Calgary, Dinos’ head coach Wayne Harris.

“All I said to coach Harris when we were shaking hands,” said Nill, “was ‘We’ll try to be better for you guys next time.’”

Harris’ response?

“He told me ‘I know you will,’” reported Nill.

UBC’s loss was its largest since Oct. 25 of 2014.

That’s when Nill was still the head coach of the Dinos, and his team beat visiting UBC by a 67-6 count.

Nill’s largest loss at UBC was a 50-7 setback in exhibition play in 2016 to Manitoba. His largest conference loss at the helm of the ‘Birds was a 49-16 loss at Calgary back in 2015, the same year he led UBC to the Vanier Cup national title.

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