Not a whole lot went right for the UBC Thunderbirds on Saturday during a lopsided loss to the host Calgary Dinos, yet rookie running back Dane Kapler announced himself as a force, rushing for 161 yards on just 11 carries. (Photo by David Moll property of Calgary Dinos athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)
Feature University Football

Playoffs hang in the balance! After horrific start in Calgary dooms ‘Birds in 53-14 loss, UBC needs a home finale win vs. Alberta, and likely a little help!

It didn’t take too long to reason on Saturday that the same youthful UBC Thunderbirds football team which had so convincingly flipped the fortunes of its 2021 Canada West campaign over a rags-to-riches two-week span, was perhaps suffering from a kind of collective swoon, the kind most commonly associated with too rapid a rise in elevation.

Playing on the road in Calgary in the penultimate game of its regular season, against what had appeared to be a suddenly-mortal squad of Dinos, UBC had come into play on Saturday with a chance to make its regular-season finale this coming Saturday at home to Alberta an ahead-of-its-time opportunity to potentially host a first-round Hardy Cup semifinal game.

Yet after one of the most gruesome and puzzling opening quarters in recent program history, one which led to a 53-14 steam-rolling at the hands of Calgary (2-3), the Thunderbirds (2-3) will instead be playing for their post-season lives, and potentially needing — within the conference’s complicated tie-breaking procedures — what would have to be its most decisive win of the season when it faces the Golden Bears, just to reach the second season.

“It was a combination of us not matching the urgency that Calgary had and us not executing the game plan,” a solemn UBC head coach Blake Nill explained over the phone from southern Alberta following the setback. “And that was just the first quarter. I think as a program, it showed that we still have a long ways to go.”

UBC’s defence of Jadyn Pingue (35), a lunging Lake Korte-Moore and Caleb Abraham converge of Calgary running back O’Shae Ho-Sang. The Dinos’ averaged over 11-yards-per-play in a convincing win over the Thunderbirds. (Photo by David Moll property of Calgary Dinos athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)

Yet just as the freshman-filled roster spotted with key veterans reversed field from a 43-15 Week 2 loss against Saskatchewan, to beat No. 7 Regina 31-30 in overtime, and then No. 4 Manitoba 26-24 the prior two Saturdays, up-and-down UBC has the ability to beat anyone in the conference.

Following their stinker against Calgary, however, it appears the simplest way for UBC to assure itself one of the four Hardy Cup semifinal playoff spots up for grabs, is to beat Alberta and then hope Saskatchewan beats visiting Calgary.

There is one other way, but it would then begin to involve tie-breaking formulas too involved to even begin to explain, and as such, the conference will likely issue tie-breaking scenarios over the course of the coming week.

Bottom lines to consider:

*The six-team standings heading into the final week are: Saskatchewan first at 4-1, Alberta and Manitoba tied for second at 3-2, UBC and Calgary tied for fourth at 2-3, and Regina last at 1-4.

*The final Saturday of regular-season games: Manitoba at Regina, Calgary at Saskatchewan, Alberta at UBC.

*The score potentially complicating matters for UBC, should Calgary beat Saskatchewan, is the ‘Birds season-opening 44-19 loss to Alberta.

Today’s loss to the Dinos, however, confirmed that UBC’s youthful majority is still straddling a fragile tightrope, one too easily disrupted by early adversities when the team in opposition is ready to be unrelenting.

Translated to a first quarter in which UBC was rolled 25-0 by Calgary, it was a collective inability to find confidence and rhythm through the run game, especially on second down, which seemed to snowball into all manner of hurdles, including horrible field position.

The Dinos response was a cold-hearted series of chunk plays, beginning when it’s quarterback Josiah Joseph hit former North Delta-Seaquam receiver Tyson Philopt for a 37-yard score and a 7-0 lead

Calgary scored a bushel of touchdowns on Saturday and that insured ‘Birds kick-off return man Daniel Appiah was busy all afternoon. (Photo by David Moll property of Calgary Dinos athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)

Before UBC knew what hit them, Calgary had put two more majors on the board, and were so omnipresent in the deepest regions of the red zone that the ‘Birds twice conceded safeties just to try and tread water.

Its lead 25-0 lead was so thoroughly representative of Calgary’s early domination that the hosts managed 11 first downs over the opening quarter while holding UBC to just one.

And on the heels of that defence, the Dinos limited UBC to just 28 yards passing in the first half.

“I just thought at times, we allowed ourselves to be bullied or not to make plays,” Nill added. “Let’s just say that in the times that we needed to make the plays that good teams make, we were not able to do that.”

Calgary’s offence was so on-point that it produced at an astounding clip of 11.34 yards-per-play over 53 snaps (601 total yards).

And it’s because of those kinds of numbers that Nill might have lost a football game for the first time in his 24-year U SPORTS head coaching career despite having a ground game which rushed for almost 300 yards and produced two one-hundred yard-plus rushers in Dane Kapler (11 carries, 161 yards, one touchdown) and Isaiah Knight (17 carries for 105 yards).

It’s an unwritten axiom in the game that when you put those kinds of ground-based stats together you are nothing shy of impervious to defeat.

“It does,” agreed Nill. “But we thought we had a game plan to control that offence… control it, not stop it. But we weren’t even able to slow it down.”

Calgary’s Jospeh was 16-of-18 for 350 yards and four touchdowns, including additional strikes of 42 and 80 yards to Tyson Philpot who finished with seven catches for 214 yards. Twin brother Jalen Philpot caught five passes for 112 yards and a score.

UBC rookie running back Dane Kapler, who comes from a family with a distinct baseball pedigree, showed Saturday in Calgary the ability to hit his version of football home runs, rushing for a career-best 164 yards in the ‘Birds loss to the host Dinos. (Photo by David Moll property of Calgary Dinos athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)

Yet as testament to that run game, one which UBC knows can shine this coming Saturday if the rest of its schematics can be re-tuned, Kapler showed himself to truly be the thunder to teammate Knights’ lightning.

To start the second quarter, with his team down 25-0, UBC started at its own 52 yard-line with three straight hand-offs to Kapler who went for three, then six, and then on a third-and-one draw, 49 yards to the house.

In the third quarter, his 54-yard run took the ‘Birds to the Calgary 30, and from there, Rooker’s play-action pass to the deep post was on target for a 29-yard TD strike to rookie receiver Jason Soriano, cutting the deficit to 46-14.

Alas, it was too little, too late.

“We got beat by a better team today,” summed Nill. “We couldn’t match their best players. We thought we had a game plan for their best players. It obviously didn’t work out. We thought we would be able to throw the football on them. We were able to get some momentum with the run game, but I don’t know what else to say.

“We were beaten soundly.. like… soundly, and right now I am at a loss for words as to why it was that bad.”

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