VANCOUVER — Michael O’Connor has a chance to grab one of the most heralded quarterbacking records in the books at UBC.
And the humble O’Connor will no doubt cherish his position as the Thunderbirds’ all-time touchdown pass leader whenever it might be that he connects with scoring toss No. 72 of his brilliant career in blue and gold.
Yet you can’t blame anyone on the roster of the U Sports No. 6-ranked ‘Birds (1-0) for thinking and focusing solely on their next task at hand following last Saturday’s blemish-filled 30-20 season-opening win over the visiting Manitobas Bisons, a game in which O’Connor fired TD pass No. 71 to move into a tie with former great Danny Smith, who set the standard back in 1978.
And that’s because it’s time for UBC to take another flight to Calgary and continue to try and find a way past the talented and immensely gritty, No. 5-ranked hometown Dinos (1-0) on Friday (4:30 p.m., Canada West TV) at McMahon Stadium.
UBC fans are still feeling the sting from the 59-yard field goal on the final play of the game that carried Calgary to a 44-43 Hardy Cup title win over the ‘Birds last season.
And it’s not a stretch to say that O’Connor, too, continues to feel the pain of the Dinos’ walk-off victory.
“Well, yeah, it was a tough loss last year and we all know that,” O’Connor said last Saturday of the Hardy Cup. “It’s a big game for us, going on the road, and we haven’t had the kind of success in McMahon that we would have liked the last couple of years. It’s going to be a tough game on the road, but we look forward to it.”
Between O’Connor, coming off a 309 yard passing performance with one touchdown against Manitoba, and Calgary QB Adam Sinagra (444 yards, 3 TDs in a 49-35 comeback win at Regina, U Sports offensive POW), talent is rife on both teams, and on both sides of the ball.
The winner will be the team which carries the most mental tenacity on the day.
As UBC head coach Blake Nill told Varsity Letters in the preseason of the Hardy Cup loss: “We got beat by a Calgary team that believed it was going to win every game it played. We weren’t there at that point, but I’m hoping we are closer to that now.”
NAMES TO WATCH
No telling how RB-1 Ben Cummings will be by kick-off time Friday, but the ‘Birds veteran workhorse should be ready to go after suffering a leg injury last week. If not, Nill said that both Kory Nagata and Teddy Kubongo would fill in.
Seven different receivers caught passes last week for UBC, and besides Nagata’s heightened presence in the slot, positives abounded.
Marcus Browne showed off his hands with four grabs for 50 yards, Lliam Wishart maximized his route running and settled in nicely with five grabs for 58 yards and Mississauga freshman Brendan Devane, at 6-4, 210 pounds, flashed huge future potential, using his stature and feel to catch two passes in his university debut for 16 yards.
MORE NAMES TO WATCH
In the ‘Keep an eye out’ department, Texas transfer TE/WR Blake Whitely and defensive tackle Tom Schnitzler from the CJFL’s Saskatoon Hilltops warrant a close watch.
Schnitzler, 6-5, and 245 pounds, showed himself to be an active and athletic playmaker and finished with 4.5 tackles against Manitoba.
Whiteley, the former West Vancouver Highlanders high school star who is attempting to bounce back from an injury-riddled career with the Texas Longhorns, saw limited snaps as he attempts to get back into the groove after missing the last four seasons for a number of reasons, including ACL and shoulder injuries.
“He is doing fine,” said Nill after Saturday’s game. “We’re just managing Whiteley. He’s coming back after a long time away and it’s not smart to just throw him right into the mix. But he has his packages and he will get more. We’re just managing him a la Taylor Loffler.”
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