Its Canada West football playoff hopes may have evaporated with just two more conference games remaining, yet the UBC Thunderbirds discovered they still had enough heroic karma left in the tank of a frustrating season to pick up their first victory of 2019.
“We tried our best to give it to them,” ‘Birds head coach Blake Nill said after a rollercoaster 33-28 victory Friday over the host Regina Rams deadlocked the two teams in the conference cellar at 1-5 with two more games remaining. “But what you’re also seeing are some guys starting to show what they are capable of doing.”
Unfortunately, it’s now all about building for next season.
With only four of the conference’s six teams qualifying for the Hardy Cup conference playoffs, UBC can finish no better than 3-5.
Saskatchewan, Calgary, and Alberta will all finish with at least four wins. The other two teams, Manitoba and Regina, could also finish 3-5 yet UBC would lose head-to-head tiebreakers with both. There is also a chance UBC, Regina and Manitoba could finish in a three-way tie for last place, and if that were to happen, the ‘Birds would be the third-place team in that scenario.
Still, Friday was a night to celebrate for win-starved UBC football fans who will now shift their gaze to 2020.
Quarterback Gabe Olivares, while throwing two interceptions, nonetheless put some zing into what had become a tired and impotent offence, the scheme’s hurry-up tempo helping him pave the way for a 22-of-29 night in which he threw for 353 yards and a touchdown with a sizzling 76 per cent completion percentage.
And, there was finally true balance to that offence, with running back Sharique Khan rushing 17 times for 112 yards, including no negative plays.
Yet the bottom line could not be ignored.
UBC committed 17 penalties for 209 yards, 159 more penalty yards than were accrued by the Rams.
“Honestly, in 28 years of coaching I have never experienced this kind of team,” said Nill. “It’s not like we tell them go out and take penalties. I’ve just never experienced anything like this. Tonight, we’ve got the game totally in hand, and then they create a turnover to get right back in the game. Some of it is bad luck, but most of the hardships we’ve gone through this season have been of our own doing.”
When Olivares found receiver Jacob Patton on a 41-yard touchdown strike to begin the second half, the ‘Birds led 23-6.
But then Regina reeled off 14 straight points, including a defensive touchdown when Olivares’ pass attempt from deep in his own end was batted by Regina linebacker Josh White and then somehow found it way into the hands of lineman Brandon McKimmon. He waltzed 11 yards into the end zone to pull Regina to within 23-20.
It felt like same juncture, same self-implosion from a week ago in UBC’s deflating home loss to Alberta.
This time however, things were different.
On the final play of the third quarter, UBC cornerback Max Kennedy picked off a Colton Hippe pass and returned it 24 yards to the Rams’ 10.
Four plays later, freshman running back Charles Lemay of Vernon, carried for a one-yard score and a 30-20 lead.
The Rams would add a major of their own to pull within 30-28, but UBC kicker Garrin McDonnell, perhaps the team’s most consistent player this season, nailed a 44-yard field goal to round out the scoring.
Patton caught six passes for 118 yards and a score, while Nick Pollitt had three for 75 yards and Trey Kellogg six catches for 70 yards.
UBC outgained Regina in total yards 353 to 224 on the night.
The conference-wide bye week happens this coming weekend, and the ‘Birds get back to action with their final home game of the season Oct. 19 against the Saskatchewan Huskies.
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