VANCOUVER — The last time the UBC Thunderbirds won four straight Canada West conference football games was back in 2015 when Blake Nill was the team’s first-year head coach.
History tells us, of course, that the ‘Birds parlayed that quartet of regular season-ending games into an eventual seven-game win streak that culminated with a Vanier Cup national championship.
On Friday (6:30 p.m.) at Thunderbird Stadium, UBC’s 2017 conference season begins its second half, and if they happen to win their fourth straight, you could begin to start calling the ‘Birds a legitimate national title contender.
And that’s because for the ‘Birds (3-1) to get to four wins, they would have to beat the program which is not only ranked No. 2 nationally, but has beaten them in four of five meetings since Nill’s arrival on the Point Grey campus.
Yes, the Calgary Dinos (4-0) are not only undefeated under the guidance of head coach Wayne Harris, they have owned the conference thus far, outscoring foes by a plus-32.7 points-per-game average, a margin of victory almost four times greater than that of UBC’s (plus-8.7 points).
“The Calgary program has shown over the last decade that they are the one that everyone in the Canada West measures up to,” said Nill. “Coach Harris and his staff have done a great job of building a championship culture and they are the team to beat.
“Unless someone can beat them, they are the ones we have to measure ourselves against.”
And so for UBC, which fell in its conference opener in Regina behind more penalty yards than passing yards and has since rallied with wins against Mantioba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, Friday’s battle with Calgary would seem to be a true litmus test.
“It absolutely is,” said Nill, whose team hopes to shake a trend of losing one-score games to the Dinos. “Three of the last four times we have played them, the games were decided by as close a margin as you can get.”
UBC went into Calgary and beat the Dinos 33-26 in the Canada West championship Hardy Cup in 2015.
Calgary then bullied UBC 35-8 to open the 2016 season, came into Vancouver and edged the ‘Birds 41-35 in overtime, then in the playoffs, beat the blue-and-gold again, this time 46-43 in the 2016 Hardy Cup game.
“The Calgary program, because of their culture, thrives in that situation and I don’t think we do yet,” continued Nill. “So that’s why this is a test. We’re going in there against a team that expects to win. We need to develop that kind of a mentality.”
The closest anyone has come in conference play against the Dinos has been Regina, who lost by 20 points, 46-26.
Calgary rolled Manitoba 76-17 and followed that this past week by dumping Saskatchewan 51-28.
UBC has been the conference’s best defensive team, and over its three-game win streak has outscored the opposition by an average score of 35-16.
Friday’s game is being dubbed Black Out Night.
Fans are encouraged to wear black to the game as the Thunderbirds debut their new third jerseys.
Those at UBC would not confirm much about the shade of the helmets, jerseys and pants its players would be wearing, but it seems clear they will unveil an all-black look Friday.
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