Zach Conrad, UBC Sports Media
VANCOUVER - Saturday afternoon saw a Canada West semi-final preview at Thunderbird Stadium as the UBC Thunderbirds (6-2) defeated the Regina Rams (4-4) 44-15 while also clinching a home field playoff game. The last regular season game of the season had no playoff implications, but did reward the victor home field advantage in next weekend's semi-final game.
The Thunderbirds were led by outstanding performances from Michael O'Connor through the air and Ben Cummings on the ground. O'Connor threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns, while Cummings rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown.
UBC's defense showcased a dominant performance as well. The Thunderbirds held the Rams to just one touchdown.
Thunderbirds head coach Blake Nill was pleased with the effort after getting his 150th career win.
"We can play with the best of the best, but we've got to grow up quick and I think the first quarter was just us learning," said Nill. "Tonight we're gonna enjoy this win.
Early on Rams quarterback Noah Picton found space in the Thunderbirds defense to take the Rams down field and into field goal range. The Thunderbirds defense held strong surrendering only a field goal for the first points of the game.
The Thunderbirds offense struggled in the first quarter as Rams defensive lineman Nicholas Dheilly was having his way with the UBC offensive line. Dheilly was able to get into the backfield for two sacks and had a pass block.
It was in the second quarter when the Thunderbirds offense came alive.
At the start of the quarter Ben Cummings ripped off a huge run up the middle before bouncing outside to a tune of 26 yards. The third year running back finished off the drive with a three yard touchdown to put the Thunderbirds up 7-5, and giving the team a lead that they never relinquished.
As it was most of the game, the defense shut down the Rams offense quickly allowing O'Connor to get to work on the ensuing drive. He found his targets taking the Thunderbirds down the field before hitting Alex Morrison for a 10 yard touchdown to extend the T-Birds lead to 14-5.
On the following kickoff the Rams dug themselves a deeper hole when Kyle Borsa fumbled the return giving possession right back to the Thunderbirds. Right away O'Connor made them pay with a 30 yard pass to Trivel Pinto who snagged it with just one hand.
The next offensive possession saw O'Connor find a streaking Morrison for a 62 yard touchdown catch and run bringing the lead to 28-5. The quarterback and receiver tandem were dominate together causing fits for the Rams defense. Morrison finished the day with 90 yards and two touchdowns on just four receptions.
"When he first came here I made sure I spent time in the summer and really developed a good relationship with him," Morrison said of O'Connor. "It's paid dividends, we enjoy being around each other, we enjoy putting in the work, and we enjoy winning. It's something we strive to do and were gonna do our best to keep doing that."
Picton and the Rams tried to make something happen before halftime as the quarterback attempted to force a throw down the middle of the field which was promptly intercepted by Parker Simson.
With the ball back in Rams territory the 'Birds took advantage. Cole Meyer ran the ball in from the one to give UBC a 35-5 halftime lead.
Cole Meyer's day wasn't over, he increased the lead to 42-5 with another one yard run in the third quarter. The second year quarterback entered the game at the end of the third to relieve O'Connor.
The Rams mustered a decent drive late in the third, but could only come away with a Daniel Scraper field goal.
The fourth quarter saw back-ups in play and starters resting on the bench for both teams in order to reduce risk of injury for the upcoming playoff game. Seb Britton was able to take the Rams downfield before unleashing a 5 yard touchdown strike to Thomas Huber making the score 44-15, but that was all the visitors could muster.
With the win the Thunderbirds finished second in Canada West.
"It's tough, but this week we didn't limit anything. We needed to win this football game. This is what we needed, we needed this one," Nill said of not restricting his game plan. "We need to grow football on UBC campus. Next week is a playoff game and we need to have a big effort to fill the stands here."
The Thunderbirds will take on the Rams again next Saturday at Thunderbird Stadium for a chance to play in the Canada West final.