UBC beats Laval in Blake Nill's debut with the Blue and Gold
VANCOUVER – The Blake Nill era at UBC has started with quite a bang. In his first game as the team's head coach, his Thunderbirds beat the Laval Rouge et Or, winners of seven of the last 12 Vanier Cups, by a score of 41-16 on Saturday in Quebec City. UBC took a 27-0 lead into halftime before staving off a comeback attempt by the hosts to come away with the victory in its first-ever meeting with Laval. The triumph caps off an historic week for the UBC program, which also saw the two squads hold joint practices together at Stade TELUS-Université Laval in the lead-up to today's contest. "This is a big statement win for us, just the fact that for a moment, we were able to execute with discipline to beat a great team in their home, which is the toughest place to play in the entire country," said Nill, who called the win the biggest for the Blue and Gold since the 1997 Vanier Cup championship. Today, the team scored in just about every possible fashion on Saturday. Kicker Quinn van Gylswyk (Victoria, B.C.) opened the scoring with a field goal and rouge before reigning Canada West Rookie of the Year Marcus Davis (Victoria, B.C.) ran a punt return back 85 yards for touchdown to make it 11-0 for UBC with less than three minutes gone in the second quarter. UBC then finished the half with a safety bookended by two touchdown passes from quarterback Michael O'Connor (Ottawa). Ten minutes into the second quarter, O'Connor found receiver Trivel Pinto (Toronto) with a five-yard pass, capping off an 85-yard drive, to put UBC 18-0. Then just seconds before halftime, Marshall Cook (Nanaimo, B.C.) caught a 20-yard toss from O'Connor. Following a van Gylswyk single in the third, Laval found the end zone to close to within three scores. The Rouge et Or continued to build momentum with a touchdown and safety to cut the UBC lead to 31-16 with 11 minutes to go in the final quarter. However, the Thunderbirds were able to stem the tide, closing the game with 10 straight points. Kevin Wiens (Mission, B.C.) picked off Laval quarterback Hugo Richard for the second time on the day and returned the ball 30 yards for a touchdown, before van Gylswyk finished off the day with his third field goal. Wiens, Cook and Pinto recorded their first Canadian Interuniversity Sport touchdowns on Saturday. In all, UBC's defence intercepted Richard four times, with Dominique Termansen (North Vancouver, B.C.) and Taylor Loffler (Kelowna, B.C.) getting the other two. Terrell Davis (Victoria, B.C.) and Troy Hansen (Edmonton) led the T-Birds with six tackles each. We practiced with Laval for two days and it was clear in the drills that we were outmatched and that it would be a difficult task for both lines. But both the offensive and defensive lines were excellent today. The offensive line stepped up and the defensive line played a huge part of holding Laval's running game to less than 100 yards. The guys in the back end played so far about their potential, it was amazing and a credit to those players and their coaches. "We practiced with Laval for two days and it was clear in the drills that we were outmatched and that it would be a difficult task for both lines," said Nill. "But both the offensive and defensive lines were excellent today. The offensive line stepped up and the defensive line played a huge part of holding Laval's running game to less than 100 yards. The guys in the back end played so far about their potential, it was amazing and a credit to those players and their coaches." In his UBC debut, O'Connor completed 18 of his 32 passes for 292 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Backup Trevor Casey (Port Coquitlam, B.C.) was effective in moving the ball during his stint, going 6-for-12 for 60 yards and an interception.
The favourite targets for the pivots were David Mann (Delta, B.C.), who caught six passes for 156 yards, and Will Watson (Surrey, B.C.), who also hauled in six passes, for 71 yards. Running back Brandon Deschamps (Prince George, B.C.) was the team's leading rusher with 77 yards on nine carries. UBC will travel to Calgary next weekend for the Canada West regular season opener for both squads. It will be Nill's first game back at Calgary, where he won six Canada West titles, after leaving the Dinos to come coach the Thunderbirds. Then the team will return to Vancouver for its annual Homecoming Game, on Sept. 12 at 6 p.m., against the Regina Rams at Thunderbird Stadium.