UBC Thunderbirds coach starts season with a bang

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, 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 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 the 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.

The UBC squad scored in just about every possible fashion.

Kicker Quinn van Gylswyk opened scoring with a field goal and rouge before reigning Canada West Rookie of the Year Marcus Davis ran a punt return back 85 yards for a 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. 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 up 18-0. Then just seconds before halftime, Marshall Cook caught a 20-yard TD toss from O’Connor.

Following a van Gylswyk single in the third, Laval found the end zone. 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 T-Birds were able to stem the tide, closing the game with 10 straight points. Kevin Wiens picked off Laval quarterback Marc-Antoine Langevin and returned the ball 30 yards for a touchdown, before van Gylswyk finished off the day with his third field goal.

Wiens, who had two interceptions on the day, Cook and Pinto recorded their first Canadian Interuniversity Sport touchdowns on Saturday.

UBC’s defence intercepted Laval quarterbacks four times, with Dominique Termansen and Taylor Loffler getting the other two.

Terrell Davis and Troy Hansen led the T-Birds with six tackles each.

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.

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