VANCOUVER – That was the definition of a shootout.
The No. 10 UBC Thunderbirds (2-1-0) went into Investors Group Field and beat the No. 7 Manitoba Bisons (1-2-0) in thrilling fashion, earning a 51-48 win over their Canada West rivals. Quarterback Michael O'Connor (Orleans, Ont.) led the T-Birds' offence to their highest scoring performance since October 19, 2013, a 60-0 win over the Alberta Golden Bears.
O'Connor was absolutely surgical against Manitoba, carving up the Bisons defense to the tune of 398 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
The UBC receiving corps terrorized the Manitoba secondary all night, with Alex Morrison (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) hauling in five balls for 118 yards and a touchdown, Trivel Pinto (Toronto) bringing down eight catches for 107 yards, and Will Watson (Surrey, B.C.) catching four passes for 83 yards and two scores. Offensive weapon Marcus Davis (Victoria, B.C.) also played a significant role in the passing game, catching five balls for 44 yards and a score.
Brandon Deschamps (Prince George, B.C.) was great on the ground for the T-Birds, racking up 84 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, though he did lose a fumble in the first half.
Special teams play was dominated by the T-Birds, with a 103-yard kick return touchdown from Pinto, the second-longest in school history, and a couple of trick plays from head coach Blake Nill among the highlights.
Talking about the back-and-forth nature of the game, Nill was impressed with the amount of moxie and resiliency his squad showed.
"Full credit to those young men," said Nill. "They did what it took to win, on the road, against a very good football team, and right now, I'm just very proud of these guys for doing what it took to earn a hard-fought win."
However, the game didn't start out the way the T-Birds were hoping for. On Manitoba's first drive of the night, Bisons quarterback Theo Deezar launched a 45-yard bomb to wideout Jesse Walker, who ran in untouched to the end zone to make it 7-0.
Kicker Quinn Van Gylswyk (Victoria, B.C.) got the T-Birds on the board with four minutes left in the first quarter. After Marcus Davis' 27-yard punt return got UBC deep into Manitoba territory, the offence stalled out on the next two plays. Van Gylswyk then stepped in and drilled a 37-yard field goal, cutting the Bisons lead to 7-3.
O'Connor picked it up in a big way to start the second quarter. On UBC's first drive of the frame, the Penn State transfer dialed up a 42-yard bomb to senior wide receiver Morrison, who did well to adjust to the ball and bring it in for the touchdown. With 13:43 left in the second quarter, the score gave the T-Birds their first lead of the contest, The defense stepped up for UBC on the next Bisons drive. After defensive end Dante Vigini (Coquitlam, B.C.) blew up a rushing attempt by Manitoba star running back Jamel Lyles, free safety Taylor Loffler (Kelowna, B.C.) made a brilliant one-handed interception on Deezar's next throw. Loffler, the reigning Canada West Defensive Player of the Week, picked up 22 yards on the return.
Faced with a third down for UBC on the ensuing drive, Nill called for a bit of trickery. Set up for a 38-yard field goal, holder Trevor Casey (Port Coquitlam, B.C.) instead flipped the ball to linebacker Terrell Davis (Victoria, B.C.) on the sweep to the right. The linebacker raced down to the Manitoba six-yard line before being shoved out of bounds.
With five and a half minutes left in the first half, Manitoba kicker Ryan Jones chipped away at UBC's lead with a 31-yard field goal, making the game 13-10 for the T-Birds. Pinto made sure to stem the Manitoba momentum on the ensuing kickoff. UBC's 6-foot returner took a high kick from Jones at his own 7-yard line and absolutely took off, finding a seam through Manitoba's coverage unit for a smooth 103-yard touchdown.
Another Jones field goal cut the lead to 20-13 with just under two minutes left in the half, and then O'Connor showed why he was such a lauded acquisition on the next drive.
After penalties got the T-Birds into a second and long situation, O'Connor found Morrison, who was left wide open following a Manitoba defensive breakdown, on a 44-yard bomb. Not giving the Bisons a chance to regroup, O'Connor went deep again on the next play, hitting Watson on a pinpoint-accurate 31-yard throw in the end zone.
Deezar led the Bisons back before the end of the half, leading a scoring drive that started on his own 23-yard line. After hitting a variety of receivers to march downfield, the series culminated in a shovel pass to Lyles, who took the ball 21 yards to the house.
The two teams went into the break with UBC up 27-20.
Nill pulled another trick out his hat to start the second half, as he called an onside kick that the T-Birds executed perfectly. Van Gylswyk placed a perfect ball to Watson on the kick, and UBC took possession at the Manitoba 51-yard line.
The UBC offence picked apart the Bisons defence on the ensuing drive, with O'Connor hitting Morrison and receiver Marshall Cook (Nanaimo, B.C.) before Deschamps broke a 21-yard run up the middle for the touchdown.
After the defence forced another two-and-out, O'Connor and his receiving corps went back to work.
With 10 minutes to go in the frame, O'Connor hit Davis on his first pass of the drive, and the running back fought his way to a first down. Next, it was Pinto on a 16-yard pass, and then Morrison on back-to-back tosses. O'Connor then found Davis twice, first on a 20-yard shovel pass, and then on a 16-yard pass where Davis found the soft spot in Manitoba's secondary and walked in untouched for the score.
The Bisons offence did well not to let the game get out of hand, as Deezar and running back Alex Christie led another long drive after the Davis touchdown. Christie was the key for the Manitoba offence, as he took a short shovel pass from Deezar and raced 35 yards to the UBC end zone, making it 41-27 for the T-Birds.
With the two teams trading punts, the score remained that way for the rest of the third quarter.
After Deezar did well to pull the Bisons back to within seven at the opening of the fourth quarter, finishing a scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown run of his own, O'Connor wasted no time in answering right back.
After Malcom Lee (Surrey, B.C.) returned Jones' kickoff to the Manitoba 53-yard line, O'Connor hit Pinto on a 29-yard connection, and then found Watson in space. The receiver did the rest, beating Manitoba's secondary to the pylon and restoring UBC's two-touchdown lead with 12 minutes left in the contest.
Five minutes later, Deezar orchestrated another touchdown drive, hitting four different receivers and driving down to the UBC two-yard line, where fullback Andrew Barry punched it in.
On UBC's next drive, O'Connor hit Watson and Pinto on a couple of big gains, putting the T-Birds in scoring territory. Van Gylswyk added to the T-Birds' lead after the drive stalled, with his 27-yard field goal putting UBC up 51-40 with just 2:44 left in the game.
The Bisons would not go quietly, and, after Deezar's arm got Manitoba to the UBC 31-yard line, Lyles took a short pass from his quarterback and bolted to the house, making a couple of defenders miss in the open field en route to making it 51-48 with 93 seconds remaining.
For the Bisons, who fell to 1-2 on the season, the story of the contest was Deezar, who finished with a Manitoba school-record 519 passing yards, four touchdowns, and the one interception. Lyles was a nightmare for the UBC defence in all facets of the game, picking up 148 all-purpose yards.
Even a good record out of his team's initial three games, Nill expects that, with the way they've responded to his instruction thus far, the T-Birds haven't come close to hitting full stride.
"We're 2-1 in the regular season now, and the kids are constantly getting better," said Nill. "We're gaining experience quickly, and I've been tough on these guys, but they've responded the right way, and I couldn't be more proud of them."
The Thunderbirds will look to continue their momentum as they return home to take on the Saskatchewan Huskies at David Sidoo Field at Thunderbird Stadium on Friday, September 25, 2015. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. (PT)