VANCOUVER - In their most dominant showing of the season, the No. 9-ranked UBC Thunderbirds (4-2) overwhelmed the Alberta Golden Bears (2-4) in all facets of the game, winning by a final score of 54-10. With the result, the T-Birds officially locked up their spot in the Canada West playoffs, as, with just two games left on the schedule, they can finish no lower than fourth in the league standings.
Even after such a one-sided win from his squad, UBC head coach Blake Nill is always looking to take it one step further.
"We played well for large parts of the game, but there's still a lot of room for improvement, and the kids know that," remarked the coach. "But, the big thing is that we're winning games that we should win, and that's all you can really ask for.
It was the Brandon Deschamps (Prince George, B.C.) show on offence, as the fifth-year tailback racked up 176 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on 16 carries in just three quarters of work. Quarterback MIchael O'Connor (Orleans, Ont.) had a solid outing, completing 14 of 22 passes for 214 yards and a score. O'Connor also spread the ball effectively, with tailback Marcus Davis (Victoria, B.C.) (five catches for 63 yards), and receivers Alex Morrison (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) (two catches for 49 yards) and WIll Watson (Surrey, B.C.) (two catches for 49 yards) the primary beneficiaries.
UBC's defence was terrific across the board, but was lead by first-year defensive back Stavros Katsantonis. The Bakersfield, Calif., native was everywher on Saturday, as he racked up 5.5 total tackles, two interceptions and a 61-yard fumble recovery touchdown. Linebacker Mitch Barnett (North Vancouver) had another terrific outing, racking up 8.5 total tackles and half of a sack. Another linebacker, Terrell Davis (Victoria, B.C.), had a monster outing, picking up 6.5 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
On Alberta's side, Ben Kopczyski started the contest at quarterback and finished with a line of 15-of-20 for 120 yards and two interceptions. Brad Baker replaced him late in the contest and completed 10-of-15 passes for 65 yards, adding 18 yards and a touchdown on the ground. UBC's defence also held star running back Ed Ilnicki to 70 yards on 14 carries.
UBC drew first blood with four minutes left in the opening quarter. First, O'Connor hit Watson over the middle for 28 yards before finding Marcus Davis on back-to-back tosses of 19 and 30 yards. After the offence stalled in the scoring area, kicker Quinn Van Gylswyk (Victoria, B.C.) capped off the drive, booting a 19-yarder through the uprights.
On Alberta's ensuing drive, UBC's Katsantonis made sure the momentum stayed on the T-Birds' side, as he picked off Kopczynski's first pass from scrimmage, running it back to the UBC 43-yard line.
The T-BIrds made sure that Alberta's mistake cost them, with Deschamps leading the charge. The bruising tailback racked up a 37 total yards on the drive, including the touchdown run on a nasty six-yard cutback. Watson and Morrison also helped out in the passing game, hauling in grabs of 21 and 13 yards, respectively. The score put the T-Birds up 10-0 just a minute into the second quarter.
On an Alberta drive just five minutes later, Katsantonis continued his spectacular afternoon. As Ilnicki was powering his way across midfield, fourth-year defensive back Adam Senuik (Sherwood Park, Alta.) made a smart tackle, popping the ball of the workhorse back's hands. Katsantonis was in perfect position to pick up the loose ball, and ran it back untouched for a 61-yard score.
The Golden Bears finally got on the board on their next possession, as a nice drive from Kopczynski ended in a 25-yard Stephen Fabian field goal. The Fabian kick put the score at 17-3 with just over six minutes left in the first half.
The T-Birds' offence made sure not to let Alberta off the mat with their next drive. Deschamps set the tone early in the possesion, with rushes of 13, 6, and 7 yards. O'Connor then went back to work, hitting Davis in the slot for an 11-yard gain. Then, the Penn State transfer found Morrison on a quick throw down the left flank. The 6-foot-4 receiver did well to bring the ball down at the Alberta 22-yard line, then simply turned on the afterburners and out raced the defenders to the end zone. Neither side could tack anything else on the scoreboard before the break, and it remained 24-3 for the Blue and Gold.
It didn't take Katsantonis long to make his impact felt once more after the intermission. On Alberta's first drive of the half, Katsantonis jumped a short pass from Kopczynski, deftly picked it out of the air at the Alberta 29, and ran it back 10 yards before stepping it out of bounds.
UBC didn't score directly on their ensuing drive, but pinned Alberta deep on their own territory after failing on a third-down conversion attempt. After the Golden Bears got the ball back, Davis ripped through the offensive line and brought down Kopczynski for a sack. Alberta conceded a safety on the next play, giving UBC a 26-3 lead and the ball back just five minutes into the quarter.
The T-Birds' next drive, starting from their own 42-yard line, was a blue and gold blur wearing 33. On the first play of the series, Deschamps took a hand off from O'Connor and absolutely bolted down the right side, weaving his way into the Alberta secondary and racing untouched for a 68-yard touchdown.
"We run an outside zone quite a bit, and it worked pretty well on the counter because you're selling outside zone and there was a lot of flow," Deschamps said of the long run. "So, when we cut back, two pullers were ahead of me and I just stuck my foot in the ground and bounced it."
The defence stopped Alberta again on their ensuing drive, and then O'Connor got the offence going once more with six and a half minutes left in the third quarter. After nickle-and-diming his way to midfield, O'Connor connected on a 23-yard toss with Ben Cummings (Abbotsford, B.C.), who showed remarkable concentation to bring the ball down after it was tipped up by another UBC receiver.
Deschamps added to his gaudy totals on the next play, busting through Alberta's defensive line and scampering for a 32-yard touchdown run, his third of the contest.
The T-BIrds weren't done, as UBC backup quarterback Trevor Casey (Port Coquitlam, B.C.), in for O'Connor, and Davis teamed up to stretch the T-Birds' lead just two minutes later. Casey, starting on Alberta's 38-yard line, showed impressive athleticism on a 18-yard scramble before pitching it off to Davis in open space. Davis did what he does best, and took it to the house to make it 47-3.
The start of the fourth quarter saw another Alberta two-and-out, which gave UBC's special teams a turn to get in on the action. Return man Trivel Pinto (Toronto) took a Fabian punt at the Alberta 50-yard line and found a seam up the middle, streaking through the Golden Bears' coverage unit and tacking on another seven points.
Alberta broke through for a touchdown midway through the final frame, as Baker ran in a one-yard touchdown to cap off a four-play, 25-yard drive. But that was it for the scoring on both sides, as the final score read 54-10 for the Thunderbirds.
Tylor Henry had 53 yards on seven catches to lead Alberta, while Jimmy Ralph also caught seven balls, for 44 yards.
Tom Tsoumpas had 14 tackles, including five solo ones, to share the game high.
After the contest, Nill also addressed the prospect of a longer campaign, as his squad locked down a spot in the post-season.
"We know that we're now playing an extra week, we've gotta do a lot as coaches - we've got to manage our players, and players have to manage themselves," said Nill. We've got to try and stay healthy and get ready for when the games really count."
UBC will travel to Saskatoon, Sask., for a contest at Saskatchewan on Friday, while Alberta will play at Manitoba on Friday.