The UBC Thunderbirds’ Cinderella season just won’t end.
A week after claiming their first Canada West Hardy Cup title since 1997, the T-Birds magical season continued Saturday in Antigonish, NS, as UBC earned a dominating 36-9 victory over the host St. FX X-Men in the Uteck Bowl.
With the win, the T-Birds advance to the Vanier Cup, where they’ll face the defending national champion Montreal Carabins. Montreal punched their return ticket to the Vanier with 25-10 win over the Guelph Gryphons Saturday in the other national semifinal – the Mitchell Bowl.
Leading the way for the Thunderbirds was veteran running back Brandon Deschamps, who racked up 128 rushing yards, 50 receiving yards and a touchdown to claim the Uteck Bowl MVP honour.
Also key for the Thunderbirds offensively was former Penn State quarterback Michael O’Connor, who picked apart the St. FX defence.
O’Connor – first-year head coach Blake Nill’s prize recruit in the offseason – was on point against the X-Men, tossing two touchdown passes and 272 passing yards.
Defensively, UBC took advantage of St. FX’s numerous miscues, securing half a dozen turnovers, as the X-Men couldn’t find the endzone until the dying moments in front of a rain-soaked home crowd at Oland Stadium.
Much like O’Connor on offence, it was a Nill recruit that stole the spotlight defensively for UBC, as former Boise State safety Taylor Loffler recorded six tackles an interception and fumble recovery for the T-Birds.
Led on the field by the likes of O’Connor, it’s been a remarkable turnaround season for UBC in 2015, as the pivot has been a major reason UBC went from a 2-6 team in 2014 to a Vanier Cup finalist just a year later.
The rapid rebuild has owed in large part to the work of Nill and the rest of his coaching staff, who have gotten every ounce of potential out of a UBC team that was just the second in conference history since 1999 to go from outside the playoffs one year to second the next, joining SFU who did it in 2003.
Following conference playoff wins over the Manitoba Bisons in the Hardy Cup Semis and subsequently the No. 1-ranked Calgary Dinos in the 79th Hardy Cup, Nill’s squad is now headed to Canadian university football’s biggest stage, as the program looks for a fourth national title and their first since 1997 when they downed Ottawa 39-23.
The Thunderbirds are also in search of Canada West’s first Vanier Cup win since the Bisons downed the Saint Mary’s Huskies in 2007.
The 51st Vanier Cup goes Saturday, November 28 at Telus Stadium in Quebec City. The game can be seen live on Sportsnet at 10 AM PT.
NOTES: The game was the first national semifinal to be hosted in Antigonish…UBC will carry a seven-game win streak into the Vanier Cup…UBC opened 2015 with 41-16 preseason win over Laval on August 29 at Telus Stadium, the site of the Vanier Cup.