UBC Thunderbird Tyler Turner makes a catch and is wrapped up by the University of Calgary Dinos’ Hunter Turnbull during CIS Canada West football action Friday at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.
You know it’s not your night when the two biggest plays that you manage to muster are matched by the opposition on their next snap of the ball.
That was the stone-cold reality which stepped up and slapped the UBC Thunderbirds square across their collective helmets on Friday night in a Canada West supershowdown against the host Calgary Dinos.
Sluggish on offence from the outset, never fully in sync and dogged by penalties the entire evening, the No. 2-ranked, defending Vanier Cup champion Birds (1-1) fell 35-8 at McMahon Stadium to the No. 3-ranked Dinos (2-0) in a rematch of last season’s Hardy Cup conference championship final won by UBC on its way to a national title.
Calgary, determined to make a bold statement, kept starting quarterback Jimmy Underdahl in to direct a touchdown drive in the final six seconds of play, and the Dinos’ defence quite stunningly held UBC to minus-one yard of total offence in the fourth quarter.
“Going in, we thought that if we could hold Calgary to 28 points, that we would win the game,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill of the team he coached for nine seasons before his defection to Point Grey in 2015. “The defensive kids gutted it out, but we just didn’t get it done on offence.”
After Calgary built a 14-1 halftime lead, UBC finally looked to have discovered its offensive stride when quarterback Michael O’Connor went six-for-six on a 46yard scoring drive capped by a twoyard touchdown pass to receiver Trivel Pinto.
The Dinos may have been feeling the heat with their lead cut to 14-8, but on their very next touch Calgary’s Denzel Radford returned the kickoff 97 yards to the UBC sixyard line. Quentin Chown rushed into the end zone on the next play and Calgary led 21-8.
UBC continued to show its resilience, and as the Dinos’ drove toward another touchdown, free safety Stavros Katsantonis made an end zone interception, his second pick in two games, returning the ball to his 11-yard line.
However, after being afforded a second chance to pull within one score, O’Connor’s first pass from scrimmage was picked off by Adam Laurensse, which led to a field goal and a 24-8 Dinos lead.
“They had a bad taste after we beat them in the Hardy Cup and they wanted to make a statement and they did,” said Katsantonis. “But this is only the second game of the season.”
Nill said the loss immediately becomes a teaching tool, and if this one doesn’t get his team’s attention, nothing will.
“I will use it for what I can,” said Nill.
“That’s for sure. The team we played tonight was fully committed to kicking our ass, and we didn’t respond. That’s how I’ll use this.”
UBC will close out its eight-game conference slate Oct. 29 by playing host to Calgary at Thunderbird Stadium. But next up, the Birds will play in front of what will likely be a sellout house in its homecoming game, Sept. 17 against Regina.
On Friday, UBC was out-rushed 191 yards to 61, while the Dinos’ defence limited O’Connor to 175 yards on 23-of-41 attempts.
“We knew going in it was about giving the defence time to jell,” said Nill. “And that’s what it still has to be. But for sure we need a quicker turnaround from the offence.”
It only gets tougher because the T-Birds may have lost receiver Alex Morrison for an extended period, perhaps to a fractured arm. And with depth in the defensive secondary a question, Nill was forced to double top receiver Pinto at cornerback for much of the second half.