UBC Thunderbirds receiver Marshall Cook gets behind Golden Bears defender Tak Landry to haul in a touchdown pass on Saturday at Foote Field. Cook caught three TD passes in a 62-0 victory.
The most decisive win in the 92year history of UBC Thunderbirds football came at just the perfect time for the defending Vanier Cup champions.
Yet, as amazing as it might be to reserve judgment on the heels of a 62-0 win on Saturday in Edmonton over the Alberta Golden Bears, anyone following this gridiron roller-coaster on the Point Grey campus knows that, until the ’Birds (2-2) actually beat someone of significance, the jury is still out.
“Today was really important because our season is on the line right now and there was lot of external expectations for this program,” said University of B.C. coach Blake Nill, whose team had lost two straight games to Calgary and Regina heading in, and looked bad doing it.
“The bottom line was that we knew we couldn’t afford to go 1-3. We had already dug a hole, and so as bad as we’d played this year, we had to take responsibility. This game helped us take a small step forward in that direction.”
Nill is keeping it real. Alberta has talented pieces, but they’re in the Canada West basement at 0-4 and UBC’s two wins this season have come at their expense. Yet, after losing a game they had every chance to win last week against Regina, it felt at times on Saturday that this was the same UBC team that got hot down the stretch drive of last season en route to the national crown.
’Birds quarterback Michael O’Connor put up CIS Player of the Week-type numbers, going 27-of36 for 413 yards, with five touchdowns. His five scoring strikes tied the school’s single-game record set in October 1977 by Danny Smith.
Receiver Marshall Cook caught three passes from O’Connor for 82 yards, each catch going for a TD. His trio of majors tied UBC’s single-game record.
Fellow UNC wideout Will Watson had nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Surpassing the 300-yard passing mark in the first half alone, O’Connor was able to take a step back in the fourth quarter as the ground game, special teams and defence all stepped up with points.
UBC got fourth quarter TDs on a 60-yard punt return by Marcus Davis, a one-yard run by Ben Cummings and a 70-yard fumble return by A.J. Blackwell. And the ’Birds defence, maligned but unbowed, produced something of a signature moment with the shutout.
In UBC’s 39-24 win over visiting Alberta on Sept. 3, the Bears hung around a little too long for the ’Birds liking. They did it by rushing for 312 yards, including 175 from Ed Ilnicki, Alberta’s steam-rolling running back.
This time around, Alberta was limited to 112 yards on the ground and Ilnicki to only 75 yards on 18 carries.
“Today we lined up (Trivel) Pinto and (Marcus) Davis on our defence,” said Nill of two of his offence’s most electric players. “We’re doing our best to get our best athletes on the field.”
Now, as the second half of the regular season begins Friday (7 p.m.) at Thunderbird Stadium against Manitoba, the real test begins for UBC. They play the Bisons at home, then it’s the bye week, followed by Saskatchewan and Regina on the road and finally, on Oct. 29, at home to the Calgary Dinos.
“After we lost last week to Regi- na, I spoke to the players the next morning and I said that the film is never as bad as it seems, and never as good as it seems,” Nill said.
“So after this one today, I told them to remember that. We did a lot of good things on offence, but we also made so many mistakes, took so many silly penalties. We made a lot of mental errors, but at the same time, we found a way to get everything done.”
Even on a record-setting night, UBC has so much more work ahead of them.
SFU REMAINS WINLESS
The Simon Fraser Clan football team comes home to Burnaby Mountain this week, still looking for its first win since the 2014 season.
SFU (0-4 overall, 0-2 league) both opened and closed the scoring Saturday in the Los Angeles area, as quarterback Miles Richardson threw 36-yard touchdown passes to both Gavin Cobb and Justin Buren. In-between, however, the host Azusa Pacific Cougars did all of their damage and came away with a 64-14 win.
“We played mistake-free for the first 10 minutes,” said Clan coach Kelly Bates, “but as soon as we had a turnover on a punt with a mishandled snap, for us, it’s a gamechanger. It’s the stuff that we have to learn to overcome.”
SFU plays its first game on its Burnaby Mountain campus since 2013 when it hosts the Central Washington Wildcats Saturday on Terry Fox Field (6 p.m.).