Quarterback Michael O’Connor of the UBC Thunderbirds tries to outrun Manitoba Bisons defender Braiden Watson during Friday’s Canada West game at UBC.
On a night when UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor took his team’s offence to heights it has never before achieved, he discovered that he’s got a running mate in his offensive backfield who is ready to help the cause.
O’Connor passed for 463 yards and the UBC offence set a new single-game record with 753 yards, as the ’Birds went to quadruple overtime and defeated the visiting Manitoba Bisons 53-50. The result keeps their hopes of a Canada West home playoff date intact.
“It means everything,” said head coach Blake Nill, whose team improved to 3-2, while Manitoba dropped to 2-3. “If we’d gone to 2-3 we’d have to win two of next three — and there’s no easy games. But we won and at least we’re in position. Every game like this is an investment in the culture of this program.”
With the score tied 47-47 to begin the fourth overtime, UBC defensive lineman Connor Griffiths recorded a sack to force a secondand-22. Manitoba was forced to settle for a 38-yard field goal to take a 50-47 lead.
The ’Birds won the marathon, however, when O’Connor threw a 35-yard swing pass to Trivel Pinto on UBC’s ensuing first snap. Pinto finished the game with three TD catches.
“We needed our offence to be better during the regular 60 minutes,” added Nill, “but we made up for it in overtime — and those throws by Michael.” O’Connor was stunning. On the first play of the extra session, from the Manitoba 35-yard line, he threw a scoring strike to receiver Pinto for a 37-30 lead. But Manitoba’s Trystan Dyce caught a 14-yard pass from Theo Deezar to tie the game 37-37. Manitoba’s Brady Mikoluff kicked a 42-yard field goal on the first possession of the overtime, but UBC’s Greg Hutchins answered with a 38-yard field goal of his own to once again tie the game.
Will Watson caught a 35-yard touchdown pass to open the third overtime from O’Connor to put UBC up 47-40, but Manitoba answered with a TD strike to Marquise Thompson to knot the score at 47.
Which brings us to Ben Cummings.
Cummings carried 19 times for 199 yards and rushed for two touchdowns, the most productive single-game rushing performance since Nill took over as the team’s head coach.
Friday night’s production is how the football universe was supposed to unfold for the guy who last season, as the heir apparent to graduating workhorse Brandon Deschamps, had enough encouraging performances to suggest that when the ’Birds opened defence of their 2015 Vanier Cup title, the train would surely keep rolling.
But just to show that the grandest of plans so often go awry, it took until the fifth week of an eightweek Canada West regular-season schedule before all of the pieces came together for the Thunderbirds’ running game.
And the way its passing game was struggling in the first half Friday, it was just in the nick of time.
“It came down to a little bit of attitude on the offensive line,” said Nill, “and from Ben, he is a powerful young man. He had to pick up the urgency, and he did today.”
Regina and Calgary both take 3-1 records into respective games today, and the top two teams earn the right to home field advantage on the opening round of the playoffs. UBC has road games remaining against both Saskatchewan and Regina before finishing the regular season at home to Calgary on Oct. 29.