Loss raises ante for defending champions The simple scenario? ’Birds must win their final two games


— GREG PENDER/PNG FILES

Saskatchewan Huskies defender Ben Whiting knocks the ball away from UBC’s Will Watson during their Canada West clash in Saskatoon Friday night.

Friday was the crossroads game of the UBC Thunderbirds’ Canada West football season, and the fallout from the defending Vanier Cup champions’ 40-10 loss at the hands of the host Saskatchewan Huskies is substantial.

“We have to win two games,” head coach Blake Nill said when asked what his team has to do to insure it gets to the post-season.

“This was a game that I thought we would have had a chance to win, but we did not.”

UBC can get to the playoffs through a number of different scenarios, but Nill’s formula is still the most sound because unless his team builds some momentum in a hurry, their playoff run is going to be short.

The Thunderbirds (3-3) currently sit in Canada West’s fourth and final playoff spot, with its remaining two games coming next week at CIS No. 4-ranked Regina and at home Oct. 29 to No. 5-ranked Calgary.

Without getting into the minutiae of possibilities, UBC could miss the conference playoffs if it loses both games and the fifth-place Manitoba Bisons (2-3) win both of their games.

If UBC wins one of its last two games, it stands a good chance of making the playoffs, since its 53-50 quadruple overtime win over Manitoba Sept. 30 gives it the tiebreaker should both they and the Bisons finish locked in the standings at 4-4.

But there remains the possibility that more than two teams can be tied at season’s end, requiring a complicated tiebreaking procedure.

Friday, UBC’s Jekyll-and-Hyde offence, albeit one now missing, through injuries, Marcus Davis, David Mann and Alex Morrison, did an about-face from the 53 points it scored against the Bisons, producing just one touchdown and one field goal against the Huskies.

In sharp contrast, Saskatchewan’s passing game made an impressive statement, especially in the second half when quarterback Kyle Siemens hit receiver Mitch Hillis on back-toback scoring strikes. The second, a 77-yard completion, put the Huskies ahead by the game’s final score.

Although they trailed 7-0 after the first offensive series of the game, UBC looked as if it was going to be competitive because running back Ben Cummings was showing burst and explosion.

Although he was held out of the end zone, Cummings put up 232 all-purpose yards, rushing 16 times

“This was a game that I thought we would have had a chance to win, but we did not.”

— BLAKE NILL THUNDERBIRDS HEAD COACH

for 140 and making nine catches for 92 yards.

UBC’s only major score was a 20-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Michael O’Connor to Trivel Pinto which pulled the ’Birds to 1710. They wouldn’t score again the rest of the night — Saskatchewan scored its final 23 points unanswered.

“It comes down to execution, and right now we’re not a very good football team,” Nill said. “What’s happening is we’re playing a lot of guys that didn’t expect to be playing this year. But that can’t be used as an excuse. A lot of guys that we require a higher level of performance from, we’re not getting it.

“It’s disappointing because a number of guys out there are defending national champions and they’ve played in high-stakes games. So for us not to execute the way we have proven we are capable of doing in the past is very concerning.”

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