UBC’s Trevor Casey can’t reach around Regina’s Joey Dwyer to make the catch Friday in Regina. UBC lost 35-33.
The UBC Thunderbirds road to the playoffs just keeps getting bumpier every week.
And now, with just one more game remaining in its Canada West regular season, it could well be a win-orgo-home scenario for the defending Vanier Cup champs.
After a 35-33 loss Friday to the Regina Rams, the post-season fate of the Thunderbirds (3-4) is now going to be decided at home this Saturday in their regular-season finale against the first-place Calgary Dinos.
UBC can make the playoffs if beats the Dinos, but it if doesn’t, it would have to also hope that Manitoba (3-4) loses its final game of the regular season against Regina.
Its latest loss, however, didn’t result because of any lack of effort.
After giving up back-to-back touchdowns to the host Rams (5-2) to open the fourth quarter and fall behind 28-19, UBC’s Tanner Friesen intercepted Regina quarterback Noah Picton with 2:35 remaining and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown to pull his team within 28-26.
And even though Picton came right back, throwing a 70-yard scoring pass to his cousin, Mitchell Picton with 1:36 remaining to make it 35-26, UBC still refused to die. They drove 79 yards in 52 seconds and pulled to within 35-33 when quarterback Michael O’Connor hit receiver Will Watson with a nineyard TD pass.
The ‘Birds, however, couldn’t recover an onside kick in the final seconds of play and Rams went on to clinch a home playoff date.
“The first thing I said to the kids is that I was proud of how they came back and stayed in the game,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill. “We played well enough to win but we didn’t make enough plays to win. If we make five more plays we win the game. But we didn’t and that was the difference.”
It probably didn’t need to be anywhere near five.
UBC played one of its best third quarters of the season, coming out of the halftime locker-room and driving 50 yards in three plays, capped by O’Connor’s 11-yard scoring strike to Watson.
Not letting a first-half drop hurt his focus, Watson brought in the pass with his right hand and tucked it in safely to put UBC ahead 15-14.
The ‘Birds added a pair of singles and a conceded safety to lead 19-14 heading into the fourth, but they should have had more.
A.J. Blackwell’s hit and Evan Horton’s fumble recovery put UBC at the Regina 15, but the visitors had to settle for a single after Greg Hutchins missed a 31-yard field goal.
The Thunderbirds didn’t exactly play their most efficient football in the opening half of play, either.
In the opening quarter, UBC receiver Trey Kellogg made a huge catch from O’Connor but had the ball knocked out of his grasp at the Regina three-yard line and the Rams took aver after recovering it in their own end zone.
Later in the half, O’Connor found Watson all alone in the end zone, and while the UBC receiver did a tremendous job to high-point for the catch, he was unable to snare what seemed a sure TD strike.
Instead of six points, UBC got a 21-yard field goal Hutchins to tie the score 7-7.
“In three games this season, our losses have been self-inflicted,” added Nill. “But that doesn’t take away from our effort. It’s just that flat out, the Regina team made more plays than the UBC team. We had chances to make plays and we didn’t, and that’s what it is.
“It’s not that we were out-coached, it’s not that we were out-schemed. We had chances to make plays and we didn’t.”
Regina led 14-7 at the half when receiver Atlee Simon turned a one-handed catch into a 28-yard touchdown and a 14-8 halftime lead.
UBC running back Ben Cummings finished with 129 rushing yards and 202 all-purpose yards, and although he didn’t score a touchdown, his ability to find success on the ground allowed UBC their freedom to play pitch-and-catch all over the park. A number of drops, however, nullified that advantage.
The only thing UBC can focus on now is to beat Calgary in its finale. Shy of that, it would have to hope that Manitoba loses one of its final two games. If UBC and Manitoba finish in a tie, the ‘Birds own the tiebreaker.
UBC could have clinched a playoff date this weekend if they had beaten Regina in concert with a Manitoba loss Saturday to Alberta.
Nill admits that his team can’t afford to consider any external scenario.
“I told the kids to get their heads up,” said Nill. “This week is over and now we need to focus on winning a game next week.”
In the loss, O’Connor went 28-of47 for 364 yards and two touchdowns, his 28 completions giving 182 on the season and setting a new single-season school record.
Former Hec Crighton award winner Billy Greene had established the standard of 171 completions in 2011.