The clock runs out on the University of Regina Rams during their Canada West semifinal against the UBC Thunderbirds on Saturday at Mosaic Stadium. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post
The University of Regina Rams’ bubble burst Saturday.
One season after going 0-8, the Rams had put together a 6-2 regular-season record to finish first in Canada West for the first time in school history.
But the fourth-place UBC Thunderbirds ended Regina’s dream season, posting a 40-34 semifinal victory in the final football game ever played at original Mosaic Stadium.
“It’s very deflating,” fifth-year receiver Riley Wilson said after making nine catches for 184 yards in the final game of his Rams career. “We worked so hard to get to this spot. To end like this — and especially to end my career like this — is very disappointing.”
While the Rams are done, UBC is to visit the Calgary Dinos in Saturday’s Hardy Cup final. Calgary advanced after Saturday’s 47-17 semifinal victory over the visiting Saskatchewan Huskies.
The T-Birds — the defending Vanier Cup champions — are in Canada West’s title game for the second straight season. The Dinos are making their ninth consecutive appearance in the league final.
The Rams were trying to reach the Hardy Cup for the first time since 2012, but they’ll have to be content with bouncing back from a winless season with a campaign that featured immeasurable improvement.
“(The semifinal loss) is disappointing for sure, but we had a lot of positives this year,” said linebacker Zack McEachern, who recorded five solo tackles and 11 assists Saturday.
“Turning this program around from where it was last year, we made a lot of positive steps. Like Coach (Steve) Bryce said, the expectation now is to be a winning program and a winning team. That’s something to build off.”
Bryce felt that Saturday’s loss took away from the Rams’ regular-season accomplishments, mainly because his squad had generated significant momentum heading into the playoffs.
Even so, Bryce was pleased with his team’s season overall.
“When you develop the expectations for that level of performance, you can call it a success,” said Regina’s first-year head coach. “There’s no longer any room for mediocrity.
“That’s the thing we’ve developed this year. The guys now have expectations for themselves and for their teammates and they’re going to start holding themselves and their teammates accountable. The season was a raging success as far as that goes.”
On Saturday, the Rams ran into a team that used its experience to its advantage. UBC went 3-5 in the regular season — with two of those losses coming against Regina — but turned into a different animal in the semifinal.
The T-Birds accumulated a whopping 42 first downs and had the ball for 35 minutes 21 seconds. That kept quarterback Noah Picton and Regina’s high-powered offence on the sideline.
“Having the playoff run we did last year, we know what to expect,” said T-Birds quarterback Michael O’Connor. “We know what playoff football is like and that really helped us out.”
O’Connor completed 29 of 40 pass attempts for 397 yards with touchdown tosses to Marshall Cook (15 yards) and David Mann (11 yards).
Ben Cummings (one-yard run) and Colton Zayshley (27-yard return of a blocked punt) also scored TDs for UBC, which got three field goals, four converts and a single from Greg Hutchins. Regina also conceded a safety.
Picton was 25-for-35 for 364 yards, 222 of which came in the fourth quarter as Regina tried to rally from a 39-13 deficit. He threw one TD pass, a nine-yarder to Ryan Schienbein with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Atlee Simon added scoring runs of one, two and two yards for Regina, which got two field goals and four converts from William McGee.