Thunderbirds will defend Hardy Cup title after outlasting Rams in Regina
REGINA, Sask. – The No. 4-seeded University of British Columbia Thunderbirds outlasted the Regina Rams 40-34 on Saturday in a Hardy Cup semifinal game and what was the last football game ever played inside Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field. UBC will now prepare to face Calgary, as the two teams will square off for the Canada West title at McMahon Stadium for the second consecutive season. For the Rams, Saturday's game was simply a case of too little, too late. UBC scored 17 points in a span of just under seven minutes midway through the second half to give the Thunderbirds a 26-point lead, and that was just too much for the Rams to overcome. The U of R scored three touchdowns in the second half of the fourth quarter, but weren't able to recover any of their three onside kick attempts and UBC was able to kneel out for the win after the final Rams touchdown with just nine seconds left.
UBC quarterback Michael O'Connor was 29-for-40, finishing with 397 passing yards and touchdown passes to Marshall Cook and David Mann. Will Watson was UBC's leading receiver with nine catches for 116 yards, while Trivel Pinto added five catches for 86 yards and Mann finished with five receptions for 72 yards. Ben Cummings rushed 21 times for 92 yards and a touchdown. Ryley Butler and Kevin Wiens both had sacks for the UBC defence, while Treymont Levy's forced fumble late in the third quarter was a big part of the second-half push that swung all the momentum in UBC's favour. Noah Picton completed 25 of his 35 pass attempts for 364 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Schienbein with seconds remaining in the game. Atlee Simon rushed 16 times for 78 yards and tied Cory Olynick's school record of three touchdown rushes for the fourth time in his career. Playing in his final game as a Ram, fifth-year slotback Riley Wilson caught nine passes for a career-high 184 yards – most of which came in the fourth quarter alone.
Zack McEachern led the Rams with 10½ tackles, while McEachern, Nicholas Dheilly, Joey Dwyer, and Bryce McKinnon all had a tackle for loss. Cord Delinte picked off O'Connor deep in Rams territory for the second time in three weeks, intercepting a ball on the three-yard line and running it back 47 yards for the team's longest interception since the 2013 season. The two teams traded a field goal apiece in the first quarter, but the second saw UBC score 17 points in even quicker succession than what would follow in the second half. After Greg Hutchins' second field goal of the game and a two-and-out on the ensuing Rams possession, UBC blocked a punt and – for the second time against Regina this season – Colton Zayshley followed that up with a touchdown, this time running it in from 27 yards out. And on UBC's next possession O'Connor engineered a six-play, 69-yard drive with passes to four different receivers, with the last one going to Cook for a 15-yard touchdown. But the Rams got one back before the end of the half, as two passes from Picton to Wilson helped set up Simon for his first touchdown of the game and cut UBC's lead to 20-10 at halftime.
In the third quarter, it looked as though the big interception and return by Delinte might give the Rams a spark, especially after a 15-yard personal foul was tacked on to the end of the return. But the Rams settled for a 30-yard field goal from William McGee to get to within nine at 22-13, and UBC followed that up with a backbreaking drive. The Thunderbirds twice converted on third down during the nine-play, 75-yard drive – first on a fake punt, then on a play where Hutchins appeared to be lining up for a 44-yard field goal before UBC switched formations and had Trivel Pinto rush out of the wildcat for a six-yard gain. Cummings finished off that drive with a one-yard plunge, and UBC followed that up with a field goal after Levy jarred the ball loose from Simon on the first play of the next possession. And after another two-and-out for the Rams, UBC put together long drive. This one went eight plays, covered 80 yards, and took 3:53 off the clock with Mann finishing it off with an 11-yard touchdown catch. That put UBC up 39-13 and while they only scored one more point the rest of the way, that's all they needed. A pair of two-yard touchdown runs by Simon brought the Rams to within 13 and Schienbein's late touchdown catch made it a one-possession game with nine seconds to go, but UBC recovered the U of R's third onside kick attempt of the quarter to seal the win. Calgary and UBC will meet next Saturday afternoon (1:00) at McMahon Stadium.
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