Thunderbirds stun host Regina Defending Vanier Cup champs set to face Calgary in Hardy Cup final


Regina Rams quarterback Noah Picton and UBC pivot Michael O’Connor pay some post-game respects after the Thunderbirds’ 40-34 win Saturday.

The pass-happy world of Canadian university football had one of its most significant moments occur this season when Regina Rams quarterback Noah Picton established our country’s all-time single-season collegiate passing mark with 3,714 yards over eight regular-season games

Consider that for a second, as well as the Rams’ perfect 4-0 home record in the Canada West regular season, their No. 4 national ranking and the fact that they would be playing the final game in the history of Taylor Field to open the playoffs.

OK, that might not be a team you want to face in the opening round of the playoffs, especially if they’ve already beaten you twice this season.

None of that, however, seemed to have the UBC Thunderbirds all aflutter.

After backing into the playoffs carrying all of the momentum that a two-game losing streak and a sub-.500 record can offer, all the defending Vanier Cup champs did Saturday was build a 26-point second-half lead, hunker down and get out of Regina with what had to be a considered a stunning 40-34 upset win.

Now, it’s on to Calgary this Saturday for a repeat of last season’s Hardy Cup championship final.

Calgary punched its ticket Saturday with a 47-17 win over visiting Saskatchewan.

The Birds’ much-maligned offence, led by the near-400 passing yards of quarterback Michael O’Connor, played perhaps their most efficient game of the season, with a balanced attack through the air and along the ground, all keyed by the maturity of their offensive line.

“Michael had an incredible game but the kid is a leader,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill. “But what we’re seeing is an emergence in the confidence of the offensive line and the run game, so I have got to throw some bouquets in their direction, too.”

And speaking of balance, O’Connor was simply masterful in spreading the ball around, showcasing the depth of a receiv- ing core many thought was the best in the nation at the start of the season.

The Penn State transfer, who went 29-of-40 for 397 yards and two touchdowns against just one interception, completed at least four passes to five different receivers, with every UBC receiver on the day averaging at least 11 yards-per-catch. Picton passed for 364, exactly 100 below his season average.

“It was nothing fancy,” said O’Connor. “We just executed and when we do, this is what happens. For me, it’s not so much about throwing to certain receivers. The coverage tells you where to go and I trust every one of them. Today, they all stepped up.”

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