UBC linebacker Elliot Graham tries to track down Manitoba Bisons’ QB Theo Deezar during Saturday's game at Thunderbirds Stadium. Bob Frid / PNG
The offence set the tone. The defence brought them home.
A week after self-destructing in a 36-20 season-opening road loss to the Regina Rams, the UBC Thunderbirds put together a complete-game performance in a 32-18 home win over the Manitoba Bisons in USports football action on Saturday afternoon at Thunderbird Stadium.
The T-Birds jumped out to a 13-0 lead before a massive third-quarter 19-0 point outburst — including a school-record 107-yard interception return for a touchdown by rookie linebacker Elliot Graham — put the game to bed.
“It was very thrilling,” said Graham, who bettered the previous record of 106 yards set by Sandy Beveridge in 2000.
“I owe it to my D Line, the defence for helping me out. The secondary picked up blocks, it was a long run and it was hard, but I’m just grateful to be in position to be able to make that play. We came together as a team and a family, we came out with a high tempo and progressed and we’re going to come back even stronger next week.”
Last week in Regina, UBC was flagged 23 times for 210 yards, having two touchdowns called back because of the infractions. On Saturday against the Bisons, they had just four penalties for 39 yards.
Defensively, UBC was stout, limiting the Bisons to just 24 rushing yards, and pitching shutouts in the first and third quarters.
“Our defensive line is probably as strong as it’s been since I’ve been here,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill. “We’ve got some veterans there but now we’ve surrounded them by four 18-year-olds who just play the game so well.”
Third-year running back Ben Cummings had 24 carries for 145 yards against the Manitoba Bisons Saturday night.
The T-Birds offence fumbled on their opening possession, but rebounded in the next series, with quarterback Michael O’Connor putting together a 78-yard drive capped off by a five-yard TD pass to Trivel Pinto. It was a bounce back game for O’Connor, who was 21-for-30 for 257 yards and two touchdowns, a week after a forgettable night in Regina, where he had just 155 yards, no touchdowns and an interception on 14-of-25 passing.
He was helped by the offensive balance provided by Marcus Davis (eight catches, 92 yards, one touchdown) and third-year running back Ben Cummings, who had 145 yards rushing on 24 carries.
“When you can run the ball, it’s demoralizing for the other team,” said Cummings, an Abbotsford product.
“We can really keep running the ball over and over down the whole field. It’s a momentum builder for sure.”
Saturday’s victory makes it three-straight years UBC has won their home opener. It also continued their mastery over Manitoba, who have lost five-straight regular season and playoff games against the T-Birds.
UBC returns to action next Saturday against the Saskatchewan Huskies (5 p.m., Thunderbird Stadium), and Nill is hoping the improvement over last week isn’t a short-lived trend.
“We need to be more consistent offensively, finishing when we’re in the end zone,” said Nill. “We’re going to get better, our goal each and every week is to get better.”