UBC's Payton LaGrange returns an interception against Regina on Friday. It was one of the few highlights for the visiting Thunderbirds. Glen McMurchy/UBC Athletics
It was supposed to be a duel. The UBC Thunderbirds, for all the wrong reasons, made it feel very singular.
The nationally No. 5-ranked Regina Rams jumped out to a 33-6 lead against No. 7 UBC Friday at Mosaic Stadium before giving up a pair of late touchdowns in what wound up a 36-20 final score in the Canada West regular season opener.
The game featured two of the best quarterbacks this country has seen recently in Regina’s Noah Picton, who won the Hec Crighton Trophy last year as U Sports top football player, and Michael O’Connor, who led UBC to the Vanier Cup national title in 2015.
Picton finished the night 23-of-35 for 335 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. O’Connor was 14-of-25 for 155 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.
UBC produced 318 yards of total offence. They also were flagged for 210 yards in penalties.
“To be honest, we played like it was our first exhibition game of the year,” said UBC coach Blake Nill, whose team did actually have a preseason encounter, recording a 33-30 win over the Alberta Golden Bears in Kamloops Aug. 23.
“Just the amount of mistakes that were made, the lack of discipline … we never gave ourselves a chance. That’s what is most disappointing.
“We organized the game last week to get the wrinkles out, and it appears it went for nothing.
“I’m not very happy. Half our team was part of a national championship. There are no excuses for them. And there are no excuses for the coaches, either. We certainly didn’t do what we needed to do. The coaches need to wear their share of it, and myself included. It’s my team. Ultimately, it falls to me.”
Regina beat UBC twice during the regular season last year, but the fourth-place T-Birds upset the first-place Rams 40-34 in the opening round of the playoffs.
“I don’t want to say it completely wipes out the playoff game, because it doesn’t, obviously,” Picton told the Regina Leader-Post after the game Friday.
“But it was good to get back out there against these guys and win the football game and outplay them in all three phases of the game.
“You get familiar with some of the players on their team and the coaches and whatnot. There’s a little bit of bad blood, but we’re happy we won this one.”
Shane Noel, on a one-yard run, and Marcus Davis, on a 23-yard pass from back-up pivot Cole Meyer, scored the UBC majors in the fourth quarter. Meyer was 3-of-7 for 50 yards in relief, with one interception to go with the scoring pass to Davis.
Ben Cummings led UBC on the ground, rushing for 71 yards on 15 carries. Davis had seven catches for 54 yards.
Greg Hutchins was 2-of-2 on field goals, connecting from 41 and then 31 yards.
UBC returns to action next Saturday, hosting the Manitoba Bisons in a 1 p.m. game at Thunderbird Stadium. The No. 10-ranked Bisons dropped a 44-23 decision to the unranked Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday.