UBC, Regina set to collide in latest grudge match

For the UBC Thunderbirds and Regina Rams, revenge is a dish best served often.

In their Canada West football regular season finale at Thunderbird Stadium on Saturday (1 p.m.), the T-Birds will be looking for payback for a 36-20 loss to the Rams in Regina on Sept. 1.

That game was payback for the Rams, who had dropped 40-34 decision at home to UBC in the Canada West Hardy Cup semifinals to end the 2016 season.

That, of course, had been payback for the T-Birds, who dropped a pair of regular season games to Regina.

You get the idea.

Adding to the storyline is the fact that Saturday’s winner between UBC (5-2) and Regina (4-3) plays host to the loser in the Hardy Cup semifinal on Nov. 4. The T-Birds are ranked No. 6 nationally, while the Rams are No. 8. The Canada West leading Calgary Dinos (7-0) are No. 1.

“This is a game that we have to win,” explained UBC coach Blake Nill. “We’re not holding anything back and we’re putting everything into trying to win this game. The travel is the biggest thing. When you’re on the road you’re distracted by so many logistical issues like accommodation, meals, travel. It’s just a much simpler preparation week when you’re at home so it’s certainly something we’re battling for.”

The game features two of the country’s better quarterbacks, with Michael O’Connor, who led UBC to the 2015 Vanier Cup national championship, under centre for the T-Birds and Noah Picton, who won the Hec Crighton Trophy last year as the nation’s top player, at the controls for Regina.

Picton has thrown for 2,385 yards, to go with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. O’Connor has passed for 2,108 yards, with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

“You have to limit the damage they can do on offence,” said Nill, who’s looking for his 150th career win this weekend when you combine regular season and playoffs and his time at Saint Mary’s, Calgary and UBC.

“I’m just prepping to try and make sure we can try to contain their offence and try to get our offence going against a dynamic defence that they offer.”

Nill also said that he’s looking for his team to do a better job finishing off drives.

“All year it’s been a bit of a thorn in our side in that we’re moving the ball well in between the 20s but once we get into the red zone we have to finish,” explained Nill, whose team edged the Manitoba Bisons 17-16 on Saturday in Winnipeg. “It hurt us a bit again last week. It’s something we have to get better at and we will. We’re working hard at it. We have to know we’re doing the right things and hopefully we hit a point that it becomes a part of our personality with regards to finishing and it becomes the norm.”

UBC is 8-4 at Thunderbird Stadium in Nill’s three years at the helm as part of a 19-10 overall mark.

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