UBC Thunderbirds will face familiar foe in Hardy Cup final

UBC Thunderbirds head coach Blake Nill walks in front of a billboard promoting their against the Calgary Dinos during CIS Canada West football action in Calgary. Nill's T-Birds face the Dinos for the Hardy Cup on Saturday. RICHARD LAM / PNG

The Bakersfield Bandit’s thieving ways could be key if the UBC Thunderbirds hope to steal a win in Saturday’s Hardy Cup.

Thunderbirds safety Stavros Katsantonis, the Bakersfield, Calif., native, was named Canada West’s Outstanding Defensive Player this week, after a regular season that saw him tie for the conference lead in interceptions (four) and forced fumbles (three).

The T-Birds take on the Calgary Dinos at McMahon Stadium on Saturday (Noon, online on Canada West TV) in a battle of the two best ball-hawking defences.

Katsantonis and Co. picked off 13 passes this season, to Calgary’s nine, but UBC kept opponents to a league-best 21.5 points per game and fewer than 400 yards of total average offence.

It’s the third straight year the two teams have met in the Hardy Cup, with both previous meetings being one-score affairs. UBC won 34-26 in 2015 while Calgary took the rematch 46-43 last year.

The Dinos handed UBC their only home loss of the season, a 31-17 defeat on Sept. 29.

“We definitely are the underdog,” said UBC coach Blake Nill. “Calgary has earned every accolade that’s been bestowed on them. They were the No. 1 team in the country, they still probably are the No. 1 team in the country. They just have a tremendous culture, tremendous veteran leadership, and their coaching staff does a great job preparing for opponents and game planning.”

Nill would know, having helped build the Dinos program into a juggernaut in his nine years with the school. He took the Dinos to six straight Hardy Cups, a streak that is now 10.

The Thunderbirds come into the game on a four-game win streak, despite being ravaged by key injuries in critical games.

“We’re starting to find ways to win,” said Nill. “Those weren’t easy victories. By overcoming that, that’s how you grow.

“We just got to go in, do our best to prepare our guys and go in knowing that if we play to our potential we have a good chance of being successful. We’re preparing for success, we’re going in there to try to win a football game but we just maybe have a bigger hill to climb.”

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