Thunderbirds use strong second half to defeat Alberta 54–37 at Homecoming

As the sun set over the sold-out Homecoming crowd at Thunderbird Stadium on Friday evening, the T-Birds proved they are championship contenders, toppling the previously undefeated University of Alberta Golden Bears 54–37.

Despite the victorious ending, the ‘Birds didn’t begin with a bang. Alberta got on the scoreboard first, taking advantage of a blown coverage to get inside the red zone and ultimately scoring a touchdown. The Thunderbirds only mustered a field goal in response, exiting the quarter down 7–3.

The offensive spark the T-Birds needed came from quarterback Garrett Rooker. With protection from his offensive line, Rooker threw a pass to Shemar McBean, who had blown past two Alberta defenders for a 38-yard score.

A field goal from the Golden Bears tied it up, so the Thunderbirds made another big play.

Instead of pushing the pile ahead to gain another first down on a 2nd and inches, running back Dane Kapler took the handoff and cut outside all of his blockers, causing Alberta defenders to miss. He then changed direction, dodging the defence to find almost 50 yards of open space for a go-ahead touchdown.

The team prepares for a snap.
The team prepares for a snap. Isa You / The Ubyssey

Kapler’s run seemed to spark the T-Birds, creating a 24–10 lead after Rooker ran five yards during their next possession for a touchdown. The T-Birds sat on that lead up to the half, going into the locker room with a score of 27–19. But the advantage didn’t last long.

Alberta star offensive running back Matthew Peterson used his breakaway speed on a 95-yard half-opening touchdown, bringing the Bears within 1 point and putting UBC on red alert.

While plays like that can shatter a defence’s confidence, UBC showed their resilience. For the rest of the second half, the 'Birds only allowed 10 more points get by them, stifling Alberta’s attack to let the T-Birds offence take control of the game.

A Thunderbird tackles a Golden Bear, forcing a incomplete pass.
A Thunderbird tackles a Golden Bear, forcing a incomplete pass. Zoe Wagner / The Ubyssey

UBC head coach Blake Nill praised his defensive coordinator, Pat Tracey, for the turnaround.

“He doesn't line up in a traditional defence. His cerebral involvement [and] his game planning [are] not typical and it messes up offenses … I've said this for the nine years we've been together here. Pat Tracey and his staff give us a chance to win every game,” Nill said.

Even with excellent defence, the ‘Birds still needed some points to secure a win. While it looked like the offence was starting slow after Peterson’s touchdown, a perfectly executed fake punt, resulting in a 49-yard rush, created momentum.

From there, Rooker took over, throwing two more touchdowns both of 25 yards or further, adding on to the excellent deep ball play that he established in the first half. The T-Birds offence was operating on the highest level it has all season.

“The O-line is pretty dominant. We can protect Rooker and teams are going to have to start pressuring us and win a lot of man coverage. I know I wouldn't want to be playing too much man coverage versus this group of receivers.”

Rooker celebrates after scoring a touchdown.
Rooker celebrates after scoring a touchdown. Isa You / The Ubyssey

With the victory, the Thunderbirds moved to a perfect 4–0 record on the season for the first time since 1992, putting them in first place of Canada West. They will look to stay undefeated when the 'Birds travel to face off against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday.