It turns out Thunderbirds can fly.
The UBC Thunderbirds finally claimed their first win of the 2019 Canada West season Friday night in Regina.
In addition to wanting their first win, the T-Birds were also after revenge against the Rams. Their first meeting back in August’s season opener saw the Rams thrash the ’Birds 46–16, but both teams came into Friday night’s showdown on long losing streaks.
It was the Rams who opened the scoring just under four minutes into the game and on their second drive. Rookie Regina quarterback Bryden O’Flaherty brought his offence in deep to the UBC 25-yard line before the ’Birds defence managed to hold them off and force them to go for a field goal.
After Rams kicker Aldo Galvan successfully gave his team a 3–0 lead over the ’Birds, it would take second-year quarterback Gabe Olivares just two possessions before bringing his team in field goal range and allowing veteran UBC kicker Garrin McDonnell to knock back a 35-yard attempt and tie the game up at 3–3.
Scoring for all of the first quarter and much of the second would be limited to just field goals as neither team could fill in the last step of their offensive plans to push into the opposing team’s endzone.
McDonnell would be successful on 36- and 33-yard attempts while Galvan would himself successfully make a short 16-yard attempt to make the score 9–6 in favour of the Thunderbirds going into the final two minutes of the half.
After coming in early and taking over the helm for the remainder of last week’s game against the Golden Bears, Olivares proved once more why he deserves the starting job over any other UBC quarterback.
After back-to-back first downs, Olivares connected with Nick Pollitt for a 54-yard gain that brought the ball to the Rams’ 1-yard line. Olivares rushed for a touchdown, giving the ’Birds a 16–6 lead into the half.
Unlike previous games, the ’Birds were able to carry some momentum into the start of the third quarter.
At around the halfway point of the third quarter and with the ’Birds at the Rams’ 41-yard line, Olivares connected with Jacob Patten who ran the ball all the way to the Rams’ endzone. It gave the ’Birds a 23–6 lead, one of their biggest margins all year.
However, not long after Patten’s touchdown, running back Semba Mbasela would lead the Rams with a three-carry possession, ending it with a rushing touchdown and bringing the Rams into double-digits and 10 points down at 23–13.
And their push to catch up with the T-Birds would not stop there as Olivares’s pass on the ensuing play would be batted down right into the hands of Rams defensive lineman Brandon McKimmon who ran 11 yards for another Regina touchdown.
With a wild segment resembling the famed 1970s Immaculate Reception play from the National Football League, the Rams looked poised to complete a dramatic comeback and hand the Thunderbirds a sixth consecutive loss.
However the fourth quarter began with UBC’s Charles Lemay rushing for another ’Birds touchdown, giving the T-Birds a more comfortable 30–20 lead.
Despite a one-point touchback, the ’Birds went into the dying minutes of the game up 30–21. But as the fourth quarter dragged on inside the two-minute mark, O’Flaherty connected once more with receiver Kyle Moortgat to inject life back into the Rams’ offence and bring the score up to 30–28.
A failed onside kick by the Rams gave the ’Birds possession at their own 53-yard mark and they managed to move the sticks to the Rams 44-yard line before McDonnell was successful once more on his fourth field goal attempt in the game to give the ’Birds a 33–28 lead.
Still, with 38 seconds on the clock, the Thunderbirds’ defence would need to come up big to put the game away. Something they ultimately failed to do as the ’Birds let the Rams come all the way back to the UBC 18-yard line.
However, second-year standout James Vause intercepted O’Flaherty’s first pass in the endzone to give the Thunderbirds both control of the ball and their elusive first win of the season.
The ’Birds will come back home for the last time this season on Saturday for the Frank Smith Legacy game against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.