What looked to be a broken play turned out to be the turning point that cost the UBC Thunderbirds their first game of the regular season, as the Manitoba Bisons defeated the ‘Birds by a score of 31-24 on Saturday afternoon at Thunderbird Stadium.
Both teams struggled to get much going on offence during the first half, the second half started with a bang when Manitoba kick returner Nick Dempsey returned a punt 101 yards for a touchdown just 2:57 after the break, making the score 16-6 for the Bisons. It looked as if the T-Birds would pin the Bisons in their own end as the punt rolled towards the goal line, but Dempsey picked up the bouncing ball and broke off several tackles before busting free and flying down the field.
Manitoba’s attack on the ground proved to be UBC’s demise. The Thunderbirds gave up 270 yards rushing, with Kienan LaFrance leading the way with 174 yards. The air attack also was almost as deadly, with quarterback Cam Clark throwing for 194 yards.
UBC managed to keep up a formidable ground game, but it wasn’t enough. While Manitoba keyed in on reigning CIS MVP Billy Greene’s passing game, the Thunderbirds’ backfield was able to rack up 291 yards on the ground. This kept the ‘Birds in the game for the majority of the contest, as Greene and the UBC receivers weren’t able to get much going.
“A lot of the stuff we had was there all game,” said UBC head coach Shawn Olson “You know, we just weren’t hitting it or we weren’t aligning properly. There’s little, subtle things as far as our receivers [go] … that’s some of the detailed stuff that we just didn’t seem to have right for whatever reason and that ends up leading to missed assignments.”
A rushing TD by Lucas Spagnuolo put UBC up 6-2 in the first quarter, but that lead was short lived after Manitoba put up seven points on their next possession. It was a lead that the Bisons never relinquished.
After Dempsey made the score 16-6, a Thomas Moult field goal trimmed the Bison lead to seven, but that was as close as UBC would get. Manitoba pushed the lead to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Greene, who threw for 232 yards and rushed for 90, finally found his rhythm in the last ten minutes of the game, throwing two touchdowns, but it proved to be too little too late. UBC’s defence could not keep the Bisons off the board, leaving little hope for a comeback.
UBC will aim to avenge their loss on Friday night in Regina. The game will be aired on Shaw TV, and kickoff is at 7 p.m.