The Thunderbirds advanced to the Canada West Hardy Cup finals on Saturday with a win against the Regina Rams driven by big plays.
The odds were stacked against the Thunderbirds in Mosaic Stadium. In order to advance to the conference championships, UBC would have to defeat a team they had lost to earlier this season, on the road, in snowy conditions, led by backup QB Derek Engel in his first post-season start. Despite the adversity, the Thunderbirds triumphed 28–14.
The start of the semifinal did not bode well for the Thunderbirds. Regina scored a rouge on the opening kick-off, which UBC followed by going two-and-out. The Rams then kicked a successful field goal on their first drive, making the score 4–0.
The Thunderbirds were evidently not demoralized as, on their second offensive drive, Engel connected with receiver Shemar McBean for an impressive 46-yard TD pass. Later in the first quarter, the T-Birds managed to recover their own punt on the Rams' 26 after UBC’s Skyler Griffith forced a fumble. Though they did not find the end zone again, UBC kicker Owen Brown made a 26-yard field goal, extending UBC’s lead to 10–4.
Regina narrowed the gap with another field goal at the start of the second quarter but later took an intentional safety, bringing the score to 12–7.
The weather became a significant factor during the second quarter, with heavy snowfall that lasted most of the game. Soon after it began snowing, UBC’s Lliam Wishart fumbled the hold on a 34-yard field-goal attempt. With Rams players closing in, Brown quickly picked up the ball and attempted to punt it away, but Regina’s Donovin Small blocked the punt and ran it 58 yards back to the house, giving Regina a 14–12 lead with less than three minutes left in the half.
After the kick-six, both offences effectively stalled. The only points scored in the third quarter were from another voluntary safety taken by the Rams, tying the score at 14–14.
Mistakes, seemingly weather-driven, continued to plague both teams. The ball came loose several times, and multiple Thunderbirds dropped passes that hit their hands. Both quarterbacks completed fewer than 50 per cent of their throws.
With less than eight minutes on the clock, UBC’s Keijuan Johnson intercepted Rams QB Noah Pelletier's pass at the Rams’ 50 to return the ball 46 yards before Pelletier could knock him out of bounds, putting the T-Birds in the red zone for the first time in the game. Given great field position, RB Lucas Mastrodomenico plowed into the endzone, putting UBC ahead at 21–14.
In the last minute of regulation, UBC found themselves in a position to end the game — all they needed was to convert a third-and-one on the Rams’ 27. With the season on the line, Engel handed the ball off to RB Dane Kapler. Kapler got the first down and more, cutting through the Regina defence for UBC’s third touchdown of the game, securing a Thunderbirds victory.
With the win, UBC advances to the Hardy Cup Finals — a remarkable comeback after starting the season 1–3. Next Saturday, they face the conference-leading Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon in a fight to claim the Canada West title.