By Lee Dorner (Sports Information Assistant)
September 28, 2013, VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds had their first home win of the season in their sights in the fourth quarter, but failed to come away with points on two separate first-and-goal situations inside the five, losing 17-12 to No. 7 Saskatchewan in Canada West football action on Saturday at David Sidoo Field.
UBC was actually pitching a defensive shutout into the fourth quarter, with the Huskies’ points through three quarters coming on a rouge, a safety and a blocked punt touchdown. Saskatchewan’s offence finally got on the board early in the fourth when Shane Buchanan capped off a long drive with a one-yard touchdown run to make it 17-12 Huskies.
“Our defence has been tough all year,” said UBC head coach Shawn Olson. “Obviously the weather conditions were a bit of an issue too, but our defence has been flying around and playing with heart all year. Offensively we just weren’t able to capitalize.”
The ‘Birds were without star running back Brandon Deschamps in the second half after the nation’s leading rusher was injured on his first carry of the third quarter. However, UBC did move the ball into scoring position midway through the fourth thanks to a 39-yard completion from Greg Bowcott to Micha Theil on a seam route, with the combination of freshman back Liam Mahara and third-year Jeff Effah taking over for Deschamps. Eventually they were set up with first and goal at the one looking to retake the lead, but Mahara fumbled the ball while trying to leap over the pile on the goal line.
“Brandon is obviously a massive part of our team. He had a bit of a knee injury going on so we wanted to be conservative with him,” said Olson. “Jeff is a very good running back and so is Liam, so we felt confident with those two guys that we’d be able to do some stuff. Jeff played very well but we just didn’t find the endzone.”
The Huskies recovered the fumble and looked to be seizing control of the game after picking up a first down to move out of the shadow of their own goalposts, but the ‘Birds got the ball right back when Saskatchewan quarterback Drew Burko’s pass was deflected at the line, landing the arms of UBC safety Jordan Bosa.
That set UBC up with a short field, and Effah was picking up big chunks on the ground to move them into another first-and-goal situation at the five. The Huskies stopped Effah for a short gain on first down, then got pressure on Bowcott to force two straight incompletions and a turnover on downs.
Saskatchewan was able to move the ball and run some clock before giving the ‘Birds one more possession around midfield, but they were unable to do anything with it, marking a third-straight potential upset on home field for UBC that went unfulfilled.
“It’s a really good group of kids. I can’t say enough about the quality of people we have here,” Olson said. “Today we just let it slip away. We had opportunities and we have to stick one of those in the end zone. We have to be better. I have to be better, and that’s what it comes down to.”
The score was just 5-1 UBC at halftime after both teams struggled against tough defences and arguably even tougher elements, with heavy rain and wind hindering both passing attacks severely. Both teams also missed a field goal in the first half.
The Huskies scored the first major when they broke through in numbers to block a UBC punt. It was recovered and run back for the touchdown by Seamus Neary to make the score 8-5 Huskies.
After being pinned in their own end and conceding a safety to make it a 10-5 game, the ‘Birds responded with a quick drive that Bowcott finished by finding Patrick Bull all alone in the corner of the endzone for a 24-yard touchdown strike to make it 12-10 UBC with six and a half minutes left in the third.
After a tough first half in driving rain, Burko went 10-for-15 in the second half with the weather conditions easing up, finishing 19-for-31 for 231 yards. His favourite target was Kit Hillis, who had seven receptions for 85 yards. Dexter Janke and Buchanan split 25 carries and 138 yards almost right down the middle.
Deschamps picked up 81 yards on 12 carries for UBC before his day ended early. Effah ran for 64 yards on eight carries in relief duty. Bowcott was 6-for-14 for 93 yards and a touchdown, and starter Carson Williams was 6-for-11 for 42 yards. Bull and David Scott each had five receptions.
The Huskies improve to 4-1 on the year and maintain a one-game lead for second place in Canada West, which comes with home field advantage for week one of the playoffs. They host 5-0 Calgary next Friday.
UBC falls to 2-3, with a big match up against 3-2 Manitoba next Saturday on the road. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.