VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds kept their playoff hopes alive by winning a shot-for-shot battle with the Regina Rams 33-32 on Saturday, with a late rouge from Quinn van Gylswyk holding up as the difference between the teams.
With the game tied at 32 and just over three minutes left, the ‘Birds started a drive near midfield and managed to push the ball into Regina territory on a Carson Williams to Alex Morrison connection. They were stopped on first and second down at the Regina 44, setting up van Gylswyk with a crucial punt with two minutes left.
He made no mistake in pinning Rams return man Caitlin Schneider deep in the corner of the endzone, and the coverage team got down the field quick to bring him down for the single point.
The Rams picked up two first downs on their next drive, but the UBC defence came up big when it really mattered. Riley Jones made a lunging swat to bat a pass down on first down from the UBC 48, and after the pass rush got to Regina quarterback Cayman Shutter on second down to force a short pass for no gain, Chris Adams came up with a big pass defence on third down to effectively end the game.
“Sometimes the game comes down to four or five plays and you don’t know which ones they are until the end of the game,” said UBC coach Shawn Olson. “Our guys made enough plays at the right time to come out with the win. Our defence had a little bit of an issue early on but played awesome down the stretch. Offensively we could have had a couple more touchdowns but we did enough to get the win, and it was a big, timely kick from our kicker there to get the ball into the endzone there. That’s what we asked him to do, and he really unloaded.”
For the game, van Gylswyk average 49.2 yards over eight punt attempts. He had three rouges in total, and was two-for-three on field goals.
Both offences looked comfortable moving the ball on the ground or through the air. Williams finished 20-for-32 for 256 yards and three touchdowns for the T-Birds. He also had a big day on the ground, where the Rams had trouble slowing down the option. Williams ran for 68 yards on six carries.
Shutter was 27-for-38 for 344 yards and a touchdown for Regina. He added 32 rushing yards on five attempts. His favourite target was Addison Richards, who caught nine balls for 110 yards.
“It was really a big team effort,” Olson said of the potentially season-saving win. “Our struggles this year in all three phases of the game have come when our best players have wanted to win so badly that they try to do a bit too much and get out of their responsibilities. They are good kids that want to do the right thing and be champions, and sometimes that works against you but today they trusted in each other and they did their jobs.”
The biggest lead any team had in the game was UBC by 10 midway through the third quarter, and that didn’t even hold up for two minutes before the Rams came back with a touchdown. And after hanging tough but trailing for the whole game, the Rams finally took the lead to start the fourth quarter.
A couple nice grabs by Jared Janotta set the Rams up with first and goal, and after Shutter was denied on two sneak attempts, he managed to punch it across for the touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 32-31 Regina lead.
After the teams exchanged quick possessions and punts, the T-Birds managed to march down to the Regina 20 and looked poised to regain the lead, but van Gylswyk’s 28-yard attempt went wide right and through the back of the endzone for a single point to tie the game at 32 with 7:33 remaining.
Marcus Davis had another big all-purpose day for the Thunderbirds, with 139 total yards, including a 37-yard touchdown catch. Niko Jakobs had three catches for 32 yards and two touchdowns for the ‘Birds. Brandon Deschamps ran for 86 yards on 15 carries.
Atlee Simon was consistently productive for the Rams on the ground, gaining 111 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
Regina falls to 1-5, and they will finish up the regular season with two home games against Manitoba and then Alberta. They will need to win both games and get some help to have any shot at a playoff spot, as the fourth and final playoff spot is currently occupied by 3-3 Manitoba.
The T-Birds improve to 2-4, and they are in Calgary next weekend to face the Canada West-leading Dinos. Their final regular season game is at home against Saskatchewan on November 1.