Huskies end T-Birds season

Marcus Davis

VANCOUVER – A 31-point first-half hole proved too deep for the UBC Thunderbirds to dig themselves out of on Saturday, as they dropped their season finale against the Saskatchewan Huskies 38-18 at Thunderbird Stadium.
The T-Birds needed a win to force a three-way tie for the final playoff spot with Alberta and Regina. UBC would have held the tiebreaker in that scenario and been through to the playoffs, but the ‘Birds were unable to recover from an all-Huskies first half that saw them fall behind 31-0.
“It’s a good group of kids here with some talent but it just did not come together this year,” said UBC head coach Shawn Olson. “In the second half today we challenged their pride and challenged them as men a bit, and they did come out and compete, but if you look throughout the four quarters how we measure up, it was not good enough in all three phases and not enough plays made when there was any challenging situation. That’s the difference between a playoff team and a non-playoff team.”
The T-Birds were pitching a second-half shutout until midway though the fourth quarter. They had cut the lead down to 31-17 and seemed to have all the momentum when a high snap on a Huskies punt attempt led to it being partially blocked, giving UBC the ball at the Saskatchewan 27. But they weren’t able to take advantage of the field position, fumbling a snap of their own before settling for a field goal attempt. Then some confusion with the field goal unit personnel led to a time-count violation penalty for the ‘Birds, moving them back out of field goal range.
The ‘Birds scored a rouge on the ensuing punt from Quinn van Gylswyk to make it 31-18, but the Huskies were able to respond soon after with their first successful drive of the half. They moved the ball efficiently on the ground and through the air, finishing with a 15-yard touchdown run by Tyler Chow for a 38-18 lead.
Huskies quarterback Drew Burko was 20-for-31 for 291 yards and three touchdowns to lead the visitors. Backup quarterback Kyle Siemens also made his mark, completing five passes for 45 yards and one touchdown. Chow was effective all game for the Huskies, racking up 104 yards on 15 carries, including the dagger touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“You have to make plays and execute. We were a little challenged with injuries up front today, but they battled hard and that wasn’t why we lost,” said Olson. “We just didn’t make tough catches, we put the ball on the ground, we lost field position battles and all those things add up to a very small margin for error, which we couldn’t overcome.”
UBC’s scores came courtesy of a 24-yard touchdown grab by Niko Jakobs and then an 81-yard punt return by Marcus Davis in the third quarter. They also got a field goal and a single from van Gylswyk to cut the lead down to two scores at one point.
Davis finished with 149 all-purpose yards to cap off a strong rookie campaign as a lot receiver and return man. Carson Williams went 22-for-42 for 215 yards, a touchdown and an interception at quarterback for the ‘Birds. He also added 39 rushing yards in his final game at UBC.
“There are a lot of really young talented guys on this team but talent and potential has to manifest itself into production at some point,” said Olson. “Disappointing year on the whole, especially for our veteran guys who put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this. We had expectations this year and we didn’t meet them.”
Manitoba beat Calgary earlier on Saturday to claim third place in the conference. Regina took down Alberta 35-31 to win the fourth playoff spot by the narrowest of margins. They finished tied with Alberta at 3-5 and went 1-1 in head-to-head games, and they had a plus-2 point differential in those games.
Calgary finished first in the conference at 6-2. They will host Regina next weekend to open the playoffs.  The Huskies also went 6-2 to take second place, and they will host the Manitoba Bisons next weekend.