‘Birds bury themselves with penalties in season opener

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Photo Credit Glen McMurchy | UBC Athletics

REGINA, Sask. – In a much hyped re-match of last season’s Canada West semi-final, the UBC Thunderbirds (0-1) couldn’t overcome a barrage of penalties in dropping their season opener 36-20 to the Regina Rams (1-0) at Mosaic Stadium on Friday night.

UBC saw 23 yellow flags thrown against them, pushing them 210 yards backwards and wiping out two touchdowns in the process. Regina was not much better, getting called for 18 infractions for 118 yards, but the Ram penalties seemed to come at less critical moments throughout the contest.

“That amount of penalties is just unacceptable,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill after the game. “We told the players in the locker room they need to be disciplined. This is the referee’s first game of the season as well, so they’re going to call it tight. Everyone needs to be better than that, all through the coaching staff and right up to the head coach.”

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Photo Credit Glen McMurchy | UBC Athletics

Regina’s Noah Picton won the battle of the quarterbacks over UBC’s Michael O’Connor. Picton, 2016’s Hec Crighton Award winner as U SPORTS’ MVP, threw for 335 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while O’Connor managed just 155 yards with one interception.

Regina jumped out to 16-0 lead thanks to a 28 yard touchdown strike from Picton to Kyle Moorgard and a two-yard run by Atlee Simon to pay dirt. The score ended 16-6 at halftime after a pair of UBC field goals from the boot of kicker Greg Hutchins.

The ‘Birds looked like they would change the momentum early in the second half when defensive back Will Maxwell snared an errant Picton throw and weaved it into the Regina end zone from 45 yards out. But the ball was called back to the Regina 25 yard-line due to an illegal UBC block  and the ‘Birds had to settle for another Hutchins field goal.

Regina would put up two more touchdowns in the third quarter and take a 33-6 lead. Picton found Mitch Thompson from 21 yards out to cap off a four-play 41-yard drive.

Then with O’Connor sitting out a series, UBC backup Cole Meyer was pressured and threw an ill advised pass down the right sideline. The ball was intercepted by Rams’ defensive back Polis Koko, who ran it back to the UBC three-yard line. Three plays later, Rams tailback Tyler Vieira punched the ball into the UBC end zone.

The Thunderbirds were able to make the scoreboard closer than the game with two fourth quarter scores. UBC freshman running back Shane Noel scored his first regular season touchdown when he plunged into the end zone from the Rams one yard line.

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Photo Credit Glen McMurchy | UBC Athletics

Marcus Davis, one of the few bright spots on the night for the Thunderbirds, got into the end zone late in the fourth when he caught a dump pass from Meyer over the middle and out ran everyone to the front corner of the Regina end zone. Davis showed he is at full health after missing much of 2016 with a knee injury.

“You can always find bright spots in a football game, but we need to be the type of team that focuses on the bottom line and tonight we didn’t get the job done,” explained Nill.

UBC will now head back to Point Grey for a September 9 match-up with the Manitoba Bisons (0-1) in their home opener.

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