VANCOUVER – The No. 10 UBC Thunderbirds (2-1) got a tremendous performance from their defence, limiting the seventh-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies (2-1) to just three second-half points while Michael O’Connor passed for more than 400 yards in a 31-10 win at a jam-packed UBC Homecoming at Thunderbird Stadium.
The ‘Birds never trailed while entertaining a crowd of 9,542, the third largest crowd in Canada West football history.
Up by a field goal at halftime, UBC scored majors on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter to take a three-score lead while the Huskies couldn’t manage to respond.
O’Connor finished the game 26-of-36 for 431 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Trivel Pinto finished the game with 242 all-purpose yards, including a 60-yard catch-and-run, and his first touchdown of the season.
“I can’t say enough about him, I’m a big fan of this guy,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill about his star receiver. “As long as he continues to mature and make good decisions he could be the first overall pick in the draft.”
It was vindication of sorts for Pinto who was ejected from last week’s game late in the first half.
“I was just happy I could finish the game,” said Pinto. “I messed up last week, it was a silly play by me. I was just happy I could finish and play for my teammates and happy we got the win.”
The ‘Birds offence wasted no time out of the gate as O’Connor threw deep to Alex Morrison on their first play from scrimmage for a 93-yard touchdown as UBC took the 7-0 lead less than five minutes in. After the two teams traded punts, the Huskies put together a touchdown drive starting at their own 46-yard line capped off by a four-yard Colton Klassen rush to tie the game.
The ‘Birds re-took the lead for good early in the second quarter when O’Connor once again quickly moved the ball downfield setting up a 13-yard Greg Hutchins field goal. Late in the half after Pinto’s 60-yard reception, O’Connor looked for Will Watson in the end zone but the ball was picked off by Saskatchewan’s Brooks Falloon.
But UBC’s defence came up big yet again and forced the Huskies to punt keeping the ‘Birds in front 10-7 at the half. After the teams traded punts to start the second half, O’Connor engineered an efficient six-play, 53-yard drive with Ben Cummings scoring a seven-yard rushing touchdown, his first of the season to put the ‘Birds up 17-7 midway through the third.
On UBC’s next possession, O’Connor threw a 45-yard pass to Trey Kellogg getting the ball down to the Saskatchewan 33-yard line. After calling his own number for a first down run, O’Connor went back to Pinto for the major score as the ‘Birds took a three-possession lead for the first time in the game.
Hutchins added a 29-yard field goal six minutes into the fourth quarter to open up a 20-point lead and added a late punt single.
Huskies kicker Sean Stenger hit a 42-yard field goal to eclipse the 200-point mark in his Canada West career, the 26th player in history to do so. The historic kick put up the only points for the Huskies beyond the first quarter.
Saskatchewan quarterback Kyle Siemens was kept to 265 yards passing and no touchdowns.
“Our defence played lights out,” said third-year defensive back Stavros Katsantonis. “We were very well-prepared coming into this game, coach (Pat) Tracey drew up a great game plan for us and we executed on all facets.”
While Nill also praised his defence, he was left wanting more on the offensive side of the ball.
“We’re going to be okay offensively, we’re still putting in a new system, but it’s just frustrating when we don’t finish,” said the veteran head coach. “I’m not talking about us being a .500 team here, I want us to be at the top and we have to finish when we have the chance.”
UBC was without receiver Marcus Davis due to injury but others certainly picked up in his absence including running back Ben Cummings who finished the game with 181 yards rushing.
The win moves the T-Birds into a tie for second in the Canada West with Saskatchewan and Regina. The ‘Birds hit the road for a date with the Alberta Golden Bears in Edmonton next Saturday, September 23.
The Huskies are back on the road next weekend, as they will face the Calgary Dinos Saturday at McMahon Stadium