EDMONTON, AB. – An injury depleted UBC Thunderbirds (3-1) team overcame a slow start against the winless Alberta Golden Bears to pick up a 41-21 victory on Saturday afternoon at Foote Field.
With the ‘Birds down 14-7 midway through the second quarter, Will Maxwell returned a Bears’ kick-off 96 yards for a touchdown, giving UBC momentum they would never relinquish. The Thunderbirds outscored the Bears 34-7 the rest of the way.
Thunderbirds’ quarterback Michael O’Connor, throwing to a receiving core missing stars Marcus Davis, Trivel Pinto and Will Watson, passed for 251 yards and a touchdown. Second-year wide receiver Trey Kellogg was O’Connor’s top target on the day with four catches for 108 yards. UBC kicker Greg Hutchins hit three of the four field goals he attempted in the contest.
“We have to be realistic. We want to be more consistent,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill. “But we found a way to win again. There are certain inconsistencies with this particular Thunderbirds team and we just have to keep working to become more consistent.”
Kory Nagata, starting for the injured Ben Cummings, rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown. Liam Mahara, who also saw his number called several times with the absence of Cummings, rushed for 44 yards on nine carries and a major score.
“That’s the big thing. We knew we were going to sit a lot of key starters. All week we were telling guys that it was their opportunity to come out and compete and show us what they could do in a bigger role,” explained Nill.
Alberta was held in the game by senior running back Ed Ilnicki. The powerful Ilnicki, who spent the summer at Ottawa Redblacks training camp after they selected him in the seventh round of the CFL entry draft, rushed for 196 yards on 22 carries including three touchdowns.
UBC receiver Liam Wishart scored his first career U SPORTS touchdown at the end of the second quarter, to put the Thunderbirds ahead 23-14. The Kamloops, BC native caught a four yard pass from O’Connor, giving the ‘Birds a commanding lead going into halftime. Wishart ended the day with eight catches for 55 yards.
The win for UBC sets up a huge match-up next Friday at Thunderbird Stadium. The ‘Birds will square off against the Calgary Dinos, with the winner of the game moving into first-place in Canada West and holding the all-important tie breaker as the teams cross the mid-point of the regular season.
“Until someone knocks off Calgary, they are the team to beat in Canada West,” explained Nill. “We’ve got to prepare for the kind of team they are, which is a veteran team with a very explosive offence and a very capable defence that puts a lot of pressure on you and forces you to make plays.”
The contest will be UBC’s ‘Black Out’ game, where the Thunderbirds will unveil a third jersey for the first time the in the program’s 93-year history.