Story Alex Rodgerson / ISN
September 1, 2018 Vancouver, BC ( ISN ) – Following a disappointing end to last season that saw the UBC Thunderbirds fall to the Calgary Dinos in the Hardy Cup finals for the second straight year, the T-Birds kicked off their 2018 regular season the right way Saturday night at Thunderbird Stadium against the University of Manitoba Bisons, dealing them a 30- 20 defeat to open the 2018 Canada West campaign. The T-Birds continued their recent regular season domination over the Bisons, stretching their unbeaten streak against Manitoba to seven games.
Saturday’s contest would have a strong Vancouver Island connection as the Bisons’ roster would feature several former Westshore Rebels players, including explosive back Jamel Lyles, who led all players in rushing yards and was a force all night. A native of Surrey BC, Lyles spent the 2016 season with Westshore, where he rushed for over 1,600-yards in just ten regular season games with the Rebels. Other former Westshore Rebels currently with the Bisons include Kent Hicks, Jeremy Drouin and Chris Larsen.
After the Bisons would take an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter UBC would fail to respond on their first drive of the game, turning the ball over on downs and giving the Bisons the ball back with terrific field position. However, moments later, the Bisons would fumble with UBC recovering the ball at the Bisons 50-yard line. UBC fourth year QB Michael O’Connor would settle down on the T-Birds following drive, connecting over the middle several times before Ben Cummings would run it in for the T-Birds, giving UBC a 7-3 lead.
Manitoba would respond quickly after, with Bisons QB Des Catellier connecting with Shai Ross to set up first down at the UBC 15-yard line. However, the UBC secondary would find its rhythm, holding the Bisons to another field goal which would bring Manitoba within one to end the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter the T-Birds would build on their strong defensive play, forcing a second Bisons fumble which would be recovered by DB Payton LaGrange. LaGrange, who enters his 2rd year with UBC, would scamper 42-yards for the score to make it 14-6 UBC. The Bisons would respond soon after, with Catellier connecting with Riley Harrison on a 7-yard pass to bring the Bisons back within one mid-way through the quarter.
The T-Birds would then receive some bad news as starting running back Ben Cummings would be forced to leave the game in the second quarter and would not return, favouring his left leg. UBC would add a field goal of their own before the end of the quarter to put the T-Birds up by a score of 16-13 to end the half.
7:32 into the third quarter the Thunderbirds would strike again, as Richmond product Kory Nagata would haul in a 21-yard TD reception to extend the T-Birds lead, with QB Michael O’Connor tying the all-time UBC record for TD passes with 71. The two teams would then head into the final quarter with UBC leading by a score of 23-13.
5:38 into the fourth quarter the Bisons would find some life, with Manitoba QB Cateliier marching Manitoba down the field before Dylan Schrot would finish the drive off with a 21-yard TD reception. With the convert, UBCs lead would be cut to just four as the T-Birds would head into the home stretch with a slim 23-20 lead. The Bisons would then nearly intercept a dangerous pass from Michael O’Connor before forcing UBC to punt from deep in their zone.
UBC would get the ball back, clearing the way for Kory Nagata to continue his inspired rushing game with a huge gain mid-way through the fourth quarter, while also drawing the ire of several Bisons defenders. After a failed conversion on third down the Bisons would take over the ball on downs, but the UBC secondary would not relent, keeping Manitoba on their side of centre for vast majority of the 4th quarter, before Kory Nagata would register his second major of the evening to put the game out of reach. UBC would go on to win by a final of 30-20.
The Thunderbirds will now turn their attention to September 7th as UBC will be looking for revenge when they head to Calgary to take on the Dinos.