Connor Hood - Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON - The University of Alberta Golden Bears playoff chances took a big hit on Saturday, as they lost a heart-breaking 58-55 double overtime game to the Regina Rams at Foote Field.
The loss drops the Golden Bears to 1-5 in 2017, while Regina improves to 4-2. The Golden Bears, despite the loss, still remain a game behind the Saskatchewan Huskies (2-3), however the Huskies have yet to play their Week 6 game against UBC. Alberta, who hosts the Huskies next weekend at Foote Field, will most likely need some help from UBC, as well as a convincing win over Saskatchewan next week to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Regina, meanwhile, improved their chances of a top two seed in Canada West significantly with their double overtime win. The 4-2 Rams currently occupy the second seed, while also holding the tie-breaker over the 3-2 UBC Thunderbirds. Regina still has one game left against UBC in Week 8, as well as a game at home against Calgary next week.
Saturday afternoon's contest was an offensive explosion, with the teams combining for 113 points and nearly 1,200 yards of total offence. It was a stark contrast to the Rams first win over Alberta in week 3, which Regina won 28-18.
Fourth-year Bears quarterback Brad Baker had another big afternoon, throwing for 437 yards on 26/47 passing, adding a season-high four touchdown passes. 190 of Bakers yards came in the fourth quarter and overtime combined, as he led the Bears back from a 48-36 deficit to force overtime. Rams quarterback Noah Picton put in a player-of-the-week caliber performance, throwing for 387 yards and five touchdowns.
Similar to last week, the Golden Bears also got strong outings from running back Ed Ilnicki and receiver Nathan Rowe. Ilnicki surpassed the 200 yard mark for the second-straight week, and became the first player to reach 1,000 rushing yards this season. It is also the first 1,000 yard season for Ilnicki, and the first for a Bear since Jarred Winkel in 2004. Rowe, meanwhile, added to his conference-high in receiving yards, hauling in nine passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns. Not to be outdone, Rams back Atlee Simon powered his way to 206 yards and a touchdown, while Mitchell Picton and Ryan Schienbein each topped 100 yards receiving for the visitors.
The two teams traded blows through the first three quarters, with the Bears holding an early 17-7 lead thanks to TD's from Rowe and Adam Zajdel, before Regina came back to take a 28-19 lead at halftime. The Rams scored three majors in the final seven minutes of the second quarter, en route to the slim halftime lead.
The offensive thriller continued in the second half, as the Rams added a pair of rushing touchdowns to take a seemingly safe 35-19 lead. However, a 67-yard TD bomb from Baker to Rowe, followed by a Tylor Henry 15-yard TD reception levelled the game at 35-35.
Regina quickly responded late in the third quarter, with a Picton TD pass and a pair of field goals restoring a 12-point Regina lead. That lead held until late in the fourth quarter, when the Golden Bears mounted an impressive comeback to force overtime. Alberta scored twice in the final 1:30 of the fourth quarter, thanks to an Ilnicki rushing TD, and a Brent Arthur 39-yard field goal with 0:13 seconds left in regulation.
Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first overtime 'mini-game', as Simon and Ilnicki exchanged rushing touchdowns for both sides. The Golden Bears ultimately met their fate in double overtime, with Arthur hitting the very top of the upright on his 41-yard attempt. Regina marched quickly down the field in their offensive series, as kicker Daniel Scraper won the game for the Rams with a 26-yard chip shot field goal.
Both Alberta's home game against Saskatchewan, and Regina's home match against the 6-0 Calgary Dinos next weekend will be available on Canada West TV.