Jeff Sargeant, UBC Communications
VANCOUVER – For the second straight year the UBC Thunderbirds have had their playoff dreams shattered by a late game field goal while the Saskatchewan Huskies are off to their first Hardy Cup final in nine years with a 31-28 win over the 'Birds at a soggy Thunderbird Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Down 17-10 at the half, the No. 9 Thunderbirds got their offence rolling in the final 30 minutes and took a 28-21 lead with less than two minutes remaining. After a Stavros Katsantonis interception got the 'Birds the ball back, they were unable to run down the clock giving the Huskies one last gasp which they used to tie the game with a 14-yard Jesse Kuntz touchdown followed by the one-point convert.
UBC started overtime with the ball at the Saskatchewan 35 and after failing to gain a first down, lined up for a 33-yard Greg Hutchins field goal attempt which was pulled just wide. The Huskies then only needed the field goal and fifth-year kicker Sean Stenger did just that, putting the pigskin through the uprights from 38 yards out. Saskatchewan will now head to Calgary next weekend for the Hardy Cup final against the Dinos.
"UBC is such a talented football team, our guys just played so well as a team," said Saskatchewan head coach Scott Flory after his first playoff win with the Huskies. "We were connected top to bottom, from special teams to offence to defence. As it turns out we just made one more play in the end. I'm just so proud of our guys."
VANCOUVER - While the Huskies will play for the Canada West championship for the first time since 2009, the loss marks the first time in 12 years UBC head coach Blake Nill will not make an appearance in the conference championship.
After the two teams combined for three punts to start the game, fourth-year UBC quarterback Michael O'Connor quickly drove the 'Birds down the field and hooked up with Ben Cummings out of the backfield for a 32-yard touchdown to open scoring. UBC led 7-0 after the Hutchins convert.
It was the start of a solid day through the air for O'Connor who finished 28-of-41 for 435 yards and three touchdowns along with an interception.
While Huskies' pivot Kyle Siemens numbers might not have been as stellar, he got the job done at the end of the day with 222 yard passing, one touchdown and one interception.
That one pick came on the Huskies first drive following Cummings' touchdown. UBC defensive back Malcom Lee got in front of the intended receiver deep in the end zone to get the ball back into O'Connor's hands. But Saskatchewan's defence held strong, forcing Hutchins to kick a 12-yard field goal to increase UBC's lead to 10-0 midway through the opening quarter.
Saskatchewan wasted no time responding on their ensuing possession to get themselves on the scoreboard. On the second play of the drive, Siemens found third-year running back Colton Klassen right at mid field for the first down, and he then scampered all the way to UBC's 21-yard line. The Huskies worked the ball to the UBC three-yard line where Mason Nyhus fumbled the slippery ball but it was recovered by offensive lineman Andrew Serke. The visitors punched the ball into the end zone on the very next play as Tyler Chow carried it across the goal line. The convert was good as the 'Birds lead was cut to three points.
The Huskies' kept momentum on their side and took their first lead of the game with just over two minutes remaining in the half. The Huskies initially lined up for a field goal but head coach Scott Flory employed some trickery going for the onside kick instead. The gutsy call paid off as the ball was recovered by Klassen at UBC's 16-yard line. One play later, it was Chow again with his second rushing score of the game. The convert was successful and Saskatchewan went ahead 14-10. The Huskies added a field goal with just a few seconds on the clock to take a seven point lead into halftime.
On the second-last play of the third quarter, the 'Birds offence got back to life on a 76-yard catch and run by Marcus Browne, all the way to the Huskies' 29-yard line. One play later, Blake Whiteley was left wide open in the end zone and UBC got back within a field goal after the Hutchins convert.
After tying the game at 20, the 'Birds got back in front with less than two minutes remaining when O'Connor found Pinto with a four-yard touchdown pass. O'Connor found Pinto again on a successful two-point convert to put UBC up 28-21, cueing the late Huskies comeback and eventual overtime victory.
The T-Birds have now lost in the Hardy Cup semifinal for the first time in the Blake Nill era, ending a streak of three straight meetings with the Calgary Dinos for the Canada West title.
It will instead be the Huskies who head to McMahon Stadium next Saturday, November 10 with kickoff at 1:00 p.m. MT.