VANCOUVER- Jason Soriano scored two touchdowns while Isaiah Knight played his second straight game with over 100 yards rushing as the UBC Thunderbirds held off a late push from Manitoba to earn a critical 27-21 victory over the Bisons, becoming the lone possession of the third place in the Canada West standings.
Coming into a three-way tie with the Alberta Bisons and Golden Bears on Saturday for the final two Hardy Cup playoff berths, the T-Birds not only shared their season streak with Manitoba, but also took the lead with a point differential of just one. The Bears also lost Saturday’s game to the Calgary Dinos to put the T-Birds in control in the hunt for a playoff berth.
“It keeps us alive for a week, we still have two very tough games to come,” said the UBC head coach. Blake Nill after his team beat the Bisons at Thunderbird Stadium for the seventh straight time. “We kind of have to find a way to win. I love this team, I love the talent, it’s just a constant effort to educate and motivate.”
— UBC Thunderbirds (@ubctbirds) October 15, 2022
Taking a 21-7 halftime lead on Soriano’s touchdown scores, Zach Patfieldand one Garrett Rooker rush, the ‘Birds (3-3) made it a three-point game midway through the third when Soriano recovered a fumble in the end zone.
The Bisons (2-4) were undeterred and clawed their way back with two touchdowns in under two and a half minutes, shooting under six with under two minutes on the clock. But the T-Birds offense ate the rest of the clock, helped by several first downs from Knight as UBC picked up a second straight win to move back to .500.
“With this particular group, playing up front is something that I think is easier for them, it’s something that we try to strategize and plan and manufacture the lead in any way we can,” added Nill. “It wasn’t a bad game, except for the last minute and a half of each half. It just showed that it’s about constant education and a constant effort to get these kids to understand that the impact can happen anytime during the game… you can ‘I’m not giving up two late touchdowns like that.”
With the clock counting down and facing third and long on their own side of midfield with less than five left in fourth, the Bisons played and got another set of downs on an 18-yard pass to Brendt Adams. Eventually, getting the ball to the UBC one-yard line with a 21-yard run from quarterback Des Catellier, the Bisons scored their first touchdown since the first quarter on a Breydon Stubbs carry. Manitoba went for the two-point conversion, but Catellier’s pass was intercepted as UBC’s lead was 13 with four minutes to go.
After Manitoba forced the ‘Birds into a punt, Catellier quickly raced through midfield with an athletic 47-yard catch by AK Gassama, keeping the visitors’ dim hopes of a comeback alive. But those dim hopes became much brighter two games later when Catellier threw a perfect touchdown pass to Gassama who fended off a pair of UBC defensemen for his second score of the game, cutting into the ‘Birds’ lead. down to just six with the successful convert and two minutes to go.
But rather than try another short kick, the Bisons decided to try and pin the ‘Birds deep on the kickoff, which they did, only to see UBC make enough gains to ensure victory.
Soriano finished his career-best game with 117 receiving yards and two touchdowns while Gassama had 118 yards and two scores.
Rooker completed 14 of 20 passes for 182 yards, a touchdown pass to Soriano and his second rushing major of the season.
UBC opened the scoring at 7:08 of the first quarter against a key second down at Manitoba’s 24-yard line. Rooker found his favorite target that day as Soriano scored his first major of the season to give the ‘Birds a 7-0 lead on a drive that took just 2:45.
?? Facebook | Landing of the T-Birds!! Garrett Rooker with the hurdle in the end zone restores UBC’s lead and it’s now 14-7′ Birds halfway through the 2nd quarter! #GoBirdsGo pic.twitter.com/6ZKrNoGQC2
— UBC Thunderbirds (@ubctbirds) October 15, 2022
The Bisons responded with an equalizer early in the second when Catellier – who finished the game with 231 passing yards and two touchdowns – found AK Gassama in the end zone for a 10-yard score.
On their ensuing practice, UBC restored their seven-point lead when Rooker called his own number at second and base from the Bison ten-yard line. The mobile pivot ran to the sideline and jumped over a Manitoba defensive back and into the end zone.
Instead of the Manitoba offense getting back to work, the T-Birds attempted a trick by lining up for an onside kick that was executed to perfection with Kieran Flannery-Fleck pass the ball beyond the minimum 10 meters where it was recovered by Aiden Bertuzzigiving UBC instant field position at Manitoba 51.
Showcasing their depth under center, the T-Birds used both Rooker and Derek Engel on the reader with this last observation Zach Patfield in the end zone, Canada West’s first touchdown for quarterback and receiver as UBC took a two-possession lead – 21-7 – which they took during the break.
Midway through third on the first and the ‘Birds goal, Knight rushed to the end zone and was stripped of the ball just before the goal line, but Soriano was quick to pounce on it in the end zone for its second touchdown of the afternoon, increasing UBC’s lead to 27-8 after the extra point was missed.
The Bisons scored the game’s final 13 points, but UBC’s lead was just too much to overcome with too little time to do so.
The end result could have been a potential killer for Manitoba falling to 2-3 this season, but Alberta’s loss to the Dinos now has the Bisons and Bears tied for fourth and final playoff spot with two games to play in the regular season. .
Next week, the Bisons host Alberta for a critical Week Seven battle while the T-Birds stay at home where they take on the conference-leading Saskatchewan Huskies, who clinched first place in Canada. West with a win Saturday over Regina.
Tickets for the T-Birds and Huskies on Saturday, October 23 are on sale now with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. PT at Thunderbird Stadium.