Saturday, October 22, 2016

Regina Rams Are Playoff Bound

The No. 8-ranked University of Regina Rams clinched a postseason berth and the right to host a Canada West semifinal game after outlasting the UBC Thunderbirds for a 35-33 win on Friday night at Mosaic Stadium.

After increasing their lead to nine points with a late 70-yard touchdown pass from Noah Picton to Mitchell Picton with 1:36 left, the Rams (5-2) surrendered a major to UBC just 56 seconds later after the Thunderbirds went on an eight-play, 79-yard scoring drive. But the Rams were able to recover the ensuing onside kick, with Riley Wilson coming down with the ball to seal the win for Regina.

“We’ve got a lot to learn on special teams and that helped make it a lot closer tonight than I wanted it to be,” Rams head coach Steve Bryce said. “But I was happy with how resilient we are and what we did in the fourth quarter to stay in the game. There were plenty of times we could have let down, but we didn’t.”

Noah Picton was 29-for-40 in the win, giving him 197 completions for the year. That breaks the Canada West single-season completions record, which was originally set at 182 by former Rams quarterback Marc Mueller in 2010 and matched last year by Saskatchewan’s Drew Burko.

Picton finished with 329 passing yards and threw four touchdowns in the win, two of which went to his cousin Mitchell Picton. Khalid Kornegay and Atlee Simon caught the other scores, with Picton finishing as the team’s top receiver with six catches for 134 yards. Kornegay had a team-leading seven receptions for 51 yards, while Simon rushed 19 times for a total of 111 yards as he hits triple digits in rushing for the third consecutive game.

Zack McEachern finished as the team’s leading tackler (9 solo, 5 assisted) and added a pass breakup, but starting safety Cord Delinte made two huge second-half plays. Delinte forced an incompletion with a devastating hit on UBC receiver Trevor Casey late in the third quarter, then picked off UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor with just over four minutes to go in the game. Danny Nesbitt and Kahlen Branning both forced fumbles for the Rams defence, while Jeff Propp had a big third-quarter sack for a loss of nine yards.

O’Connor was 28-for-47 for UBC, finishing with 364 passing yards and a pair of touchdown passes to Will Watson. Watson had a total of 88 yards off a game-high total of eight catches, none more impressive than a one-handed catch in the end zone for the first of his two scores. Ben Cummings rushed 19 times for 129 yards.

Riley Jones led UBC’s defence with four tackles for loss, while Tanner Friesen had a 56-yard pick six late in the fourth. Evan Horton had two key fumble recoveries on special teams for UBC, first on a fumbled kickoff return in the third and again in the fourth on a fumbled punt return.

The Rams were fortunate to only be down 4-0 after a first quarter which was dominated by UBC. The Thunderbirds outgained the Rams by a 171-17 margin, with Cummings rushing for 79 of his 129 yards in the opening 15 minutes alone. The lone spark of the quarter for the Rams was a 48-yard kickoff return on a slick reverse to Kornegay, but UBC was only able to score on a 33-yard field goal midway through the quarter by Greg Hutchins and a single by Hutchins after a missed 36-yarder.

But the Rams got their first first down of the game on the opening play of the second quarter, part of a nine-play, 77-yard drive that was finished off by a 13-yard touchdown reception by Picton. UBC replied with a field goal to knot the game at 7-7, but the Rams engineered another nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by a 28-yard catch-and-run by Simon. Regina took a 14-8 lead into the halftime break.

In the third quarter, special teams helped swing the momentum in UBC’s favour. The Thunderbirds took advantage of a short field and scored on Watson’s brilliant catch to go up 15-14, and on the kickoff Moortgat had trouble handling a squib kick and Horton came up with his first fumble recovery of the night. The Rams caught a break as UBC started out from the Regina 15, but only got a single point out of it after a missed field goal. UBC added another two points on a conceded safety after a Hutchins punt pinned the Rams inside their own one-yard line, and a Hutchins punt through the end zone late in the quarter gave UBC a 19-14 lead heading into the fourth.

But the tide turned early in the fourth, starting with Nesbitt’s forced fumble that was recovered by Grey McKen. That gave the Rams the ball on UBC’s 14, and two plays later Kornegay was in the end zone to put the Rams back into the lead for good. Picton engineered a six-play, 73-yard drive that Simon finished off from two yards out on the U of R’s next possession, giving the Rams a 28-19 advantage. The Rams forced a two-and-out on the next possession, but Blake Anaka fumbled on the ensuing punt and Horton pounced on it for his second recovery of the half. But Anaka’s fumble was essentially cancelled out by Delinte, who intercepted O’Connor and ran it out to the Regina 24-yard line. The Rams looked to be in good shape up by two possessions with under three minutes to go, but Friesen’s interception return gave new life to UBC. But after throwing the late pick, Noah Picton shrugged it off and found Mitchell Picton on a 2nd-and-12 situation for the 70-yard touchdown that would turn out to be the game-winning score.

After closing out the conference schedule next week against Manitoba, the Rams will then host an opponent to be determined on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Mosaic Stadium in the first round of the Canada West playoffs. The Rams’ final home game of the conference postseason - whenever that might be - will be the final game played at Mosaic.

“Personally, having the opportunity to close out the old stadium might even mean more to me than opening up the new one earlier this year,” Bryce said. “This was my home field for nine years growing up, and I know that there’s a ton of people involved with the program that feel the same way.”

The Rams and the Bisons will meet next Saturday night (8:00 CDT) at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, while UBC (3-4) will host Canada West-leading Calgary (5-1) in a game they may need to win in order to qualify for the conference playoffs. That UBC/Calgary game is set for Saturday night with a 5:00 PDT kickoff.

NOTES: The Rams went a perfect 4-0 at Mosaic Stadium during the conference schedule this year, marking the third time in program history they’ve been perfect at home (2001, 2012) … Mitchell Picton broke a major University of Regina record in the win and tied another, as his 56 receptions this season breaks the old school record of 55 set by Addison Richards two seasons ago … with one game left in the Canada West schedule, Picton also has 11 touchdown catches this season which ties Jason Clermont’s U of R record set back in 2001.


Anonymous said...

Not going to be easy for Calgary finishing off against the Huskies and TBirds. First place not of the question.

Bryce and company have done what no one thought was possible after Gibson.

I wonder if those who hired Gibson now realize what a mistake was made.


Anonymous said...

BOOOOOOOMMMMM!!! Love watching Picton to Picton. Maybe one of the best passer-receiver combos in CIS history.

Anonymous said...

This new Rams coach has to be up for coach of the year. After what that last idiot did to this proud franchise last year, the Rams are once again competitive and legitimate.