A late comeback came up just short on Saturday night as the University of Regina Rams fell 28-21 to the UBC Thunderbirds in a Hardy Cup semifinal game at Thunderbird Stadium.
The Thunderbirds end the Rams’ season for the second-consecutive year and will advance to the Hardy Cup final next weekend, for a familiar scene at McMahon Stadium against the Calgary Dinos.
The Rams fell into an early hole on Saturday night, as UBC used a 16-point first quarter to jump out to an early lead and take a 23-2 advantage at one point in the second quarter. The Rams scored two majors in the second half while holding the UBC offence off the board, but a last-second hail-mary from Noah Picton was batted down by Trivel Pinto as the T-Birds punched their ticket to the Hardy Cup.
Michael O’Connor was 17-30 on the night with 259 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air. Ben Cummings had 10 touches for UBC, totaling 70 yards of offence. Atlee Simon was the star of the show for Regina, setting a Rams playoff record and tying for third on the team's all-time list with 222 rushing yards on 26 carries. Simon and Frankie Gray provided the Rams with a rushing touchdown each. Noah Picton finished the game with 162 yards and two interceptions on 13-32 passing.
Regina scored first on a UBC safety, but Alex Morrison hauled in 66 and four-yard touchdown receptions from Michael O’Connor in the first quarter to jump out in front. A 76-yard completion from Picton to Ryan Schienbein near the end of the first quarter sparked the Ram attack, but the play was negated due to an illegal block penalty.
O’Connor struck again at the start of the second quarter after the Rams conceded another safety, finding Pinto from 28 yards out to stretch the lead to 23-2. A 17-yard completion to Brady Eurich and a 13-yard gain from Atlee Simon led the Rams into field goal range, where Daniel Scraper converted from 29 yards away. UBC gave up another safety just before halftime, making the score 23-7 heading into the break.
Regina surrendered its third safety of the night in the third quarter, but after UBC went two-and-out the Rams got the ball back. A 47-yard scamper from Simon on a nifty cutback move took the Rams into the red zone and five plays later Gray came on to sneak it in from the one-yard line. After a handful of punts from each team the Rams found the endzone again. UBC had Regina stacked up on a third down, but a holding penalty on the Thunderbirds gave the visitors a first down. Simon made them pay on the very next play, going 46 yards right up the middle for the major.
The Rams had two drives with a chance to tie the score but a combination of penalties and timely UBC pressure on Picton forced Regina to punt both times. The Rams got the ball back with 36 seconds on the clock deep in their own end, but after short passes to Thomas Huber and Schienbein a bomb to Mitchell Picton was batted away by Pinto, sealing the win for UBC.
Nick Cross had a team-high six tackles for the Regina defence, while Nicholas Dheilly broke through for two sacks. Layne Hull also had a sack for the Rams. Ben Hladik posted 9.5 tackles for the Thunderbirds, while Spiros Katsantonis and Malcolm Lee recorded interceptions.
The Thunderbirds will meet Calgary in the Hardy Cup for the third-straight season, with the Dinos taking a 46-43 decision over UBC in 2016 and UBC coming up with a 34-26 win in 2015.