|The Rams defence stops the Thunderbirds on a third-and-one gamble.|
REGINA - The University of Regina Rams showed their 6-2 regular season record last year was no illusion.
In 2016, the Rams were guided by a first-year U Sports head coach in Steve Bryce and were coming off an 0-8 campaign in 2015. U of R posted one of the greatest single season turnarounds in U Sports history in Bryce’s first season placing first in the Canada West Conference for the first time in team history.
In the playoffs, the Rams were one and done falling 40-34 to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in a Canada West semifinal match. Before last season, the last time the Rams posted a .500 or better record was when they went 6-2 in 2012 and lost that year’s Canada West final to the U of Calgary Dinos.
Looking at the recent past, one might think what the Rams accomplished last season might be just a one year thing. It appears the wins are going to keep coming in 2017.
|Rams receiver Mitch Thompson (#82) zips home for a major score.|
The Thunderbirds are guided by U Sports head coaching great Blake Nill, whose teams have won seven of the last nine Canada West titles. Nill guided the Dinos to six straight Canada West titles from 2008 to 2013 before joining the Thunderbirds in 2015. During his first year with UBC, Nill coached the Thunderbirds to a Canada West title and a Vanier Cup championship as U Sports national champions.
Going into 2017, the Thunderbirds were ranked second in Canada West’s pre-season coaches’ poll, which means they are expected to meet the lofty bars that Nill’s teams usually do. UBC’s 3-5 regular season record from a year ago appears to have been viewed as an anomaly.
That means the Rams, who
were rated third in the pre-season Canada West coaches’ poll, pulled out a significant
result in their win on Friday night.
|Rams LB Nick Cross sacks Thunderbirds QB Cole Meyer.|
Besides Friday’s win over the Thunderbirds, the Rams knocked off the Dinos 39-3 in a neutral site pre-season tilt in Medicine Hat, Alta., on Aug. 23. The Dinos topped the pre-season Canada West coaches’ poll.
Against the Thunderbirds on Friday, the Rams looked really good during a number of stretches. Like usual regular season openers, the Rams also had spots that didn’t go as smoothly shown by the fact they took 18 penalties that cost them 131 yards.
The Thunderbirds were worse in the penalty department taking 23 infractions for 210 yards.
Rams quarterback Noah Picton, who won the Hec Crighton Trophy last year as the most valuable player in U Sports football, was solid throughout the contest mixing up plays completing 23-of-35 passes for 335 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. One of those interceptions wasn’t his fault due to the fact one of his passes deflected off the hands of a Rams receiver into the hands of Thunderbirds defensive back Payton LaGrange.
|Receiver Mitchell Picton caught six passes for 120 yards for the Rams.|
Thunderbirds starting quarterback Michael O’Connor completed 14-of-25 passes for 155 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception before giving way to backup Cole Meyer on two occasions.
Linebacker Cole Benkic, who was the 2015 Canadian Junior Football League’s defensive player of the year suiting up for the Saskatoon Hilltops, and defensive back Polis Koko both almost ran interceptions back for touchdowns for the Rams.
U of R’s runaway win started slow before picking up steam. The Rams held a 1-0 after the first quartered ended thanks to kicker Thomas Huber scoring a single on a missed 37-yard field goal.
|Rams quarterback Noah Picton throw a pass over a defender.|
Shortly before the midway point of the second quarter, Rams standout running back Atlee Simon pushed his way into the end zone from two yards out to put the hosts up 16-0.
The Thunderbirds battled back when kicker Greg Hutchins booted a field goal from 41 yards out near the end of the second quarter and a field goal from 31 yards out early in the third quarter to cut the Rams lead to 16-6.
The Rams restored order scoring 17 straight point to exit the third quarter with a 33-6 edge. Huber hit a field goal from 45 yards out, Mitch Thompson hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Picton and backup quarterback Tyler Vieira plunged in from a yard out to complete the surge.
|RB Atlee Simon darts upfield for the Rams.|
Scraper hit a field goal from 15 yards out to put the Rams up 36-13.
Inside of the game’s final three minutes, the Thunderbirds rounded out the scoring with a Hutchins 47-yard punt single and a 23-yard touchdown toss from Meyer to receiver Marcus Davis. The Thunderbirds failed to score on a two-point conversion try after Davis’s major to cement the final at 36-20.
UBC returns to action on Sept. 9, when they host the U of Manitoba Bisons (1-0).
Overall on Friday night, the Rams had an impressive performance. While they made mistakes that need to be corrected, it appears the Rams ability to pile up victories in 2016 will continue in 2017.
Next up, they travel to Calgary to face the Dinos on Sept. 8. The Dinos flattened the U of Alberta Golden Bears 55-26 in the regular season opener for both those teams on Friday in Edmonton.
If the Rams can beat the Dinos on their turf, U of R would cement its status as being a U Sports powerhouse.
Rams honour 2000 Vanier Cup finalist team
|Members of the 2000 Rams and their family watch a video highlight reel.|
A number of players from that team and their families marched out on to the field to be saluted by the fans. They also watched a video tribute filled with various highlights of the 2000 campaign.
The 2000 season marked the Rams second season in the Canadian university ranks after moving from the CJFL. They finished 4-4 in the regular season before catching fire in the playoffs.
They downed the Dinos 33-32 in a Canada West semifinal match, the Bisons 25-22 in the Canada West final and the St. Mary’s University Huskies 40-36 in the Atlantic Bowl. The Rams fell 42-39 in the Vanier Cup to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
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