T-Birds advance to national football championship

At Thunderbird Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the UBC football team claimed their first-ever Mitchell Bowl, breezing through the national semi-final with a 47–17 thrashing of the St. Francis Xavier X-Men.

The ‘Birds set a good tone for the national Vanier Cup, shaking off a near-loss in last week’s conference championship to deliver a steady and decisive performance in the Mitchell Bowl.

The T-Birds found a rhythm early on, opening the game with a strong scoring drive booned by solid passing plays and capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Garrett Rooker to receiver Sam Davenport. Building momentum by the minute, the Thunderbirds hit paydirt again on their third possession, extending their lead to 14–0 before the X-Men could manage a first down.

Home field advantage likely played a role in lending UBC a crucial early lead. Hailing from Nova Scotia, the X-Men offence looked sluggish in the first quarter, going two-and-out with their first two possessions, potentially due to the intense travel.

They began to gain ground on the Thunderbird defence as the first quarter expired, finally moving the chains to embark on an 84-yard, four-minute scoring drive. Suddenly, the game appeared to even out, with the X-Men playing to par and the ‘Birds possessing a tenuous seven-point lead.

A T-Bird successfully catches the ball.
A T-Bird successfully catches the ball. Zoe Wagner / The Ubyssey

A successful field goal for the ‘Birds brought the score to 17–7, but UBC’s lead still felt fragile — especially as the X-Men put together another long drive toward the end of the second culminating in a field goal. The ‘Birds responded with a messy drive and missed field goal attempt to close out the half, boding poorly for the upcoming quarters.

As their offence took the field to start the second half, the X-Men had a vital opportunity to tie the game, and they seemed eager to capitalize on it. St. FX quarterback Silas Fagnan attempted to force a deep shot to a receiver in double coverage, with no separation from UBC’s Jason Soriano. But Thunderbird defensive back Max Kennedy picked off Fagnan and UBC put seven more points on the board.

The Thunderbird defence came out strong on St. FX’s next offensive drive, forcing the X-Men to punt from their one yard-line after a quick two-and-out. On a stunning return, rookie defensive back Cesare Rednour-Bruckman caught the punt around the UBC 50-yard line and charged forward, finding gaps between X-Men then running up the left sideline, all the way to the end zone.

In the span of a few minutes, the score changed from 17–10 to 31–10.

With 10 minutes left in the third quarter, the X-Men could orchestrate a comeback. But St. FX’s mistakes mounted as they grew increasingly desperate, failing to regain their composure despite a late touchdown. Meanwhile, the ‘Birds played with increasing confidence, capitalizing on the bounty of St. FX turnovers for a final score of 47–17.

UBC last competed in the semi-final round eight years ago, when they outclassed St. FX 36–9 en route to a victory over the University of Montréal Carabins in the Vanier Cup. The win over the X-Men sends the ‘Birds to their first Vanier Cup since 2015, pitting them against Montréal in a rematch for Canada’s national title.

The ‘Birds hope history will continue repeating.

“My brother was on the 2015 team when they won,” said Kennedy. “And I just remember watching it on the TV, and just imagining getting my own.”

“We’re probably going in not the favorite, but that’s okay,” said head coach Blake Nill. “We’re big enough, we’re strong enough to compete. It’s a one-game, winner-take-all type thing and we’re going to come in there and give it our best shot.”

The Thunderbirds will battle the Carabins for the Vanier Cup on November 25 in Kingston, Ontario.