No. 5 ranked UBC football loses first game of year, clouding Canada West playoff picture

The Thunderbirds, Saskatchewan Huskies and Alberta Golden Bears are now all 4-1, with three weeks go to in the regular season

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The UBC Thunderbirds’ bid to nail down home-field advantage for the Canada West football playoffs took a hit with a Friday road loss.

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UBC, who were ranked No. 5 in last week’s U Sports national poll and off to their first 4-0 start since 1992, dropped a 34-31 decision to the No. 8 Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon. 

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That outcome, coupled with the No. 9 Alberta Golden Bears downing the Regina Rams 46-27 on Friday, leaves UBC, Saskatchewan and Alberta tied atop the standings at 4-1 with three games left in the regular season. The first-place team gets home field through the two-round Canada West playoffs. UBC last claimed that title in 2015, en route to winning the Vanier Cup national crown. 

Canada West takes next weekend off for Thanksgiving. When action resumes, coach Blake Nill’s T-Birds are at the Calgary Dinos (0-4) on Oct. 14, home to Regina (1-4) on Oct. 21 and at Alberta on Oct. 28. Alberta hosts Saskatchewan and visits the Manitoba Bisons (1-3) before finishing off with UBC, and Saskatchewan follows up their trip to the Golden Bears by hosting Calgary and then heading to Regina.

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UBC went up 31-30 with 10:24 remaining Friday on a 36-yard field goal by Kieran Flannery-Fleck. A 42-yard field goal by Saskatchewan’s David Solie with 5:03 on the clock made it 33-31 in the Huskies’ favour and then a Solie single point on a 32-yard missed field goal with 1:46 remaining upped the margin to 34-31.

UBC turned the ball over on downs with their ensuing possession. They got it back on their own 22-yard line with 10 seconds remaining, but quarterback Garrett Rooker’s Hail Mary pass was intercepted on the Saskatchewan 38-yard line.

Rooker was 16-of-32 for 252 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. UBC also scored touchdowns on a seven-yard scamper by Derek Engel on a fake field goal and a 62-yard punt return from Shemar McBean. Saskatchewan had their own big-play offence via a 105-yard kickoff return major from Ryker Frank.

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