Strong second half lifts Thunderbirds over X-Men in U SPORTS Mitchell Bowl

Photo credit David Cox
Photo credit David Cox

Vancouver, BC – The Canada West champion UBC Thunderbirds proved too much for the STFX X-Men as the blue and white fell 47-17 in the U SPORTS Mitchell Bowl national semifinal game.

UBC outpaced the X-Men in the passing game, posting 342 yards to STFX's 195 in the air, and also shut down their run game as the X-Men were held to 77 yards on the ground.

The Thunderbirds defense was equally strong, recording four sacks and three interceptions. Josh Connors had a lone sack for the X-Men.

The Thunderbirds scored on the first drive of the game as quarterback Garrett Rooker found Sam Davenport for an 11-yard touchdown pass to give the home team an early 7-0 lead three and a half minutes in. Rooker then connected with Dane Kapler on a 10-yard pass seven minutes later and UBC held onto the 14-0 UBC at the end of the first quarter.

On a nine-play drive that carried over from the first frame, Fagnan marched the X troops downfield and scampered in on his own for a four-yard TD score to get the X-Men on the board a minute into the second quarter.

The teams then exchanged field goals as the Thunderbirds were up 17-10 at halftime. Kieran Flannery-Fleck kicked a 17-yard field goal midway through the quarter, and U SPORTS leading kicker Ben Hadley connected from 21 yards out for the X-Men with a minute left in the opening half.

Flannery-Fleck missed wide on a 30-yard attempt with 20 seconds left as the score remained 17-10 for the home team.

The Thunderbirds played a dominant third quarter, putting 19 unanswered points on the board while their defense took care of things on the other side of the ball, shutting down both the run and pass game for the X-Men.

On the opening play of the quarter, UBC defensive back Max Kennedy intercepted a deep Fagnan pass. The turnover resulted in a major score for the Thunderbirds as Rooker took six plays for 63 yards with the drive resulting in a nine-yard TD pass to Shemar McBean.

After the X offense had a two and out, Cesare Rednour-Bruckman returned a kick-off for a 60-yard touchdown as the Thunderbirds took a 31-10 lead five minutes into the quarter.

STFX conceded a safety and Flannery-Fleck kicked a 32-yard field goal to round out the Thunderbirds third quarter scoring.

Veteran X-Men defensive back Brandyn Martin breathed some life back into the STFX hopefuls as he recovered the ball on a fumble forced by Jay Turnsek and ran it in for 30 yards for STFX's second touchdown of the game.

The third quarter ended 36-17 in favour of UBC.

They added to their lead in the fourth when Davenport scored his second major of the game, this time on a 16-yard catch.

After Fagnan threw a third intercepted pass midway through the fourth quarter, the Thunderbirds used the turnover to convert more points, this time a Flannery-Fleck 37-yard field goal.

A rouge late in the game rounded out the scoring as UBC closed out the 47-17 win.

Rooker was named the offensive player of the game as he went 22 for 26 for 303 yards. Davenport had eight receptions for 139 yards and Isiah Ward was the Thunderbirds leading rusher with 17 for 115 yards.

The defensive player of the game was Thunderbirds linebacker Jaxon Ciraolo-Brown who had 5.5 tackles in the game including a sack. Mithcell Townsend had 7 tackles.  

For the X-Men defense, veteran defensive lineman Alex Fedchun had 9 tackles while Connors had 8.5.

On the offensive side of the ball, Fagnan went 16-31 for 195 yards, with his favorite target in the air being Zach Houde who had 8 receptions for 107 yards. Zak Karim had 4 catches for 50 yards. AUS leading rusher Malcolm Bussey was held to 10 carries for 49 yards.

The game marked the first loss for the X-Men since last year's Uteck Bowl game against Saskatchewan as they went 10-0 in AUS regular season and playoff action this year.

With the win the Thunderbirds advance to the 58th U SPORTS Vanier Cup being hosted by Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. on Saturday, November 25th when they will face the Montreal Carabins.


Recap courtesy Krista McKenna, STFX Athletics

Photos courtesy David Cox