VANCOUVER, BC -Blake Nill led the UBC back to the U SPORTS Vanier Cup for the first time since 2015 with a 47-17 against his former team the St. FX X-Men on Saturday. The Thunderbirds continue their run reminiscent to their 2015 run. Just like their 2015 national championship it went through St. FX in the U SPORTS semi-final. Continuing the similarities they will meet Montreal in the Vanier Cup
Nill spent five years at St. FX as their defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1997 including making it to the Vanier Cup in 1996. The UBC coach is a legend of AUS football, leading the SMU Huskies to two Vanier Cups in the early 2000s.
“St. FX us a very special place me and my family, we were all together in 1996 when we went to the national championship in 1996,” Nill said in his post-game interview. “It’s bittersweet for me, they hold a special place in my heart. I should have worn my X-ring.”
Nill’s 2002 SMU team is the last AUS team to win a national championship and an AUS team has not made the Vanier Cup since 2007.
Nill’s Thunderbirds didn’t wait too long to open the scoring, Garrett Rooker linked up with Sam Davenport on a short pass to score the first touchdown of the Mitchell Bowl. UBC got another in the first quarter, Rooker hitting Dane Kapler this time for another major. They closed the opening frame up 14-0.
St. FX started the second quarter in scoring position and responded to UBC’s excellent first half getting a touchdown of their own. After the X-Men touchdown, the rest of the quarter was largely uneventful with both teams exchanging field goals. In the final two minutes, the Thunderbirds drove down the field but couldn’t convert the long possession into points. Kieran Flannery-Fleck missed wide on a field goal attempt. St. FX was able to run the missed field goal out of the end zone and avoided giving up a rouge keeping it a seven-point game.
UBC could not follow up their hot start into the second quarter, only managing three points off several drives.
“We just have to finish drives,” Nill stated during his half time interview “We just have to control what we can and establish the run a bit more.”
They did just that in their first drive, Isaiah Knight bounced to the outside on a massive run putting the Thunderbirds in the red zone. Knight received a handoff but got no gain. On second down they used the threat of the run to set up play action for Rooker’s third touchdown pass of the game restoring their 14-point lead.
That lead quickly became 21 when Cesare Rednour-Bruckman returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown. In what was once a one-score game, UBC’s lead kept growing and growing. At one point the Thunderbirds had a 26-point lead.
The X-Men tried to make a dent in the large gap. After Silas Fagnan’s second interception, the St. FX defense recovered a fumble for a touchdown reducing the lead to 19. UBC regained their 26-point lead with Davenport’s second touchdown reception of the game. The Simon Fraser transfer has been a massive part of UBC’s playoff journey. Davenport finished the game with over 100 yards receiving.
The Texas-bred Rooker took home the Offensive Player of the Game award. He completed 22 of 26 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns. The Thunderbirds signal-caller turned down division one offers to head north and is now just one win away from a national championship.