A New Era in the CIS

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It was a match-up built like a David and Goliath as the defending champion Montreal Carabins were ready to welcome the UBC Thunderbirds to their province and defend their title.

The Carabins had gone from the underdog story in 2014 to the favourites in 2015.

They had already done this march before as they were the team that beat the Laval Rouge et Or in the Dunsmore Cup for the first time in 12 seasons.

They took that momentum into the Vanier Cup and beat the McMaster Marauders in the Vanier Cup to win their first title in school history.

This year they repeated last year’s performance beating Laval in the Dunsmore Cup for their second title in as many years.

The difference was that when they made the Vanier Cup after a convincing win over Guelph in the Mitchell Bowl they were the favourites to win it all.

They were playing close to home in Quebec City and had much of their team returning from the championship a year ago.

It was easy to pick them especially when looking at the team they were facing in the UBC Thunderbirds.

The T-Birds were never supposed to be here, at least not yet, as they had changed their coaching staff and brought in a number of new players to a team that struggled over the past four years.

They did add great players and a great coach though as Blake Nill had left Calgary for the new program and convinced Michael O’Connor to pick the Thunderbirds after he decided to leave Penn State and return to Canada.

It was expected that they were going to be better but not as good as they showed this season.

They started slow only to run through the end of their season and finish off their conference play with a win over the #1 ranked team in the country, the Calgary Dinos.

After a convincing win over the StFX X-Men in the Uteck Bowl they were in the Vanier Cup for the first time since 1997.

They had done plenty this season but came in as the inexperienced underdogs that had to take on the second best defence in the country.

It didn’t look like they cared too much as they started out marching down the field every time they got the ball.

They couldn’t finish on a lot of those drives though settling for field goals as the Montreal defence was able to not break.

After a Montreal turnover the T-Birds were able to work with a short field to get their first touchdown of the game and went up 13-0 only to add another field goal as they led 16-0 in the second quarter.

Montreal wasn’t getting anything going until a fumble by O’Connor gave them a chance that they took advantage of scoring their first point of the game.

After that touchdown the comeback was on as they reduced the lead to six before halftime.

Another touchdown in the second half gave the Thunderbirds a bigger lead but the Carabins were used to playing from behind as they worked their way back with two field goals and a touchdown.football-sidebar

The Carabins had tied the game and shut down the potent offence of the Thunderbirds for most of the second half and it all came down to the last few minutes.

Both teams went back and forth trying to get one more score to put things away but neither could get it done.

That was until Carabins’ quarterback Gabriel Cousineau threw a late-game interception with just under two-minutes left to give the Thunderbirds great field position.

The T-Birds marched towards the endzone and as the clock hit zero their only All-Canadian Quinn van Gylswyk kicked the game-winning field goal.

The underdogs had won again and this time the win could be a scary one for the rest of the league in the coming years.

The Thunderbirds were great when it mattered most and overcame plenty of scary moments including letting the defending champions tie you late in the game.

After all of it they came out on top and took their first title since 1997 after years of dwelling in the basement of the CanWest.

What makes it scary is that a veteran team was beat by a largely inexperienced group that might just be starting their time at the top.

Chief among these is the quarterback as O’Connor is only in his first year of eligibility in the CIS and has already won a Vanier Cup MVP.

He only got better as the season went on and to think that this was his first year in a long time playing Canadian football.

The future is so bright for the 19-year-old as it is not out of the question that he might follow Andrew Buckley in earning multiple Hec Crighton Awards.

O’Connor is only part of this dangerous equation as Blake Nill hasn’t even had time to properly get a full recruiting class into UBC and if his success at Calgary is any indication this team might only get better.

The Thunderbirds are the champions of CIS football and it could be the start of UBC’s takeover of the CIS.

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