Rams open 2019 with big win over UBC
Rookie QB Josh Donnelly leads the team with 377 passing yards
After losing a close game to University of Manitoba in pre-season, the Rams opened their regular season in a big way with a 46-16 win over the UBC Thunderbirds. This is their first season opening road win in program history, a huge statement from the young Rams roster.
The Rams offence was lights–out, with new starting quarterback and Regina local, Josh Donnelly passing for 23–32, 377 yards, and two touchdowns. The receiving core was also dangerous on many levels as Ryan Schienbein, Kyle Moortgat, and Bennet Stusek had five or more receptions, while Riley Boersma set a new career best 75-yard reception for one of the team’s two passing touchdowns. Another new starter, fifth–year transfer running back Trey Campbell contributed with 42 yards and one touchdown. Running back Sam Varao punched in three more for the green and gold. Despite this great performance, for Offensive Coordinator Mark McConkey, it wasn’t just the offence that led the team to victory.
“It was a great team win versus a strong opponent. All teams contributed to the victory. The offence kept gaining momentum off of our strong defensive play.”
Strong defensive play it was. The Regina defence held UBC to only one touchdown and generated three turnovers. This team effort included eight tackles and one sack from second–year linebacker Ryder Varga. Another big defensive moment came with a huge interception by Zach Moore in the second quarter that resulted in a Rams touchdown possession, sinking the Thunderbirds‘ chances.
For some Rams fans, this result is surprising, considering that coming into the season the Rams were looking to fill some big holes, especially starting quarter back and current CFL free agent Noah Picton. This is something that weighs on new starter Donnelly’s mind, but he doesn’t let it get in the way of the job.
“It’s always [going to] be in the back of mind that I have to fill the shoes of Noah Picton, but at the same time I know I have my role to play. I just want to do my job.”
Against UBC, his 377 passing yards tops U-Sports all–time leading passer Picton’s 2018 average of 330, which is no small feat for a first-year starter. Even more impressive is that this game was only his second U-Sports performance after coming in for relief in the final game of the 2018 season. Despite this early success, individual accolades are the last thing on Donnelly’s mind.
“I’ve actually talked to Noah about that, not trying to be the star, but rather doing my job and playing my role, letting the rest of the team help me out.”
Donnelly will have support on the receiving end for years to come as well. The game’s receiving yards leader Boersma, as well as five-reception earner Kyle Stusek are second year players, meaning they have three more full seasons to represent the green and gold. This diverse offence is something Donnelley believes is a key to the team’s success.
“It’s huge, that’s a big part of our game plan. We don’t want to have to rely on just one guy, we want to spread the ball around and keep the defense guessing, whether it’s running the ball, passing the ball or spreading it out, everyone in our offense is ready to make contributions.”
As a local Regina player from LeBoldus High School, another key to Donnelly’s success is the support of a hometown crowd, something he does not take for granted.
“There’s so many people checking in, wishing me good luck and congratulations after games. Getting in touch and getting those little text messages from people is huge for support.”
The Rams will play their home opener against University of Alberta on Sept.6 at Mosaic. Alberta comes off of a 31-41 defeat against University of Calgary while the Rams will look to build a winning streak through Canada West competition. For Donnelly, the keys to next game will be the same as the first.
“We want to spread the ball around to the receivers every game, if we can get four or five guys over 50 yards receiving, we are going to be rolling.”
Donnelly also applauds the performance of fellow new players and sees room for improvement in all aspects of the offence.
“We have a new offensive line and I think they did really well, and we have three or four running backs carrying the ball so finding the best way to use those guys will help as well.”
Off the field, managing emotions and staying motivated to improve will help the team to reach their season goal; to win the Vanier cup. The players, including Donnelly are committed to this step-by-step approach.
“We scored 46, but going over the film there’s lots of little things we can improve on. As a team we need to stay the course, we don’t want to get too high on that first win. We need to take it one week at a time.”
This philosophy is also one that the team applies to the rest of the season, the goal is to win the Vanier Cup, but they are laser focused on taking it one game at a time.
“As a team we throw personal goals out the window, we go one week at a time looking for wins. Obviously, the ultimate goal is the Vanier, but we like to take it step–by–step. We want to win our conference, and then we want to win the Hardy Cup, and then we want to win the Vanier.”
For the team, the next step is clear. They will aim to beat University of Alberta at Mosaic this Friday.