Rams’ playoff hopes hanging by a thread

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Regina Rams running out of time. Kate Thiessen

Rams come excruciatingly close to victory yet again

In what has been the narrative for the Regina Rams all season long, they lost another brutally close game to the UBC Thunderbirds at home at Mosaic Stadium on Friday, Oct. 4. This one started out ugly as rookie quarterback Bryden O’Flaherty had a tough start to his USports career, getting only one first down in the first quarter of play. The second quarter proved no better: UBC’s Gabe Olivares made mincemeat of the Rams defence, scoring the first major of the game and bringing the game to 16-6.

Despite the early lead, this is where the Rams started to make their stand. Eric Wicijowski started the third quarter with a big sack, which turned the games momentum. However, UBC struck right back with a 41-yard receiving touchdown on their very next possession. Down 23-6, the Rams needed something big to keep their hopes in the game and their season alive and they got it. The next UBC possession, Travis Semenok got a huge interception at the UBC 51 and the Rams didn’t look back. Semba Mbasela made three consecutive rushes, the last for a touchdown, bringing the Rams back into the game. Notably, Mbasela’s 135 rushing yards this game represents a career high, and the sophomore has been improving all season long.

The following UBC possession was a mirror to the previous. Brandon McKimmon intercepted another of Olivare’s passes and this time ran it straight back into the endzone for another TD bringing the Rams within three points. The fourth quarter was a battle, and both teams traded touchdowns with their season hopes on the line. The most exciting of these came on the back of a long drive for the Rams that began with only four minutes to go and ended with an O’Flaherty pass to Kyle Moortgat for a touchdown.

With the Rams down 33-28, and 38 seconds to go, they made one final drive. It began brilliantly, with O’Flaherty making three great passes for a gain of 64-yards. The Rams took a timeout with 12 seconds remaining at the UBC 18 looking to pick up a much-needed win. When the time started running again, O’Flaherty made one last pass attempt but in absolutely crushing fashion, it was his first interception of the game and the Rams lost 28-33. Despite this disappointing end to the game, for offensive co-ordinator Mark McConkey, O’Flaherty’s performance marked improvement for the young quarterback.

“As the game went on Bryden got more and more comfortable. He made some great throws at the end of the game which gave us a chance to win.”

The young QB is fresh out of Calgary’s Bishop O’Byrne High School, and unlike fellow rookie Donnelly, did not have the luxury of playing a USports game last season; this was his very first. Coming in as a third string in your first year is no easy feat, and this is something McConkey appreciates.

“It’s hard to play quarterback at this level, let alone being an 18-year-old.”

Whatever the results of this season bring, the future is looking bright for the young offence. O’Flaherty proved himself a capable backup to Donnelly in his first game, and the team graduates only Kyle Moortgat and Riley Schienbein from their receiving core. Add that to the ever improving Mbasela on running back and this offence looks like it will be dangerous for years to come.

Unfortunately, the future is the future, and the now is the now, and this loss extends the Rams’ losing streak to five on the season. The losses have been bitter, two of them by a single point, and this one came down to the final drive once more, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades and it has been a down season for the rebuilding Rams.

Despite their 1-5 record, the Rams’ playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread. Should they win their final two games and should the powerhouse University of Calgary Dinos beat the University of Manitoba, they still have a chance at post-season, but their position is dire. They certainly have the tools to do so, especially if they can field a healthy roster, but their chances are not in their own control anymore.

The Rams must win against Manitoba. Otherwise, their season is over.

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