The return of Ramnation
After dropping their season opener to the University of Calgary Dinos on Aug 31, the University of Regina Rams were looking to get back on the winning track at home against the UBC Thunderbirds on Sept 7.
Despite a shaky first half, the Rams pushed back hard in the second, racking up 42 unanswered points en route to a 49-20 sweet victory.
With the win, the Rams record improves to 1-1 during regular season competition.
“It feels good to get back in the win column,” said Rams quarterback Marc Mueller after the game. “I haven’t won a game as a starter since we beat Manitoba in 2010, so it feels nice to get back out here and get a victory, and hopefully we keep rolling next week in Alberta.”
Mueller completed 16 of 24 passes for 241 yards and threw three touchdown passes before being awarded the rest of the night off.
Second string QB Zach Oleynik, as well as third stringer Frankie Gray, saw action at signal caller before it was all said and done.
The Rams opened the scoring at 8 minutes 27 seconds of the first quarter when 3rd-year running back Dillon Dawson punched it in from six yards out, putting the finishing touches on a nine-play, 65-yard drive.
After that, the first half belonged to the Thunderbirds. UBC QB Billy Greene racked up a significant amount of passing yards against a Rams defence who couldn’t seem to find any answers.
Despite a huge disparity in first-half yards – UBC had 306 compared to the Rams 150 – Regina held the Thunderbirds to just two field goals and one TD in the first half, but still found themselves trailing 13-7 heading into the break.
It wouldn’t take long for the home team to reverse the trend, however, as it was a different Rams team that exploded out of the locker room for the second half.
The ground game got it started for the Rams quickly after the break, something that had been relatively absent in the first half. Second-year running back Michael Kiapway rumbled 41 yards to the endzone to put his team back on top 14-13 at 11 minutes 47 seconds of the third quarter.
The huge gain seemed to spark the defence, who then held UBC to a two-and-out multiple times during the rest of the evening.
The big turning point for both teams came when fifth-year defensive-lineman Benton Gieni intercepted the ball at the UBC two-yard line.
After defensive lineman Stefan Charles knocked Greene’s pass straight up into the air, Gieni found himself standing directly under it, surrounded by a clueless UBC offensive line.
“Stefan came through and knocked it straight up in the air, and I just looked up. It seemed to hang up there forever,” Gieni said with a smile after the game. “I tried to rumble in but it didn’t work so well.”
Gieni didn’t have to worry, as Kiapway punched it in on the next play for his second TD of the night.
“It feels good to get back in the win column … It's a big deal." – Marc Mueller
Kiapway finished the night with a career-high 118 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“We had a little rough patch in the first half, but we bounced back,” Kiapway said after the game. “[The running game] was tough at first. I’m suffering from a little turf toe, but I got through it and progressed.”
After another two-and-out for UBC, the Rams padded their lead with a 28-yard TD reception by third-year slotback Landon Buch.
And it only got worse from there for the suddenly-flightless Thunderbirds.
A third-down UBC gamble led to an interception by fourth-year defensive back Daniel Knaus, and after the Rams offense stalled momentarily, veteran Chris Bodnar’s punt was recovered by first-year DB Joey Dwyer at the UBC 12-yard line.
The third quarter mercifully came to an end for UBC, with the surging Rams in front 27-13.
But the unrelenting ass-kicking wasn’t over yet.
The first play of the fourth quarter led to a six-yard TD reception for third-year slotback Jared Janotta, and not long after, a hilariously inept punt from UBC kicker Thomas Moult sent the ball straight up into the air – putting the Rams on the UBC 45-yard line with the ball.
On the next play, Mueller dumped it off to fourth-year wide receiver Kolten Solomon, who ran it 45 yards for the major.
Solomon finished the game with a team-leading five catches and 86 receiving yards.
With the score now quickly growing to an embarrassing 42-13 margin, Mueller took a well-deserved break while Oleynik and Gray closed out the game.
The Rams wrapped up their side of the scoring when fifth-year DB Jamir Walker intercepted the ball – his second pick of the night – and ran it in for the six-point insurance marker.
Walker’s two interceptions on Friday place him sixth in Canada West football history with 16 career interceptions.
The offensive landslide is huge for the Rams moving forward, who head into Edmonton next week to take on the 0-2 University of Alberta Golden Bears with momentum on their side.
“It’s a big deal,” said Mueller. “Especially last week, we came out and we competed with Calgary, and I think if we played like we did tonight offensively we’d have a chance to beat them. Hopefully we can get it going against a tough Alberta squad next weekend.”
After his two interceptions against the Thunderbirds, fifth year defensive back Jamir Walker is now ranked sixth in Canada West history with 16 career interceptions. During the game, Walker also had a pass breakup and also ended up with three solo tackles and two assisted tackles. Walker was named the Canada West defensive player of the week after his strong performance against UBC.
The Rams were unfortunately without fifth year wide receiver Mark McConkey on Friday night after he suffered a torn MCL in practice last week. It is possible McConkey will be back in time for a playoff run this season.
The Rams technically now boast a seven-game winning streak against the Thunderbirds, dating back to 2008. However, that streak includes two games last year that were originally counted as losses for the Rams, but UBC was forced to forfeit their victories when it was discovered they had been using an ineligible player all season.
Second-year running back Michael Kiapway came up big for the Rams in the Third quarter, rushing for 72 out of a career-high 118 yards. Kiapway also registered his first two majors of his CIS career during the third quarter.
Quarterback Marc Mueller is just 243 yards away from passing Mark Anderson for the No. 2 spot on the U of R’s all-time list and just one touchdown away from tying Darryl Lesson for the No. 3 spot in the Rams record books.