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UBC defeats X-men in Mitchell Bowl


The Mitchell Bowl was a tale of two halves for the St. Francis Xavier X-men.

The Atlantic university football champions held their own against the host UBC Thunderbirds through the first 30 minutes of the national football semifinal Saturday in Vancouver. But the Canada West conference winners, ahead by just a converted touchdown at halftime, scored on their first two possessions to start the third quarter and then cruised to a 46-17 victory.

UBC advances to next Saturday’s Vanier Cup in Kingston, Ont., against the Uteck Bowl champion Montreal Carabins.

The drought continues for the AUS at the national level. It’s been 17 years since a team from the Atlantic conference (Saint Mary’s in 2007) has advanced to the U Sports football championship.

“I told the boys I’m proud of them,” said St. F.X. head coach Gary Waterman, the six-time AUS coach of the year who guided the X-men to a third straight unbeaten season in the conference.

“Their ultimate goal was to get past this game and have a shot at the Vanier Cup. We couldn’t accomplish that this year, but I don’t think that deters or takes away from a fantastic year. They’re hurting right now but we’re proud of them and three undefeated seasons.”

The Thunderbirds took flight early into the game, scoring on their first drive as quarterback Garrett Rooker found Sam Davenport for an 11-yard touchdown pass 3:25 into the first quarter. They stretched the lead to 14-0 late in the quarter as Rooker connected with Dane Kapler on a 10-yard pass.

St. F.X. cut the deficit in half as quarterback Silas Fagnan – the AUS most outstanding player – marched the X-men downfield and then scored on a four-yard scamper 1:01 into the second quarter.

The teams traded field goals and the X-men trailed 17-10 at the intermission.

“I thought we were a little nervous in the first quarter but played a lot better in the second,” Waterman said. “But in the third we made a couple mistakes, had a couple bad breaks and the game got away from us in the second half and we couldn’t get things under control.”

On the opening play of the third quarter, UBC defensive back Max Kennedy intercepted a deep Fagnan pass. The Thunderbirds capitalized on the turnover as Rooker took six plays to advance 63 yards, culminating in a nineyard touchdown pass to Shemar Mcbean.

Moments later, after the St. F.X. offence couldn’t muster anything on its next possession, UBC’S Cesare Rednourbruckman returned a kick-off for a 61-yard touchdown. In a blink of an eye, the X-men trailed by 21 points.

“We needed something to happen to try and seize momentum back in our favour,” Waterman said.

“But for some reason we could not. We had done that all year where things weren’t going well, we were able to rebound. But credit to UBC. They kept pouring it on and we kept trying to find a way to slow them down.”

UBC outscored X 19-7 in the third. The X-men’s lone score came with 23 seconds left in the quarter as defensive back Brandyn Martin recovered a fumble forced by Jay Turnsek and ran 30 yards to the end zone for their second touchdown of the game.

Davenport collected his second touchdown at 9:17 of the fourth and UBC locked down X for the remainder of the game.

The Thunderbirds held the X-men to just 77 rushing yards – AUS leading rusher Malcolm Bussey, who missed last weekend’s Loney Bowl conference championship with an injury, was held to 10 carries for 49 yards – and outpaced them in passing yards, 342-195. The UBC defence had four sacks and intercepted Fagnan three times. The St. F.X. pivot was 16-for-31.

The X-men suffered two key losses to injury during the game. Guard Will Chapman was hurt in a second-quarter pile up and had to be assisted off the field.

On the opening kickoff to begin the third quarter, St. F.X.’S Swiss army knife, receiver/returner Ben Harrington, was taken down by a high tackle on the return and injured his left leg.

“They are leaders on our team,” Waterman said of the injured all-stars. “Chapman is an anchor who has a lot of experience and communicates with all the younger players out there. Losing him was tough. And then we lose Ben Harrington early in the third. That really hurt. Those are two good players for us. But no excuses. Everyone has to deal with injuries.”

Rooker, who hails from League City, Texas, finished the day 22-for-26 for 303 yards and four touchdowns. He was named the offensive player of the game.

“He’s been very solid for us all year,” UBC head coach Blake Nill said in a post-game interview on CBC Gem. “He’s a very calm and composed young man and typically he gets the ball into the hands of the receivers.”

Nill – whose U Sports coaching career began at St. F.X. as a defensive coordinator in 1992, spending six seasons with the X-men which included a Vanier Cup appearance in 1996 – offered kudos to his former school.

“St. F.X. is a very special place for me and my family,” said Nill, who has a bachelor of science degree and a masters of education from St. F.X.

“There are coaches on the staff that we were all together in 1996 when we went to the national championship. It’s bittersweet for me. I care a lot for the school.

“I didn’t wear my X ring today, but I probably should. They hold a special place in my heart and I’m always proud to advocate and support St. Francis Xavier University.”

In the Uteck Bowl in Montreal, the Carabins defence forced eight turnovers and held the No. 1-ranked Western Mustangs to a single field goal in a 29-3 rout.

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