UBC Thunderbirds hold off Simon Fraser to claim U Sports’ supremacy in return of the Shrum Bowl

Photo courtesy: Jeff Sargeant/UBC Thunderbirds

British Columbia’s iconic college football rivalry returned from a record 12-year absence in spectacular fashion on Friday night, as the UBC Thunderbirds overcame a hostile crowd and a foreign rulebook to claim an 18-17 victory over the Simon Fraser University Red Leafs in the 34th Shrum Bowl.

2,922 fans braved frosty conditions in the newly renovated stadium atop Burnaby Mountain as SFU hosted the first version of the historic game played since 2010. The hometown Red Leafs were heavy underdogs after a 1-8 finish in the NCAA Division II Lone Star conference but pushed the Hardy Cup runner-up T-Birds to the brink with the benefit of an American field and rulebook.

UBC’s star-studded defence racked up 11 total sacks against an overmatched SFU front, but the U Sports program still required a last-minute drive to claim provincial superiority as the once-familiar foes felt each other out after a long absence.

Forced to adapt to the American rules in the two weeks since their last game, the UBC offence struggled to find its footing early while relying heavily on running back Isaiah Knight. The Red Leafs fared much worse against a fearsome Thunderbird defensive front, surrendering five sacks on their first three drives as Natale Frangione and Lake Korte-Moore feasted on quarterback Justin Seiber.

After penetration from that dominant defensive pair stopped running back Somto Anyadike well short on third-and-one late in the frame, SFU generated their biggest play yet with a fourth-down strike to all-conference receiver Ethan Beselt deep in UBC territory. That momentum was quashed by more pressure off the edge and a massive sack by Kyle Samson killed the promising drive.

After trading a few more fruitless drives, the home squad finally got their big break on special teams. Pinned in their own end, the Red Leafs elected to punt and Sam Davenport narrowly avoided a UBC rusher after a high snap to get off a line drive kick. The bouncing ball caught Edgerrin Williams by surprise without the five-yard halo normally afforded in the Canadian game and the returner put the ball on the turf for Robert Meadors to recover. Seiber delivered a 25-yard strike to Davenport to get his team in scoring position and kicker Giovanni Linuzzi chipped through a 25-yard field goal to give his team a 3-0 lead.

Thunderbirds’ receiver Shemar McBean answered back with a huge 56-yard kickoff return but a devastating misconduct penalty against offensive lineman Matthew Kingsley stunted the drive and kept UBC off the scoreboard at halftime. Through 30 minutes, the two teams combined for 117 yards of total offence — drug down by a negative two-yard passing statline from Thunderbirds’ quarterback Derek Engel.

That number changed quickly after the break as UBC opened the second half with a screen pass to Knight, who squirted free for a 28-yard gain. However, the Canada West’s top running back’s quiet night quickly took a turn for the worse when SFU safety Gideone Kremler came in hard on a third-and-one run and punched the ball out of his hands for the Red Leafs to recover.

SFU couldn’t get anything going after the turnover and the Thunderbirds reversed their earlier special teams misfortune by forcing one of their own, as backup tight end Tyler Hodgson flew down the field on punt coverage to rip the ball loose from Meadors. UBC recovered and Engel finally took to the air, changing the complexion of the game.

Finding his rhythm with a couple of quick completions, the young Texan signal-caller fired a dart to Edgerrin Williams on the right sideline and let his receiver do the work. The third-year from Hamilton sent linebacker Isaac Muckian sailing out of bounds with a nasty dead-leg and dashed 18 yards to pay dirt, putting UBC in front 6-3 after SFU’s Ryan Barthelson blocked the extra point.

The Red Leafs could only go three-and-out in response and the visiting Thunderbirds looked to be taking control as the game headed into the fourth, with Williams dragging his team into scoring position with another big catch. Benjamin Kolb lined up to extend the lead with a short kick but the defence came up clutch when the left side swarmed through to block the kick and Jerrell Cummings recovered to the delight of the Terry Fox Field crowd.

Seiber wasted no time capitalizing on that energy, airing it out to his favourite target Beselt in double coverage and allowing the receiver to make a spectacular fingertip grab. Wisely deciding to stick with that successful formula, the quarterback loaded up again on the very next play and Beselt blazed past corner Keijaun Johnson for a 55-yard score.

Engel answered back with a deep shot of his own to Shemar McBean, but the receiver was ruled out of bounds before he made it to the endzone. Simon Fraser barred the door in the red zone and forced UBC head coach Blake Nill to gamble on fourth down, a decision that was quickly punished when linebacker Dayton Ingenhaag broke through the line for a strip sack.

Handed a prime opportunity to drive a dagger into their opponent, SFU’s porous offensive line again came to the forefront. Defensive end Luke Burton-Krahn burst into the backfield to strip Somto Anyadike and Frangione jumped on top for the recovery in prime field position. One play later, the UBC running game finally broke through and Dane Kapler spun off first contact for a 17-yard touchdown, though McBean dropped the critical two-point attempt to keep their lead at just two.

It seemed that the Thunderbirds’ hard-running backup tailback was going to be the man to ice the game the next time UBC got possession, as Kapler pounded the ball down the field on a pivotal late-game drive. However, a crucial mental error from Engel saw the pigskin land in the hands of Cummings for a Red Leafs’ interception.

Seiber again looked deep on a pair of throws, finding Davenport and Aidan Pearce for huge gains. Running back Mason Glover followed that up with an 18-yard run down to the goal line and delivered on his own promise a play later with a touchdown run inside, though head coach Mike Rigell mystifyingly opted to kick the single point.

Trailing 17-12 with 1:36 remaining, the Thunderbirds managed the American clock effectively, working the sideline as they marched the field. Pinned in fourth-and-10 after two difficult incompletions, Engel stood in against pressure to find Lliam Wishart slanting across the middle for a first down at the goal line. The quarterback plunged in for the go-ahead points on the next play, seizing a one-point lead after another failed two-point attempt.

Left with little time to get into field goal position, the UBC pass rush finally proved fatal for Seiber as Ben Sangmuah and Ryan Baker got home twice more to send the home fans back to their dorms unhappy.

After his horrific first-half outing, Engel finished the game 20-of-36 for 211 yards, one touchdown and one interception, adding 36 yards and the game-winning score on the ground. Kapler carried 15 times for 86 yards and a touchdown while Williams has 10 catches for 90 and his score. However, the true stars of the game were on defence, where Baker racked up nine tackles and three sacks and Frangione, Burton-Krahn and Korte-Moore dominated up front.

Seiber completed 18-of-25 passes for 261 years and a touchdown despite the pressure. Beselt led all receivers with four catches for 106 yards and a major.

Despite the loss, Simon Fraser still holds a 17-16-1 all-time advantage over UBC in Shrum Bowl games. Next year’s game is scheduled to be played on the Thunderbirds’ Point Grey campus under Canadian rules.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.