The day after winning the Uteck Bowl ink Antigonish, Nova Scotia, the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds boarded a bus to make their way to Quebec City.
Considering the CIS (Canadian Intercollegiate Sports) football team had just earned a berth in the Vanier Cup national championship game, it could have been assumed a celebration would have made the trip seem shorter. It didn’t.
“It’s still 10 hours,” said offensive lineman and North Delta native Ethan Sadowski. “Normally, the day after a game go for a run.”
After their 36-9 romp past the St. Francis Xavier X-Men last Saturday afternoon in a national semifinal game, the T-Birds have one more game to play. Tomorrow (Saturday) they will kick-off against the Montreal Carabins.
“It’s not quite the same, it’s a little bit different,” said Sadowski of playing in the Vanier Cup. “I won’t find it too hard to stay focused.”
Sadowski is one of five players from the Surrey/North Delta area on the T-Birds roster, enjoying the unexpected postseason run. In addition to the Seaquam Seahawks graduate, third-year offensive lineman Tony Ganton of North Delta, second year receiver Will Watson of South Surrey, and first-year players Malcolm Lee at receiver and Vikaram Varpaul on offensive line are also contributing.
The T-Birds were a mediocre 2-2 (win-loss) at the midway point of the Canada West season, then ran the table. They placed second with a 6-2 record, knocked off the Manitoba Bisons 52-10 in the Canada West semifinal then stunned the Calgary Dinos 34-26 in the Canada West championship game on Nov. 14. Calgary ripped the T-Birds 41-16 in the regular season’s first game, and was unbeaten in league play.
“After a loss to Saskatchewan (49-25 in Vancouver), it opened up our eyes to the potential we had,” said Watson, who emerged as an offensive threat this season. “On a lot of teams, players have potential and don’t do much with it. We started to work harder, we played more as a team.
“We then beat Alberta (39-21 in Edmonton), and it wasn’t pretty. But it was a start. We just knew what we needed to do.”
Playing in the Vanier Cup wasn’t on the radar when the postseason began. But three wins late, including the last two on the road, has the T-Birds one win away from their first national championship since 1997, when the T-Birds defeated the Ottawa Gee Gees 39-23 in Toronto.
Sadowski will play the game like it’s any other. But he also knows being in a championship game is something special.
“We won the B.C.’s (provincial championship) when I was a Grade 9 (at Seaquam) in Senior AA,” he said. “We were always projected to go far in the playoffs, and we did go far, but we never won another championship.
“Not a lot of guys get this chance. And for some guys, this could be their last game.”
It was hard for Sadowski to put a finger on what turned the season around for the T-Birds. A defensive lineman for his first three seasons at UBC, he missed the first half of the season due to injury, then returned to play on offense at the midway point.
Watson, who had a team high 57 receptions and 763 yards in his second season as a receiver, said not looking too far ahead was important.
“We were definitely taking it one game at a time,” he said. “After a 2-2 start, we just wanted to get back to Calgary (for the CIS final). So each game was basically a playoff game.”
Now, there’s one game left, a nationally televised contest for a national championship.
“It’s a Vanier Cup final, but I just have to do my job and not try to do more than what’s needed,” said Sadowski. “I just need to be there when plays need to be made.”