U Sports game preview (2): Rams host UBC in Week 1 showdown

#7 UBC Thunderbirds (0-0) at #5 Regina Rams (0-0)
Date Friday, Sept. 1
Time 7:00 pm
Location Mosaic Stadium (Regina, Sask.)
Tickets TicketRocket.co
Mosaic Stadium Game Day Information
Television SaskTel maxTV 48/348 | TELUS Optik TV
Regina Radio 620 CKRM
Internet CanadaWest.tv ($)
Live Stats ReginaRams.com | Canada West
Game Notes Rams | UBC
Rams on Social Media Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

• The Rams open up the 2017 season on Friday the same way the 2016 campaign ended – at home against UBC. The Rams will be looking for revenge after a 40-34 loss to UBC in last year’s semifinal game.

• The Rams/UBC game is the only contest in the nation this week that features a battle between two teams currently ranked in the U SPORTS Top Ten.

• RB Atlee Simon is poised to break a major school record. He enters the season tied with Neal Hughes for the U of R’s all-time lead with 17 career rushing touchdowns, and needs just one more to pull into sole possession of first place.

ENCORE: What can QB Noah Picton do for an encore? Last year he became the first Rams player to receive the Hec Crighton Trophy as the U SPORTS Player of the Year after setting a new national record with 3186 passing yards. He also led all of Canadian university football in completion rate (69.3%) and touchdown passes (25) and was Canada West’s leader with 224 completions. Picton, who was a three-time recipient of U SPORTS Offensive Player of the Week honours, returns his top two receivers from last year (Mitchell Picton and Ryan Schienbein) as well as Mitch Thompson, who was among the team’s leading receivers in 2015 but missed last year due to injury.

SERIES NOTES: Friday’s game will mark the 27th time that the two teams have played a Canada West game, but the first where both teams are ranked – the Rams checked in at No. 5 in the first poll of the season released on Tuesday, while UBC was No. 7. Last season’s three contests were thrilling – the Rams won 20-10 on the road in Week 3 and followed that up with a 35-33 home victory in Week 7, but UBC exacted revenge with a 40-34 win in the Canada West semifinals.

REVAMPED LINE: Though the vast majority of the core of the 2016 team returns this season, the offensive line was hit hard. The list of departures includes Nathan Cugnet, Andre Smith, Jamie Wandell, and Jeremy Zver, while Matt Degelman is still recovering from the injury that ended his 2016 campaign and will miss this year as well. Andrew Becker is the only returning starter from last season and he’s likely to start at right guard, with newcomers Michele Vecchio (Okanagan Sun) and Theren Churchill (Edmonton Huskies) at centre and right tackle, respectively. Bryan Robinson was mainly a backup last year but is expected to step into a starting role this year at left tackle, while first-year lineman Bowen Pisula could start at left guard after missing the entire 2016 season to injury.

CROSS TO START: One of the most heralded recruits the Rams have landed in recent years, first-year LB Nick Cross (LeBoldus) has been as good as advertised in camp and is expected to get the start at sam linebacker on Friday. That would make Cross the first rookie directly out of high school to start a season opener for the Rams in nearly a decade – the last time that happened was back when Cross was in Grade 4, and Jamir Walker came out of Sheldon-Williams Collegiate to start at cornerback in the Rams’ first game of the 2008 season.

SOME MORE ROOKIES: Besides Cross, the Rams are expected to dress two other rookies right out of high school in their opener – RB Kyle Borsa (Riffel) and SB Zachary Shalley (Sheldon-Williams). Both played big roles in last week’s exhibition win over Calgary, with Shalley ending up as the game’s top receiver (eight catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns) and Borsa finishing with three rushes for 22 yards as well as returning a total of three kicks.

U SPORTS DEBUTS: A total of 13 players will play in their first game at the U SPORTS level on Friday. Besides Borsa and Shalley, OL Theren Churchill (Edmonton Huskies), OL Matthew Couch (Citrus College), OL Michele Vecchio (Okanagan Sun) are all in their first season with the Rams. OL Jesse Ens, OL Bowen Pisula, and FB Scott Jones are all in their second season with the program, but were redshirts last year and didn’t get into a game. On the defensive side of the ball, Cross will be joined by four others playing their first U SPORTS game – LB Cole Benkic (Saskatoon Hilltops), LB Layne Hull (Okanagan Sun), DB Jack Louisdort (St-Lazare Stallions), and DB Taylor Mayer (Regina Thunder).

THUNDER BUDDIES: DB Polis Koko and DL Ryan Warner both come back to the Rams after originally starting out at the U of R out of high school, but heading crosstown to the Regina Thunder to play junior football. Koko played in 2015 for the Rams after graduating from LeBoldus before playing for the Thunder last season, while Warner redshirted with the Rams in 2012, played in 2013, and spent three seasons with the Thunder and earned CJFL All-Canadian honours last season.

BACK FROM INJURY: WR Mitch Thompson led the Rams in both receiving yards (526) and touchdown catches (5) during the 2015 season, but ending up missing the entire 2016 campaign after sustaining an injury in the offseason. But Thompson has recovered, and the Rams expect him to reclaim his starting position at wide receiver in the opener against UBC.

Source: Regina Rams




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