The frustrations of the University of Alberta Golden Bears football team Saturday could be summed up by one play in the fourth quarter when fifth-year receiver Ben Kopczynski was ejected after lashing out at an opponent.
It was so out of character for Kopczynski, particularly in what could be the final home game of his university career.
Yet, it was that type of afternoon for the Golden Bears who fell 31-17 to the University of Regina Rams at Foote Field and dropped their record to 4-3 on the season.
“It’s atrocious, every time we did something we got a penalty — we have to be more disciplined, we have to play better football,” said Golden Bears head coach Chris Morris. “I don’t know how many yards we took in penalties, but it was like every snap almost. I don’t know how we possibly could have been that bad.”
The Golden Bears were offside on the opening kickoff and it only got worse from there. They finished with 26 penalties for 185 yards in a game that got away from them early against a desperate Regina team fighting for its playoff lives.
Regina came into the game with a 1-5 record and needed a win to keep any hope of qualifying for the Canada West playoffs. They went on to take an early 13-1 lead and never looked back.
“If you’re first-and-20, first-and-15 the whole game, it’s hard to get in a rhythm,” Morris said. “You can’t be offside upwards of 10 times a game and expect to win. Those are completely under our control. That’s what’s disappointing about it. That’s a good team and we knew they were a good team and we knew they were going to play hard, but you can’t do that.
“That’s a good lesson for our guys. We’re playing against a team that can’t lose. If they lose they’re out. With that comes needing to be crisp. You can’t go offside every play, you have to play with a certain level of emotion. I think we played hard, we played with emotion, but we made so many mistakes that were within our own control and it’s impossible to win football games against good teams when you do that.”
Rams first-year quarterback Josh Donnelly had an outstanding day for Regina. He set the tone early by completing an 80-yard touchdown pass to receiver Ryan Schienbein on the first play from scrimmage to give Regina the lead.
Donnelly went on to complete 14 of 25 passes for 339 yards with three touchdown passes.
“He’s showing a ton of composure, he’s really smart, he makes his reads,” said Rams head coach Steve Bryce. “We want to continue on making him better, we don’t want him plateauing, we want him to constantly focus on improving and I think he will. He’s a smart kid, he’s a disciplined kid and so his future is going to be really bright.”
The Rams had been on the wrong side of a number of tight games this season, including a one-point loss to Alberta in the first meeting between the teams in Regina.
On that occasion, the Rams offence struggled. But Saturday, they were effective on the ground and in the air. Running back Semba Mbasela had a strong game for Regina, finishing with 67 yards on 20 carries.
“It was good to get a win, we’ve kind of struggled in the last couple of games,” Donnelly said. “We just really needed to get one under our belt. We have a lot of potential as a team and I don’t think we’ve shown that this year and getting some points on the board and making some big plays today was good all around.”
With the Golden Bears having to chase the game from the onset, they took to the air and quarterback Brad Launhardt ended up setting a school record for completions in a contest. Launhardt finished 35 of 54 passing for 420 yards with an interception. Running back Matthew Peterson had a good day with 86 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown.
Before being ejected from the game for throwing punches at the bottom of a pile, Kopczynski had 11 receptions for 150 yards to lead all Golden Bear receivers.
“We were just sputtering on offence, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with stuff,” Launhardt said. “It wasn’t them necessarily making plays, it was us hurting ourselves and we just can’t do that against any team in this conference, it’s just too good of a league. That killed us.”
Despite the loss, the Golden Bears still have an opportunity to finish second in the Canada West standings, needing to defeat the University of Saskatchewan in their final regular-season game next Saturday. The Golden Bears have already clinched a playoff spot, but would need to defeat Saskatchewan for a second time this year to host a playoff game for the first time since 2005.
“That’s going to be for second place and a home playoff game and that’s always important,” Launhardt said. “We’d rather not have to travel in the playoffs. We want to get the win and hopefully have that playoff game here.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest