U Sports Football: A look at the conference finals
U Sports – TORONTO (U Sports) – Only three weekends remaining on the 2016 of U Sports football schedule, and eight teams left standing on the road to the 52nd ArcelorMittal Dofasco Vanier Cup. Here is a look at Saturday’s conference finals.
ROAD TO THE ARCELORMITTAL DOFASCO VANIER CUP
Six of seven home teams prevailed last weekend in the conference semifinals. Results included Mount Allison 27, Acadia 18; Montreal 42, McGill 0; Laval 39, Concordia 14; Western 51, Carleton 24; Wilfrid Laurier 21, McMaster 19; Calgary 47, Saskatchewan 17. The only upset came in Regina, where defending Vanier Cup champion UBC outscored the Canada West first-place finisher Rams 40-34.
These results set up the following conference finals on Saturday:
Loney Bowl (14:00 AST): Mount Allison (4-5) at No. 10 StFX (7-1) (Bell Aliant Fibe TV1 & AUStv.ca)
Dunsmore Cup (14:00 EST): No. 1 Laval (8-1) at No. 2 Montreal (8-1) (TVA Sports)
Yates Cup (13:00 EST): No. 5 Laurier (8-1) at No. 3 Western (8-1) (CHCH & OUA.TV)
Hardy Cup (13:00 MST): UBC (4-5) at No. 6 Calgary (7-2) (Shaw TV/Access & CanadaWest.TV)
Saturday’s winners will advance to the national semifinals – the Uteck Bowl (OUA at RSEQ) and ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl (AUS at Canada West) – on Nov. 19 at 12:30 pm EST (Uteck) and 4 p.m. EST (Mitchell). The 2016 U Sports football season culminates on Nov. 26 with the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Vanier Cup at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, at 1 p.m. EST.
Sportsnet and TVA Sports once again have live coverage of the U Sports semifinals and championship game.
All the information on the 52nd Vanier Cup is available at vaniercup.com.
LONEY BOWL: Mount Allison Mounties (4-5) at No. 10 St. Francis Xavier X-Men (7-1)
StFX has captured 12 AUS banners since 1960, including a year ago when the X-Men triumphed for the first time since 1996… Mount Allison has been crowned six times, including back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014… The two teams are meeting in the Loney Bowl championship game for the third straight year but this time at Oland Stadium in Antigonish, N.S., following a 29-7 Mount Allison home win in 2014 and a 14-12 StFX road victory in 2015… This fall, the X-Men kept an unblemished 7-0 league record against AUS opponents, including a season-opening 29-14 win at Mount Allison on Sept. 10 and a 65-17 domination of the Mounties on home turf on Oct. 29 to close out the regular schedule… The rivals also met in preseason action at Oland Stadium on Sept. 2, with the X-Men prevailing 18-17… On paper, StFX is the overwhelming favourite going into Saturday’s confrontation as the X-Men topped the conference in most statistical categories in league play, including points scored (37.4 per game), total yards (484.5) and passing yards (323.6) on offence and points allowed (16.1), total yards (336.0), passing yards (223.6) and rushing yards (112.4) on defence… Mount Allison did have the best rushing attack in the conference (168.6 yards per game), with StFX finishing a close second in that department (160.9)… Individually for the No. 10-ranked X-Men, fifth-year quarterback Tivon Cook led the league in most passing categories including yards (2,537), touchdowns (21), completions (174) and completion percentage (69.3 – tied for first in U Sports), and capped the regular season two weeks ago with a remarkable six-TD performance against Mount Allison; third-year running back Jordan Socholotiuk led the AUS in rushing yards (1,056 – second in U Sports); second-year receiver/returner Kaion Julien-Grant led the country in all-purpose yards (1,558) and topped the conference in receiving yards (804 – third in U Sports) despite missing one regular season game; third-year defensive end Kyle Forde led the AUS and tied for second in the nation in sacks (9.0)… Individually for the Mounties, fifth-year linebacker Kyle Horsman led the conference in tackles (59.5 – fifth in U Sports); third-year running back Chris Reid had a relatively quiet regular season (584 yards) but did lead the league in rushing touchdowns (6) and was dominant in last week’s semifinal against Acadia with 209 yards and one major on 34 carries.
DUNSMORE CUP: No. 1 Laval Rouge et Or (8-1) at No. 2 Montreal Carabins (8-1)
Laval has claimed 12 conference banners since joining U Sports football in 1996, including a national record 11 straight from 2003 to 2013… Montreal, which returned to U Sports football in 2002, captured the first RSEQ title in program history in 2014 and repeated as league champion a year ago… The archrivals have met in each of the last three Dunsmore Cup finals and in seven championship games overall, with the Rouge et Or winning the first five in 2004 (30-12 away), 2005 (19-13 home), 2009 (31-7 home), 2011 (30-7 home) and 2013 (14-11 home), and the Carabins finally breaking the ice with back-to-back triumphs in 2014 (12-9 in OT) and 2015 (18-16), both times in Quebec City… This fall, the two teams were an even match in conference play, Montreal opening the season on Sept. 3 with a 24-21 victory in Quebec City and Laval winning the rematch 22-19 on Oct. 15 at CEPSUM Stadium… In the end, the Carabins earned first place in the RSEQ standings and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs based on points allowed over the course of the eight-game schedule (72 vs. 78 for Laval)… Saturday’s confrontation will pit the top two overall defences in the country as Montreal topped U Sports this fall in points allowed (9.0 per game), total yards (267.4) and rushing yards (70.8) and also ranked third against the pass (196.6), while Laval finished second in the nation in points allowed (9.8) and total yards (294.0), third against the run (91.8) and fourth in passing defence (202.3)… While the two powerhouses didn’t rank in the national top five on offence, the gap between the two teams was as close on that side of the ball, with Montreal holding a slight head-to-head advantage in points scored (37.0 per game vs. 36.1), total yards (472.8 vs. 460.6) and rushing yards (201.5 vs. 168.8), and Laval having the edge in passing yards (291.9 vs. 271.3)… Individually, the top-ranked Rouge et Or are led by the last two U Sports rookies of the year in defensive end Mathieu Betts (2015), who dominated the RSEQ and finished second in the country in sacks (9.0), and quarterback Hugo Richard (2014), who quietly put together a very solid season completing 68.4 per cent of his passes for 2,095 yards, 13 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and also finished first in Quebec with eight rushing majors (third in U Sports)… The No. 2-ranked and 2015 Vanier Cup finalist Carabins are led by third-year defensive end Jonathan Boissonneault-Glaou, last season’s RSEQ defensive player of the year who racked up six sacks in eight league games this fall; fourth-year quarterback Samuel Caron, who was a model of consistency in his first season as the team’s starting pivot with an RSEQ-leading 68.5 completion percentage and a league-low four interceptions; as well as the three-headed receiving monster comprised of 2014 Vanier Cup MVP Régis Cibasu (46 catches), Guillaume Paquet (38) and Louis-Mathieu Normandin (35).
YATES CUP: No. 5 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (8-1) at No. 3 Western Mustangs (8-1)
Western has hoisted the Yates Cup – which was first awarded in 1898 and is the oldest existing football trophy in North America – a record 30 times over the years, most recently in 2013 thanks to a resounding 51-22 win over Queen’s. The Mustangs failed to add to their trophy collection a year ago however as they were upset 23-17 by Guelph in the championship match at TD Stadium… Returning to the OUA final for the first time since a 32-14 loss to Ottawa in 2006, Laurier has been crowned on seven occasions, including back-to-back triumphs over McMaster in 2004 (31-19) and Western in 2005 (29-11)… The Mustangs and Golden Hawks have battled for the Yates Cup 12 times in the past, including eight conference finals as well as four division finals between 1974 and 1978, when the trophy was shared by the East and West division winners. Western currently leads the series 8-4, including wins in 1974 (19-8 away), 1976 (28-14 home), 1977 (22-17 home), 1980 (51-28 home), 1985 (19-16 home), 1988 (27-16 home), 1994 (38-36 in OT away) and 1995 (10-9 away), while Laurier has prevailed in 1972 (38-27 home), 1978 (19-14 away), 1991 (13-12 away) and 2005 (29-11 home)… The two teams are meeting in the post-season for the second straight year as the Mustangs downed the Hawks 32-18 in semifinal action last November in London… This fall, both squads went 7-1 in league play but Western took first place in the OUA standings thanks to a 45-26 head-to-head win at TD Stadium on Oct. 1… The Mustangs’ only loss of the regular season was a 38-31 setback at Carleton on Sept. 4, a defeat Western avenged convincingly last weekend by dominating the Ravens 51-24… Fireworks are expected on Saturday as the OUA championship game pits the nation’s top-two scoring teams in conference play (Western 49.1 points per game / Laurier 42.6). The rivals also boast the top-two rushing offences in the country (Laurier 281.4 yards per game / Western 272.3)… On defence, the Hawks finished second in the OUA and fourth in U Sports in points allowed (15.8 per game), just ahead of the Mustangs (18.5), who ranked third in Ontario and sixth nationally… Laurier also topped U Sports this fall with 36 sacks in eight league contests and added three in last weekend’s semifinal win over McMaster… Individually, leaders for No. 3-ranked Western include new starting QB and NCAA transfer Chris Merchant (66.5%, 14 TD passes, 5 interceptions); third-year running back Alex Taylor (987 rushing yards), who led U Sports with 10 rushing touchdowns and 11 all-purpose majors; fifth-year defensive end John Biewald, who placed second in the OUA and fourth in the country in sacks (7.0)… Leading the way for No. 5-ranked Laurier are quarterback Michael Knevel, who took over as starting pivot in Week 3 and went on to throw only two interceptions in 133 passing attempts; fifth-year running back Eric Guiltinan, who racked up 736 rushing yards in only seven league games but is questionable for the Yates Cup after suffering an injury against McMaster; fourth-year linebacker Nakas Onyeka, who finished the regular season with a team-high 59.5 tackles (fifth in U Sports).
HARDY CUP: UBC Thunderbirds (4-5) at No. 6 Calgary Dinos (7-2)
Calgary has captured 15 Canada West football banners over the years, including a league-record six in a row from 2008 to 2013. The Dinos, however, have lost the last two conference finals to Manitoba in 2014 (28-15) and the Thunderbirds a year ago (34-26)… The Dinos’ current streak of nine straight Hardy Cup appearances is also a league standard… Reigning Vanier Cup champion UBC also boasts 15 conference championships (not including a shared title with Alberta in 1962), with last year’s win over the Dinos marking its first triumph since 1997, when the T-Birds also hoisted the Vanier Cup after beating Calgary in the Canada West final… The two teams are 4-4 all-time in head-to-head Hardy Cup meetings, alternating wins in 1977 (13-12 Calgary at home), 1978 (26-8 UBC at home), 1983 (21-12 Calgary at home), 1986 (49-3 UBC at home), 1992 (26-24 Calgary in OT on the road), 1997 (39-21 UBC at home), 2011 (62-13 Calgary at home) and 2015 (34-26 UBC on the road)… Other storylines heading into Saturday’s game include UBC head coach Blake Nill returning to McMahon Stadium to face his former team in the league final for the second straight year; the T-Birds being just the second team to reach the Canada West title match after a sub-.500 regular season, joining the 2010 Alberta Golden Bears, who that year were trounced 56-3 by Calgary at McMahon; the Dinos looking to avoid joining Alberta (2003-2005) as the only programs to lose three straight Hardy Cup finals… This fall, as the Dinos finished second in Canada West with a 6-2 record and the T-Birds settled for fourth with a 3-5 mark, Calgary won both head-to-head matchups, including a dominating 35-8 decision at McMahon Stadium back on Sept. 9 and a thrilling 41-35 overtime victory on the final week of the regular season on Oct. 29 in Vancouver… Calgary finished ahead of UBC in most statistical categories in conference play, including points scored (36.8 per game vs. 31.3), total yards (507.4 vs. 480.9) and rushing yards (195.9 vs. 153.3) on offence and points allowed (20.9 vs. 30.6), total yards (395.4 vs. 462.3) and rushing yards (107.4 vs. 177.6) on defence… The defending champs had the advantage in the passing game, both on offence (327.6 vs. 311.5) and defence (284.6 vs. 288.0)… Individually for the No. 6-ranked Dinos, first-year quarterback Adam Sinagra is expected to start his second consecutive playoff game and his fourth straight overall as fifth-year veteran Jimmy Underdahl is still nursing an injury. In his first three starts, including the league finale against UBC, Sinagra has been stellar with seven touchdown passes and no interceptions… Despite missing two games in league play, fourth-year senior Austen Hartley was Calgary’s top receiver with 45 catches for 661 yards and a Canada West-best 110.2 yards contest, and he was dominant last weekend against Saskatchewan with seven receptions for 145 yards and one touchdown… On defence, fourth-year tackle Jack McEwen led the conference with 4.5 sacks in the regular season and added one against Saskatchewan last Saturday… UBC is led on offence by sophomore quarterback Michael O’Connor, the 2015 Vanier Cup MVP who set a team record this fall with 2,598 passing yards and was stellar in last week’s semifinal upset against Regina with 397 yards and two touchdowns on 29-of-40 passing… On the other side of the ball, sophomore defensive back Stavros Katsantonis, the 2015 Vanier Cup defensive MVP, led Canada West in league play and tied for second in U Sports with five interceptions.
WEEK 12 SCHEDULE (all times local)
November 12 (conference finals)
13:00 EST Yates Cup: No. 5 Laurier (8-1) at No. 3 Western (8-1) (CHCH & OUA.TV)
13:00 MST Hardy Cup: UBC (4-5) at No. 6 Calgary (7-2) (Shaw TV/Access & CanadaWest.TV)
14:00 AST Loney Bowl: Mt. Allison (4-5) at No. 10 StFX (7-1) (Bell Aliant Fibe TV1 & AUStv.ca)
14:00 EST Dunsmore Cup: No. 1 Laval (8-1) at No. 2 Montreal (8-1) (TVA Sports)
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