CIS Corner: History’s made with identical final four teams in back-to-back years
The CFL may be known for its parity, but Canadian university football sure isn't at the moment. Although there's been some movement in the middle ranks, and programs like Guelph and Sherbrooke even made unexpected appearances in the conference finals, the heavily-favoured home teams all held serve in the conference championships Saturday to give CIS its first-ever back-to-back seasons with the same final four teams (as noted on the Hardy Cup broadcast by TSN's Duane Forde). It won't be identical semifinals, as OUA champion McMaster will host Canada West champion Calgary this year in the Mitchell Bowl (last year, the Marauders went East to face Acadia in the Uteck Bowl) while RSEQ champs Laval will host the Atlantic-champion Axemen in the Uteck Bowl (the Rouge et Or headed to Calgary and downed the Dinos in the 2011 Mitchell Bowl), but it's the same conference champions, and if things play out according to the seeds and home teams, we'd even see an identical Vanier Cup matchup between McMaster and Laval. Here's how each of Saturday's games went, going East to West:
Loney Bowl (AUS championship): #9 Acadia Axemen 17, Saint Mary's Huskies 9: Okay, this was closer to Rob Pettapiece's envisioned Acadia-5 point spread than the blowout I envisioned, but that was more thanks to mistakes by the Axemen than really positive play from the Huskies. Acadia quarterback Kyle Graves made some impressive plays, including a deep TD throw to Taylor Renaud, but his overall passing stat line (10 for 24, 110 yards, one TD, one interception) was far from inspiring. He's going to have to be way better in the Uteck for the Axemen to have a hope in hell against Laval.
Dunsmore Cup (RSEQ championship): #2 Laval Rouge et Or 40, #10 Sherbrooke Vert et Or 17: This looked like a potential blowout from both the point spread (Laval -15) and the qualitative side, and only losing by 23 is probably a pretty good result for Sherbrooke. Then again, the Rouge et Or have been known to take it easy once things are well in hand (see their lone loss this season to Montreal, which was meaningless thanks to their larger margin-of-victory in their previous win over the Carabins), and it looks like that happened again here; after putting up 30 points by the half, the Rouge et Or stepped off the gas slightly. They still don't have a great passing attack (QB Tristan Grenon was 10 for 20 for 131 yards, 2 TDs and an interception), but their defence is incredible, as is their running game (Maxime Boutin picked up 119 yards on six carries, while Guillaume Bourassa added 112 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and Grenon rushed for 16 yards and two touchdowns on five carries), and they'll likely be heavy favourites against Acadia next week.
Yates Cup (OUA championship): #1 McMaster Marauders 30, #5 Guelph Gryphons 13: The favourite didn't cover here (Rob had Mac -24), but they dominated beginning to end. Stu Lang deserves plenty of credit for the Gryphons' remarkable season and journey to this point, and they may yet turn into a consistent OUA powerhouse, but this looked like the mismatch it set up as. Guelph was dominated 50-9 in the first game between these teams, and although they've gotten better since then, the Gryphons aren't yet at McMaster's level. The question is if Marauders' QB Kyle Quinlan (16 for 20, 265 yards, two touchdowns and an interception) and the rest of the team can maintain this level of play next week against the Dinos, perhaps the most dangerous obstacle remaining in McMaster's quest to follow their first Vanier Cup victory last year with a repeat championship.
Hardy Cup (Canada West championship): #3 Calgary Dinos 38, #7 Regina Rams 14: Despite the lopsided final score (which let -21 Calgary cover), this lived up to the hype as the best matchup of the day. Regina only trailed by one point at the half and by 11 heading into the final quarter, and they kept their hopes alive late thanks to mistakes by Calgary. The Rams lost the battle at the point of attack, though, frequently getting stuffed on the ground, and several prominent errors of their own (in particular, an early fumble into the end zone, a late interception from Marc Mueller and a late third-and-one that saw them try to run up the middle and fail) doomed them to a bad loss despite Dinos' quarterback Eric Dzwilewski's three interceptions. The Dinos' offence was still reasonably fearsome here (despite the picks, Dzwilewski completed 33 of 46 passes for 377 yards and a touchdown, while Steven Lumbala rushed 22 times for 251 yards), they won their fifth-straight Canada West championship (a conference record), and they'll certainly be a threat to McMaster, but they'll have to reduce their mistakes and turnovers if they want to upset the defending champions next week.