CIS Corner: Upsets by Sherbrooke and Guelph make for intriguing conference finals

On the whole, the CIS conference semifinals went about as expected. Of the seven games, five of the teams favoured in Rob Pettapiece's point spreads won, and three of them covered. It's the two games where the underdogs won that proved the most interesting, though; #10 Sherbrooke (an 18.5 point underdog!) thumped #4 Montreal 42-24 on the road, while #5 Guelph (higher-ranked, but a five-point underdog at home) rallied from a 22-point deficit with five minutes left to stun #6 Queen's 42-39 in overtime. Although everything else went the way of the favourites, having Sherbrooke and Guelph in the conference finals instead of Montreal and Queen's does change the CIS playoff picture dramatically.

In Ontario, although Guelph was the higher-ranked team, this would seem to smooth the path to the Yates Cup for the top-ranked McMaster Marauders. McMaster thumped Guelph 50-9 at home but edged Queen's 33-20. Anything can happen in the playoffs, of course, and it's notable that the Marauders-Gryphons clash took place in Week One; Guelph's been playing much better down the stretch. Still, although the Gryphons had a better regular-season record than Queen's (7-1 versus 6-2), they had just a +42 point differential against the Gaels' +102. That doesn't bode well for them against the dominant Marauders, who went 8-0 this season with a +240 point differential and knocked off Western 42-28 Saturday.

Over in Quebec, Sherbrooke's victory is an even larger shocker. The Vert et Or had a reasonable regular season, putting up a 6-3 record with a +56 point differential, but they looked like a clear third-place Quebec team behind Laval (8-1, +234) and Montreal (8-1, +193). That changed Saturday, though, with the Vert et Or dominating the Carabins. Sherbrooke quarterback Jeremi Roch-Doyon completed 18 of his 27 passes (66.7 per cent) for 244 yards and four touchdowns (although he did throw two picks), while Alexandre Nadeau-Pize couldn't counter for Montreal, completing just 13 of 30 passes (43.3 per cent) for just 147 yards with two interceptions. We'll see if the Vert et Or can put in another strong performance against Laval next week, but they were dominated 48-10 by the Rouge et Or in the regular season, and that was at home. Meanwhile, Montreal actually beat Laval in one of the two games between the sides. The Rouge et Or still would have been favoured in the Dunsmore Cup against the Carabins, but that likely would have been seen as a narrower contest than this matchup with Sherbrooke will be.

Meanwhile, things in Canada West and Atlantic University Sport played out as anticipated. The third-ranked Calgary Dinos thumped unranked Manitoba 57-18 (and covered the 28-point spread!), earning a matchup with the seventh-ranked Regina Rams, who knocked off unranked Saskatchewan 31-9 Friday. That should make for an interesting offensive showdown in the Hardy Cup; Calgary's offence has been dominant all year, and they put up 78 points in their final regular-season game against Manitoba, but Regina has a chance to hang with them if they get a great quarterbacking performance from Marc Mueller. Out East, Saint Mary's romped over Mount Allison 49-11 to set up a date with the ninth-ranked Acadia Axemen (who had a bye to the final). Acadia's going to be highly-favoured there, as they put up a 7-1 record in the regular season against the Huskies' 3-5, but Saint Mary's has looked solid down the stretch. We'll see how that one plays out. Regardless, it should be an interesting round of conference finals, with some atypical participants as well as the usual suspects.

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