The Laval Rouge et Or made CIS history today in advancing to a league record fourth consecutive Vanier Cup by defeating the Mount Allison Mounties 48-21 to win the Uteck Bowl semifinal
They will host the No. 3 nationally ranked Calgary Dinos - a team that manhandled the No. 1 nationally ranked and previously undefeated Western Mustangs 44-3 to win the Mitchell Bowl at McMahon Stadium in snowy conditions.
It will be just the fifth meeting between undefeated teams in the 49-year Vanier Cup history.
But Laval's win and chance to win a record 8th Vanier Cup - and their 8th since 1999 - came at a big price. In defeating the host Mounties, the No. 2 nationally ranked Rouge et Or lost starting tailback Pascal Lochard in the process.
Lochard, a senior from Montreal, had three touchdowns (actually a fourth was called back on an undisciplined penalty in the second half) in the contest. He is suspected to have a knee injury (MCL or ACL) and left the game on crutches and unable to put weight on his left leg with ice on his left knee. Head coach Glen Constantin said Lochard would be doubtful next weekend.
Losing Lochard would be a major blow for Laval which has home field advantage as the pre-determined host via a bidding process for the Vanier Cup.
The score was a lot closer than the game indicated thanks to a number of undisciplined Laval penalties - a trend that has been ongoing for the past three weeks and will need to be rectified in the national final next Saturday. The defending national champion Rouge et Or was in control for the whole game in their game in Sackville, N.B., in front of a standing room-only crowd of 3,537 at MacAulay Field.
The first-ever Bowl game played on the scenic Sackville, N.B. campus saw the surprise AUS conference champion Mounties try to claw back. But they were clearly outmatched in this contest with Laval dominating the line of scrimmage.
The Rouge et Or, winners of a record 11-straight RSEQ titles, reached the end zone in each of their first three offensive series to take a 21-0 lead and never looked back.
Lochard opened the scoring three minutes and 16 seconds into the contest on a one-yard touchdown run and made it 14-0 four minutes later when he punched the ball in from two yards out. Guillaume Rioux then caught a 24-yard TD pass from quarterback Alex Skinner and it was 21-0 at the 10:47 mark.
Playing in their first Bowl game since 1997, the Mounties gave their loyal fans something to cheer about 3:28 into the second quarter when Brandon Leyh threw a perfect 15-yard strike to Troy Trentham in the right corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to two scores.
Laval responded right away however thanks to Lochard’s third rushing major of the afternoon, from one yard out, and a late safety conceded by the locals made it 30-7 at the halftime break.
Laval never looked to be a in a position to surrender the lead. Rouge et Or head coach Constantin said he was pleased with the result but had mixed feelings about his team’s execution.
“It wasn’t our best performance of the season. After a great start, we made way too many mental mistakes, especially in the third quarter,” said the 13-year veteran coach, who felt the need to address his troops on the sidelines early in the fourth quarter. “We went back to the basics in the fourth and had a few good drives. We’ll have to play better next week.”
Laval finished with 575 yards of total offence compared to 328 for its opponents and also had a 26-17 advantage in first downs. As expected, the Rouge et Or, ranked fifth in the country this season in rushing (216.6 ypg) and first against the run (75.8), dominated the ground game 313 yards to 74.
Rioux, a fifth-year senior born in Paris, France, was named game MVP thanks to his two touchdowns and 227 all-purpose yards, including 172 on 10 punt returns, 45 on five receptions and 10 on one carry.
“We’re very happy with the win, especially since this was the first Bowl victory in the Maritimes in three tries for our program,” Rioux said. “We’re excited to go back to the show and defend our title at home.”
Running back Maxime Boutin had a number of carries before getting full-time rushing duties following the Lochard injury. The junior from Quebec City who was voted MVP of the Uteck Bowl and Vanier Cup a year ago, also had a monstrous performance for the winners with 268 all-purpose yards, including 163 on 18 rushes and 105 on three catches.
Skinner completed 18 of 26 passes for 273 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, while Lochard also went over the century mark on the ground, gaining 107 yards on 11 runs.
Leyh, a sophomore from New Westminster, B.C., was solid in the losing cause, going 22-of-36 for 260 yards, three majors and no picks. AUS MVP Jordan Botel of Prince George, B.C., also had a valiant effort with 79 yards on 18 carries.
This year's Vanier Cup will feature two undefeated teams - it will mark only the fourth Vanier Cup between undefeated teams in the 49-year history of the event, following 2005 (Laurier vs. Saskatchewan), 1986 (UBC vs. Western) and 1966 (StFX vs. Waterloo Lutheran). Kickoff at TELUS-UL Stadium is set for 1 p.m. EST, live on Sportsnet & Radio-Canada.
While Laval is 7-1 all-time in Vanier Cups, Calgary is 4-4, last winning in 1995 and last appearing in 2010 in a 29-2 loss at Laval. Incidentally, that last Vanier Cup win was a 54-24 win over Western - the Dinos are now 4-1 all-time against Western in history.
In the Mitchell Bowl in Calgary, Hec Crighton candidate and Canada West MVP Mercer Timmis ran for 139 yards and one touchdown while Calgary receiver Jake Harty caught seven passes for 79 yards and one touchdown and was terrific blocking.
The Calgary offensive line and Dinos special teams were magnificent. The big momentum changer to put Calgary up 17-0 early was a 80-yard punt returned for a touchdown by rookie Rashaun Simonise. Calgary's special teams also blocked a field goal and faked a punt in the first half in momentum-changing plays to deflate the Mustangs. They led 20-3 at the half and their physical defence forced OUA MVP and Western quarterback Will Finch out of the game - although he came back courageously in the third quarter despite being clearly banged up in the opening half.
"We wanted to run the ball today, that was one of our goals," Timmis said. "Our team came out and played great. We played for each other."
"We're going to have to get right back to work tomorrow and prepare for a physical team and dominant team and hopefully prepare for a win" Timmis said. "Last year we got blown out by Mac and we just wanted to come back and win it (the Mitchell Bowl) this year. And we did."
Head coach Blake Nill was proud of his team's performance and ability to overcome tragedy and adversity to advance to the Vanier Cup by winning the Mitchell Bowl.
"I'm at a loss for words to understand why these things happen, but these guys kept hard all week. We kept it quiet in our room, we had a small sense of confidence on what we could do and today it just worked for us," Nill said. "Coming in today, I was thinking of that (2012 Mitchell Bowl) McMaster game a lot today and about how we cannot have another situation where that happens. I'm so proud of these kids to overcome that year, to make a niche for themselves. They're just youngsters but they're doing a very good job right now."
"They just worked hard each week and worked hard to improve and are reaping the benefits of it right now."