November 19, 2011
It's unfortunate that on a day where we were just discussing ratings, the first Uteck and Mitchell Bowls televised live on TSN both turned out to be lopsided games. It's great to see CIS games shown in the prime CFL Friday Night Football slot, and TSN gave them excellent production and promotion, but they probably didn't draw as well as closer contests would have. It was a good day for road teams, though; out in New Brunswick, the Ontario champion McMaster Marauders thumped the Atlantic champion Acadia Axemen 45-21 in the Uteck Bowl, while in Calgary, the top-ranked and Quebec champion Laval Rouge et Or blasted the hometown Canada West champion Dinos 41-10 in the Mitchell Bowl (which they're seen celebrating above). Both victorious teams struggled at first, but soon overcame those issues, and they've set up a Vanier Cup final that could be extremely interesting—or one that could be just another rout.
It wasn't just the one-sided nature of the games that didn't look particularly good for CIS, as the low attendance (3,726 reported, much less seen on camera, especially towards the end of the game) at the Uteck Bowl also occasioned plenty of comment. It's understandable, though; Acadia is based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and generally plays its football games there, but Atlantic University Sport (unlike the other CIS conferences) doesn't just play bowl games at the home of the school involved. Instead, for years all the Uteck Bowls hosted by AUS were based out of Halifax (not an issue in many years, as Halifax-based Saint Mary's was generally involved), and they recently decided to put the 2011, 13 and 15 bowls (the only ones AUS will host over the next five years; 2012, 14 and 16 will be hosted by RSEQ, the Quebec conference) in Moncton, New Brunswick regardless of the team involved.
Yahoo! Maps has the trip from Wolfville to Moncton as a 3-hour, 21-minute drive, which certainly isn't the easiest trip for students in particular (many of whom don't have cars). That goes a long way towards explaining the sparse attendance in general and particularly how many people left once the game got out of hand; it's a long trip back. CIS football isn't yet at the point where tons of neutrals will come out to a game, even an important one like this, so from this perspective, it would make much more sense to just host the game on the campus of the home school. (Of course, Acadia's stadium is listed at only 3,000 capacity, so that isn't necessarily much better; it does make a much better television picture to have 3,000 passionate fans packing a small stadium than 3,726 isolated in a giant one, though.)
On the game itself, the Axemen got off to a flying start even if they weren't truly a home team. They scored the first two touchdowns on a 17-yard run by Zack Skibin and a 21-yard pass from Kyle Graves to A.J. Durling, taking a 14-0 lead. That was about it for them on the day, though, as McMaster's offence soon got in gear, scoring three touchdowns, adding a field goal and then notching two more touchdowns before the Axemen got a consolation one at the end of the third quarter, capping the beating off with yet another touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Kyle Quinlan had a solid day at quarterback for the Marauders, completing 23 of 35 passes (65.7 per cent) for 370 yards and a touchdown with one interception and rushing seven times for 65 yards and another touchdown. McMaster also got impressive production on the ground, where Chris Pezzetta ran 17 times for 147 yards and Joey Nemet added 38 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. The Marauders' offence won the day, and should set them up well for next week's Vanier Cup.
Out West in the Mitchell Bowl, it was a similar story. Calgary got off to a terrific start, with Tye Noble picking off Laval quarterback Bruno Prud'homme on the first drive of the game and returning the interception 37 yards for a touchdown. The teams then exchanged field goals before the game broke open for Laval. Prud'homme orchestrated a brilliant 70-yard drive that finished with a great touchdown catch by Julian Feoli-Guidino (the 2008 Vanier Cup MVP and a 2011 draft pick of the Toronto Argonauts), and the Dinos' Adam Ballingall fumbled the ensuing kickoff, leading to another quick Prud'homme touchdown pass with a superb catch just inbounds by Guillaume Rioux. That gave Laval a 17-10 lead, and it proved to be one they'd never relinquish; Calgary wouldn't score again.
Sebastian Levesque was key for the Rouge et Or, rushing 22 times for 138 yards and a touchdown, but he wasn't alone. Prud'homme threw for an efficient 165 yards and two touchdowns. The Laval defence was also mammoth, stopping Calgary's vaunted rushing attack dead in its tracks most of the night and getting tons of pressure on Dinos' quarterback Eric Dzwilewski, who completed just nine of his 24 pass attempts (37.5 per cent) and threw for just 98 yards on the evening. If the Rouge and Or play like this, no one's going to beat them.
That's what's concerning about the Vanier matchup. On the surface, it could be a great clash of the high-powered McMaster offence and the vaunted Laval defence. Calgary had a great offence, too, though, but you wouldn't know it by the utter devastation the Rouge et Or unleashed Friday night. It could be that the Marauders have just the right combination of tools to knock off Laval; a veteran quarterback, an impressive receiving corps and a solid ground game. After all, a similar formula worked for Queen's in the 2009 Mitchell Bowl. Sizing it up at the moment, though, it looks like we may be in for more Rouge et Or domination. If they can pull off another Vanier win, good for them; head coach Glen Constantin deserves tons of credit for the perennial powerhouse he's built that school into, and they have plenty of talented players who'd love to claim another national championship.
This year carries higher stakes than usual, though, given the Vanier's pairing with the Grey Cup; over 21,000 tickets have been sold so far, and CFL fans should get some terrific exposure to the CIS game. If we get a lengthy pitched battle between the Marauders and Rouge et Or, that could be a spectacular introduction to the university game for new fans; if we see a reprise of the 2010 Vanier, though, where Laval steamrolled Calgary 29-2 in an incredibly one-sided contest, that might waste all the momentum built from this Grey Cup-Vanier Cup partnership. We'll see which scenario comes to pass next Friday at B.C. Place.