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Road to the Vanier: Of CIS conference champions old and new

This weekend's CIS conference championships saw an interesting mix of teams that have been there before and teams trying to return to their previous strength. The participants from last year's Vanier Cup, champion Laval and runner-up Calgary, both earned their conference titles again and will face off next week in the Mitchell Bowl, but last year's Atlantic and Ontario champions (Saint Mary's and Western, respectively) were knocked off by Acadia and McMaster. Here's how it all went down, and what it means for the road to the Vanier Cup on Nov. 25.

Hardy Cup: #2 Calgary Dinos 62, #6 UBC Thunderbirds 13: Friday night's Canada West title showdown, the Hardy Cup game ever televised live on TSN, started out as a great matchup; both teams went back and forth at first, and it was tied 13-13 with under three minutes left in the first half. Calgary got another touchdown before the half, though, and added one more in the third quarter to lead 27-13. Unlike many in the CFL, this lead proved very safe, as UBC came apart at the seams with a bevy of crucial interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and defensive mistakes. Quarterback Eric Dzwilewski led the way for Calgary, rushing for 101 yards and four touchdowns and completing nine of 13 passes for 111 yards and another touchdown, but he had plenty of help from the likes of Steven Lumbala (194 rushing yards), Matt Walter (54 rushing yards) and Chris Dobko (four catches, 64 yards and a touchdown). It was a magical run for the Thunderbirds, who went from out of the playoffs a season ago to a 6-2 season and a trip to the Canada West final, but they just didn't have enough to hang with the Dinos, who became the first team to win four straight outright Canada West titles since Saskatchewan did it from 1934-37. They have another tough task next week, though; they'll head to Quebec next week to face Laval in the Mitchell Bowl, and they'll hope to do better than they did in last year's Vanier Cup against the Rouge et Or.

Loney Bowl: #9 Acadia Axemen 39, unranked Saint Mary's Huskies 20: In Atlantic Canada Saturday, it was the reverse story. Acadia picked up AUS titles in 2005 and 2006, but the Huskies had won every Loney Bowl since then. The Axemen have had a great year, though, finishing first in the regular season with a 7-1 record, and they continued their solid play with an impressive showing Saturday. Running back Zack Skibin led the way with 147 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, while quarterback Kyle Graves completed 12 of 16 passes for 170 yards and picked up 78 yards and three more touchdowns on 10 rushing attempts. With the win, Acadia will host McMaster next Saturday in the Uteck Bowl.

Dunsmore Cup: #1 Laval Rouge et Or 30, #7 Montreal Carabins 7: There was hope that the up-and-coming Montreal program might make this interesting. After all, the Carabins had looked pretty impressive this year under new coach Danny Macocia, and they handed the Rouge et Or their only loss of the season on October 8. Montreal came out flat, though, and a couple of early turnovers allowed this one to get out of hand quickly. The Rouge et Or looked typically dominant, and the outcome wasn't really in doubt. Sebastian Levesque starred for Laval, picking up 168 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries, but it was the Rouge and Or defence that really did the job, stopping Montreal both on the ground and through the air. The Rouge et Or and head coach Glen Constantin (seen celebrating Saturday's above) now get to host Calgary again in a 2010 Vanier rematch next Saturday in the Mitchell Bowl, and they'll be heavily favoured there as well.

Yates Cup: #4 McMaster Marauders 41, #3 Western Mustangs 19: This was the only game of the day where the road team won, and they did so in dominant fashion. There were questions heading into this game about how the Marauders would handle the Mustangs' tremendous ground attack, but their defence was up to the challenge; there were some solid early drives from Western, but the Mustangs couldn't convert them into points and McMaster started to pull away. Once the Marauders picked up a lead, Western ran into further problems; they couldn't move the ball through the air and they kept turning it over. The Mustangs had won three of the previous four Yates Cups (with a loss to Queen's in the 2009 one), but they came up short this time around. It's going to be McMaster, Western head coach Greg Marshall's previous school, that's moving on to face Acadia in the Uteck Bowl next Saturday.

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