There used to be a political chant, The West Wants In. In OUA basketball, the chant, emanating from somewhere in the vicinity of the Niagara Escarpment, is The West Wants An Easier Road To Nationals. The OUA heard it, which was inevitable, but unfortunately, they chose to apply it.

The men's basketball regular-season standings were revealing enough about how the conference tilts eastward. The East teams have two all-but-assured losses against Carleton and one fewer regular-season game than West teams, who get the free spaces on the bingo card in the form of the Algoma Thunderbirds. Regardless, the East's fourth-placed Laurentian had 16 wins, while the West's second-placed Western had 15.

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Alex Taylor stretches out for some of his game-high 150 rushing yards. (Charity Matheson, U SPORTS)

Hurt into hunger. When the Western Mustangs contrived to hand over the Yates Cup last season, of course it was a deep cut there is nothing quite so jarring as a season that ends with a shock defeat, the other guys dog-piling on to each other, and a sudden unexpected slew of time to study for Christmas exams.

It was a double whammy for the Quebecers on the Mustangs such as linebackers Jean-Gabriel Poulin and Philippe Dion, since a win would have set up a chance to play against Laval in the national semifinal and verify the wisdom of casting their lot with Western, over in Ontario. They, and all the purple ponies, proved their point over and over on Saturday, dominating Laval in all three phases during a 39-17 win in the Vanier Cup at Tim Hortons Field.

"This all started on November 12, 2016 when we lost to Laurier," said Poulin, who was Western's second-leading tackler with seven stops. "We all looked each other in the eyes and that's when we said, 'never again; never again.' That was our saying all season.

"This means the world to all of us," added Poulin, who's from St-Nicholas, Que. "It's been four years in the making. We put 1,000 hours every year. There's no team in Canada that out-prepares us or out-works us. This means the world to everyone, not just the Quebec guys. We have guys from B.C. down to Quebec on our team who came here wanting to do this. We showed that football is strong all over Canada."

So in one sense the seeds for this triumph were sown 12 months ago. In another, it started once the mighty Mustangs, who are at the summit of Canadian university football for the first time since 1994, started recruiting in La Belle Province.  



Laval QB Hugo Richard.

The greatest concern troll ever invented is projecting a "mental out" on to the teams in a championship showdown.

Deep down, or so the you-totally-are-parodying-Bill-Simmons-here-are-you-not notion holds, one team or athlete is already bargaining internally about being able to settle for second-best. As an over- simplification, it probably is great for resisting paralysis-by-analysis. The Dodgers were going to beat the Cubs in the National League playoffs since the Cubs were satisfied by getting their World Series championship in 2016. The Ottawa Redblacks and Henry Burris were impelled to win the 2016 Grey Cup due to an understanding it was their last chance, while the Calgary Stampeders side they supposedly upset were just obsessed with playing a perfect game.

Western and Laval is another matchup of usual suspects, although it is only the third time they have played in November and only the fourth time coaches Greg Marshall and Glen Constantin have matched brain trusts and behemoths. There is no mental out on either side. Western has not won the Vanier Cup in 23 years, and an entire conference that has spent the last decade increasingly being sluiced through the Mustang machinery is most vituperative on the subject of this drought: Where's the Vanier Cup? When are you going to get the Vanier Cup? Why aren't you getting the Vanier Cup now?" And so on. So, please, da Vanier Cup.

Three days to heal up to play a very physical, much more rested Western Mustangs team reeks of a ritual sacrifice, but that's not for a court to decide.

Justice Deborah Smith has granted an interim injunction to Saint Mary's, which will compel Atlantic University Sport to hold the Loney Bowl between Acadia and SMU by no later than Tuesday. Justice Smith, who took just more than 10 minutes to outline her decision after considering two days of arguments from lawyers for Acadia, SMU and AUS, seemed to centre the decision on whether AUS followed its bylaws. Toward the end of Sunday's proceedings, Smith asked the counsel for AUS if its bylaws contained a provision for creating the executive committee which was responsible for cancelling the game last Thursday (right as Saint Mary's was seeing its first injunction in Ontario Superior Court against U Sports). The response of "it's not anywhere," amounted to a tacit admission that the conference overstepped its bounds.

This will be back in court soon enough, but it the game will be played.

The devil is in the details; but sometimes it's in the practical reality that is outside the purview of the court. The ruling puts the winning team in a scenario of playing twice in five days since the Uteck Bowl against Western is scheduled for Saturday. That's an unfair strain on NFL players, just ask Richard Sherman, never mind student-athletes. The ideal recovery period after a football game is six or seven days. Now it's been pared to three. It is still outside of a 72-hour rule that Football Canada has on the books (i.e., no team can play twice within 72 hours), but it cuts it awfully close.

That's the real scandal. The blame for that falls squarely on AUS and U Sports for the heavy-handed extralegal scramble drill that was conducted last Thursday after Saint Mary's began seeking its injunction in Ontario (read through the Twitter timelines of the on-the-ground reporters quoted below for background).

Any decision on Archelaus Jack never should have been left that late, and those who contend he was ineligible should be the most irate of all, since such an apparent walk-in touchdown turned into slipping, falling and fumbling the ball directly to the other team. It's as if the national body has too many marketing minds and not enough people working on rule enforcement. Or something.

The Football Underground featuring Niko DiFonte gave us some drama, and it is an enduring shame that it was so hard for most of the country to view live.

Calgary and Laval will meet in November for the sixth time in the last 10 years, but it almost unraveled spectacularly for each juggernaut. The Dinos gave up the lead to Michael O'Connor and UBC with only 16 seconds left on the clock in the Hardy Cup. But they got in range to give DiFonte a shot from 59 yards away and he made it for a 44-43 win, a Hardy Cup for the Dinos, and a Canadian university football record for the longest field goal.



It made the Sportscenter Top 10 ... the American one.
 
O'Connor, helped by Ben Cummings doing some crucial scampering in the rushing phase, merely took UBC 92 yards across 12 plays for a go-ahead TD. That should have done it, but Canadian football has no end to unintended consequences; UBC's deep kickoff carried into the end zone for a single, so Calgary got the ball on its 35 with a slew of time to run two plays. Moments later, elation and dejection.

DiFonte erased a mark set by a Saint Mary's player in a week when powers-that-be were trying to erase Saint Mary's current season.

The former mark of 57 yards had belonged to Saint Mary's Jerry Foster since 1986.

The 59-yarder was also a longer field goal in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season.

Elsewhere:

Laval 25, Montrรฉal 22. The Rouge et Or are heading out west to continue their Vanier conquest; they quelled a Carabins comeback in the final 90 seconds after being up two scores for most of the way. Their defence won the day with five sacks and two big takeaways. Hugo Richard and the offence were balanced (181 rushing, 204 passing) and that provided enough to win.

Western 75, Laurier 32.  Now did someone stop Western's Cedric Joseph to stop running before he made the border crossing? His passport is still sitting on the table.

Western is once again prompting observers to ponder whether it is this good or the rest of OUA has just had a massive drop-off, setting a Yates Cup record for most points (75) and total points (107).

I ball-parked the Laurier-Western line at 21 to 24 points, and suffice to say, even that undersold it. Don't make that face. You knew this could happen. Someone looked up the record for points in a Yates Cup to warn you.  That result advances the Mustangs to their first national semifinal in the Maritimes since 1995, although that's the only sure thing about it at this writing.

The Mustangs have scored 66 and 75 points in their playoff games.

And, of course, another title is being decided on the field and in a Halifax courthouse. Saint Mary's gets anoth day in cou





Notes on all that below.
Due to exceptional circumstances, this week we'll publish one-by-one.
  1. Acadia wins Loney Bowl by default; or, drop-kick that last shred of credibility through the goalposts of life. People putting the game last has led to the last game of the season being cancelled, make no mistake.

    Atlantic University Sport, in it infinite wisdom, has decided the best remedy for a bad situation is to cancel the Loney Bowl and declare the Acadia Axemen the conference champion. Taken on face, it makes no sense. The only bit of adult perspective one can scrounge is that the regional association made a power play against U Sports, and Saint Mary's, but particularly U Sports for letting this drag out for so long. Drag your feet on an eligibility issue and cast a shadow over our big event? Bring lawyers in? We'll show you, even if it means cutting off our nose to spite our face.
    It manages to be bold and craven all at the same time. To a certain way of thinking it seems audacious to shut down a championship game, but on the other hand, it also betrays a deathly fear that a little controversy might actually draw more eyeballs to an athletic contest.

    That has prompted Saint Mary's to bring out the hole card it's had up its sleeve the entire time: "SMU signed a binding, written agreement with U SPORTS on Oct. 27, which 'cleared all players to play.' " (Laura Brown, CTV.)

    No one wins with this decision by AUS. All four teams are hurt in some way. Fans are also screwed over by this; they just wanted to watch a good football game. Seriously. This should have had a pin stuck in it until the off-season, when it could be fully investigated and then a decision could be made on whether there was professional misconduct.

    As unfair it was to Acadia to go all week without certainty of what opponent it was getting on Saturday, the decision essentially says:

    a) Saint Mary's is guilty even though there has been no formal ruling that wide receiver Archelaus Jack is ineligible, and Saint Mary's claims it is has a ruling to the contrary (and, again, would not have continued to let Jack play if it didn't think it was OK);
    b) St. Francis Xavier is vindicated but gets no reparations, in the form of a berth in the championship game.

    I hate to throw around 10-dollar words; right now I'm eschewing it because I cannot pick just one. This is far from over when it never should have been allowed to reach this point.


    The AUS had the nerve to say "time does not permit for a fair resolution to be reached prior to the playing of this game." (Emphasis mine.) They used the word "fair" while making a decision that denied two teams, one of whom, St. Francis Xavier, has followed the rules. Please explain how that makes sense.

#ChampSZN now includes lawyerball.

Saint Mary's defeated St. Francis Xavier in the AUS football semifinal on Saturday. That should be that .sThe statute of limitations on eligibility questions, in any sane universe, should be up well before the start of the playoffs. If no one called a team on it after the first couple games, well, too bad. Yet here we are, since a mountain has been made out of a situation that Saint Mary's surely was aware of since the day the player in question, believed to be wide receiver and former Saskatchewan Roughriders practice squadder Archelaus Jack, took his talents to the south end of Halifax.

From Jim Mullin:
Does anyone really believe there is the will to overturn a playoff game and send St. Francis Xavier to the Loney Bowl against Acadia, thus erasing the game that was played?

Anyone with a passing familiarity with university football knows about the Aug. 15 cut-off date for players on practice squads. By rule, an athlete who played university ball the season prior must be released in order to be eligible to play the upcoming season.

Peak U Sports: a team playing with a receiver whose eligibility was openly questioned in the media wins a playoff game on a missed field-goal single in the last minute.

No, that's not a crisis of an organization's own making at all. Saint Mary's gritted out a 16-15 AUS semifinal win against St. Francis Xavier. While they pulled it out at the eleventh hour, somehow, in the 11th week of a 14-week season, whether receiver Archelaus Jack should have been playing games in September became A Thing.

Logically, Saint Mary's would not have gone ahead and played Jack if it did not believe the issue had been cleared and wasn't going to be a problem. The wide receiver had a game-high 72 yards, including the only touchdown of the game by either side, one day after CTV Atlantic got confirmation that Jack was on the Saskatchewan Roughriders practice roster as late as the second week of October 2016. There is supposed to be 365-day sit-out rule for any player who was on a CFL "taxi squad" after August. 15.

The fact that no one at the highest pay grade where the buck stops noticed a potential issue should be the real within-the-context-of-sports outrage. Either it's checked out by the end of August or it isn't. If it takes until Nov. 3 for a gatekeeper to, guh, "(start) its investigation Friday and is (strike) a committee to look into the allegation," then that's a broader problem. Hire an auditor to look after football eligibilty and do nothing else, please!

Anyway, semifinal — is there any word more thrilling to the human soul! It holds the promise of playing a trophy game the following week and the sheer horror of having a winter of our discontent descend far too soon. Even if one's team was stood to get stomped real good in the conference final, at least you had that extra week of football, eh?

Three of four conference finals will be rematches, including Montrรฉal-Laval for the fifth consecutive season and UBC-Calgary for the third in succession. The Laurier-Western matchup is the first rematch Yates Cup since 2004.

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