Semi-final Saturday: Laval goes clank

The Laval Rouge et Or have been so mechanical, so precise while winning three of the past four Vanier Cups that it came to seem they were like robots, guaranteed against breakdown.

So it's no surprise that they would be utterly robotic in getting stomped but good by a team that was all flesh and blood, the Saint Mary's Huskies, who administered a 24-2 spanking in the Uteck Bowl on Saturday. Saint Mary's, particularly the defence led by Tim St. Pierre, was both technically sound and simply out-emotioned the Rouge et Or.

Laval is going to be looked a lot differently now. Now the Rouge et Or, for the next 12 months, will kind of carry the mark of having the best of everything -- coaching, facilities, resources, scholarship money, but not being able to supply the emotion. Two years ago the Rouge et Or lost out in the national semi-final game playing on the road, but that was a 29-27 game vs. Saskatchewan that was in doubt until the final onside kick, so they could walk off with heads held high.

Not this time. The biggest question for Glen Constantin and his coaching staff might have to address behind closed doors is figuring out why their team flatlined on Saturday. The CIS has seen plenty of championship teams that came to be defined by their core groups of players who took the reins. The 2005 Laurier Golden Hawks of Ryan Pyear, Nick Cameron, Bryon Hickey, Ian Logan, et al., had that. So did the 2001 Saint Mary's team (Ryan Jones, John Salmas, Joe Bonaventura, among others). Those teams were talented, sure, but the vibe was that they had a bunch of leaders who pulled everyone along, while the coaches gave them just enough leeway. They seemed invested.

Laval ended up finding too late that it didn't have that. Perhaps a glut of injuries during the season defeated that sense of week-to-week continuity that's prized in football. Their near-slavish adherence to a vanilla scheme -- conservative, move-the-chains offence, bend-but-don't-break defence -- based on the idea of not making it easier for underdog teams with msistakes, might have failed to engage the players' interest. That happens with veterans who've been running the same plays in practice for three or four years.

Often, especially with veteran groups, coaches give players some new wrinkles to keep their interest, but judging by their play-calling on Saturday, Laval didn't do that this season. Of course, that swings the question back to the injuries. (To reference that '01 SMU team again, that season then-coach Blake Nill and then-offensive co-ordinator Steve Sumurah, introduced a no-huddle offence, even though the Huskies didn't need it to dominate their conference opposition that season.)

There's no excuses for Laval finding out too late what it didn't have; save for a dropped deep ball early in the game, there was nothing to regret. Saint Mary's only had QB Erik Glavic for less than half the game before he went out with a sprained right knee, yet they had little to no trouble beating Laval.

It's been a long time since any team could make that claim.

Mitchell Bowl: Manitoba 52, Western 20

The Bisons were capable of anything on Saturday, including the kind of candour you don't get from pro athletes. Witness defensive back Mike Howard's comment during the victory celebration, as related in Western's hometown house organ: "Most of us played junior football. We had no aspirations, because we didn't have the marks to go to university, but he (coach Brian Dobie) brought us here. He saved us."

Who knew that OUA folks being smug actually makes a sound? It's good fun to read someone not trying to do spin-control in the wake all the argle-bargle over the average age of Manitoba's roster and the use of junior players. The Bisons are honest about who they are. Besides, university is supposed to be inclusive. They didn't make the sures.

A 32-point Bisons blowout was fairly expected, although the gut feeling here is that Saint Mary's will provide much more formidable opposition next week. The Huskies staff has a little more experience with preparing for a Vanier Cup, which can't be overlooed.

At least the OUA can claim its sixth seed did better against Manitoba than the Canada West runner-up, Regina, did. Remember, in the regular season, Western did only win by two points over York the week after it beat U of T by one. So does that mean the Varsity Blues just need to join Canada West to end the 49-game losing streak?
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1 comment:

  1. The Huskies staff has a little more experience with preparing for a Vanier Cup, which can't be overlooed.

    I think this is a terrific point — I talked to Sumarah for a solid 20 minutes today, and you get the sense that all of the prep and pomp that goes into the Vanier is old, old hat for him.

    That's not to say Dobie's not familiar with it, but Sumarah saw the rigmarole, what, four times in five years between 1999-2003?

    Might make a difference.