Sunday, November 25, 2007
Fantuz has had three catches for 61 yards, including a grab that set up a field goal late in the half. Those might sound like modest stats, but in a defence-dominated game, it's made a difference for Saskatchewan, who's leading 23-16 with half the fourth quarter gone.
He would be the second Mustangs receiver in recent history to take top Canadian honours.. Dave Sapunjis, who did so three times with the Calgary Stampeders in the 1990s, did it for the first time when he was the same age Fantuz is now, 24. Now there's parallel.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
- Calgary took down No. 5 Alberta, 95-74 in a foul-filled front end of a home-and-home between rivals. Going by the scuttlebutt at cishoops.ca in the summer (what would be a hoops equivalent of Hot Stove League ... the Cold Beer League?), the Dinos were the next-big-thing team in Canada West. Between high-leaping Henry Bekkering, his brother Ross, and an emerging junior forward, Robbie Sihota, the Dinos are a tough matchup under the boards.
- One night ahead of its date with Carleton, No. 2 Windsor fell 78-61 to the Ottawa Gee-Gees. From the looks of it, the OUA West's best backcourt of Ryan Steer (1-for-12) and Kevin Kloostra (3-for-14) were just ill. Ottawa lead guard Josh Gibson-Bascombe owned the night -- 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting, plus six assists.
- No. 10 beating No. 8 isn't really an upset, but Guelph did top the U of T Varsity Blues, 79-75 in overtime. The X factor might have been shooting guard Jonathan Moscatelli, who had 16 points. The first tip-off that there's a story with Moscatelli is that the CIS website lists him as a third-year student, but first-year player. He missed two seasons due to twice blowing his ACL, but he's finally able to play.
Friday, November 23, 2007
This one will be more about the matchup that wasn't.
What would Erik Glavic, that ramblin' scramblin' man, have been able to do against the Manitoba defensive front with Simon Patrick, Justin Cooper and Justin Shaw?
That what-mighta-been stuff is more of a question for hardcore CIS nut than it is for the Saint Mary's Huskies. A coach or a player really can't think that way about a game. Fill-in quarterback Ted Abraham did reasonably well, but there are just things that a team can't have come to pass and expect to win. SMU without Glavic was like Earth, Wind and no Fire. The Huskies played hard, but this was, as noted below, Manitoba's Vanier to lose, and they weren't letting go.
Fans in the rest of country can gripe about the Bisons' veteran roster all they want, but Manitoba, which is hardly alone in having players past standard undergraduate age, was the superior team. John Makie ran an efficient offence that kept the sticks moving all night; game MVP Mike Howard took down three interceptions, and that was that in the two-touchdown win.
This won't rank as one of the most exciting Vaniers of the decade (that would still be Laurier's last-second 24-23 win over Saskatchewan in Hamilton two years ago), but it was a good enough game all things considered.
Twenty-six thousand fans in the Rogers Centre tonight, the most since 1995, but that's probably a mild disappointment given all the buildup, and that crowd did seem lost in the indoor stadium. How does playing a future Vanier at more intimate, outdoor BMO Field sound?
10:34: Saint Mary's just failed on third down... that's probably all she wrote it for the Huskies, who played pretty well against a favoured opponent and with scarcely little help from the Glavic-less offence. Manitoba's D-line, by the way, has played a great game... it's almost been boring for their linebackers.
10:28: Scott Dixon would be special teams MVP of this game -- along with four field goals, he's angled a punt out-of-bounds at the Huskies 1-yard line, leading to a conceded safety with just 4:34 left in the game, going down 28-14. In coachspeak, Dixon was a huge get in off-season recruiting for the Bisons after their kicking game, frankly, was garden-variety in 2006. He's about to collect his second straight national championship ring — he also won a CJFL title with the Nanaimo Raiders last season.
10:17: Does Saint Mary's really have the personnel to get a couple quick TDs, especially minus Erik Glavic? Not really. They have gone 2-and-out and will be kicking the ball back to the Bisons, who should be set up around midfield.
One contributor to the fatigue factor for Saint Mary's: The smaller rosters for the post-season mean putting more defensive starters on special teams. There were Tim St. Pierre and Andrew Paopao having to chase Brad Black around on a punt return just now. If anything, the rosters should be expanded for the bowl games and Vanier, probably to about 48 players.
The Huskies, now trailing 26-14, have to do a lot to make this matter, but Steve Sumurah's choice to go for two after his team scored a touchdown was a bit of a head-scratcher. Basically it means the Huskies need two touchdowns to win instead some combo of a field goal, TD and two-point convert or single.
(Obligations to the newspaper are getting in the way, so yours truly missed much of the third quarter... not a lot going on, other than Dixon kicking his third and fourth figgies of the game.)
9:47: Just give Mike Howard the Ted Morris Trophy as game MVP right now... he took down his third interception.
9:41: What was that about an eight-count? John Makie scrambles for a touchdown, and it's 20-8... Saint Mary's is ebbing; they aren't as deep defensively as the Bisons and that can hurt.
Brad Black, one of the fifth-year Bisons, has set up the U of M in plus territory for its second drive of the half, at the 52. Seven points here could put the Huskies down for an eight-count.
Here's a little sidebet for anyone versed in the deadline-driven world of the dead-tree medium (hat tip to Mr. Mirtle). Will this game end by 11 p.m. Eastern? The second-half kickoff flew at 9:27. It's good that the CIS is emulating some of the qualities of the NCAA, but long bowl games is not one of them.
HALFTIME: Manitoba 13, Saint Mary's 8
The general reaction is probably one of a surprise, seeing as the Bisons haven't pulled away in this game. Saint Mary's has played some friggin' defence in the first half, but its offence, with the two interceptions, hasn't quite been good enough to merit them being in the lead. They've been shut down since the first touchdown drive.
This is more Manitoba's game to lose than it is Saint Mary's to win.
9:02: Can someone who was there comment on this after the game? It seems church-quiet in the Rogers Centre... a far cry from the atmosphere that was projected during the past two title games, in Saskatoon in '06 and Hamilton in '05. Manitoba had a little drive going here, but Saint Mary's held thanks to a pass breakup in the end zone.
The crazy thing about Dixon hitting the upright on a FG try... this seemed to shape up a lot like the 1999 Laval-Saint Mary's final. The Huskies played great D, but ultimately lost a close game to a better team. Laval hit the upright on a field goal try at the same en do the field.
8:52: Some decent gains by Allister Blair, plus 30 yards' worth of penalties vs. the Bisons ("The Bisons have talent but must avoid putting themselves behind the eight-ball," Out of Left Field, Aug. 25, 2007 ) gave Saint Mary's a shot at field goal. It went for a single point, so it's 13-8.
8:47: What was that about momentum shifting? Manitoba's gone ahead for the first time, 13-7, on a long touchdown pass. Of course, they were ahead in the first half of the 2001 final against the same program.
8:40: The glass slipper has fallen off Ted Abraham: He's tossed two interceptions in a row to the U of M's Mike Howard, and on the second one it really looked like the Huskies were out of sync. SMU is playing some solid defence and their co-ordinator, Mike McLean, seems to have planned very well, but the Bisons are driving now, at the 39-yard line.
8:33: Manitoba's running back Matt Henry has suffered a "gruesome" injury (Tim Micallef's word) after being cut down by Jeff Zelinski at the end of a long run inside the Huskies 25. This is no doubt a real challenge for both teams, as it has become a 45-minute first quarter. Henry being out is the primary concern, but from a football standpoint the Bisons are deep in tailbacks. Apparently it's warm inside the Rogers Centre, which means a physical runner like Karim Lowen or SMU's Jacques Lumbala is going to be some kind of tired by the fourth quarter.
Scott Dixon has kicked a 27-yard field goal to cut the margin to 7-6 after one.
8:18 SMU has gone 2-and-out two drives in a row, with Justin Cooper having just forced a punt with a sack (he beat his man badly). Manitoba's taking over on its own 50, and SMU's early momentum has been quelled.
The "des jar deens," ad, we could stand not to see that next season. Even Don Cherry knows how it's pronounced. Manitoba has kicked a field goal to cut the margin to 7-3.
8:09: Did Duane Forde did just say "turnovers are for bakeries?" Stop trying to rip off Adnan Virk's act, Duane.
Well, talk about a terrifc start: Ted Abraham, the heretofore little-known backup quarterback, just authored an eight-play, 71-yard drive to stake Saint Mary's to a 7-0 lead. Remember, the Bisons have been slow starters even in their post-season blowouts.
Interesting debate during The Score's pre-game on the endless Canadian Quarterback debate (yes, it's capitalized now). Former Queen's standout Tom Denison had a good counter-point to the argument that CFL teams dn't have a window to let a Canadian passer develop: "How many chances did (Argos quarterback) Michael Bishop? have?" Bishop is in his early 30s, and he's still getting chances.
The one "out" CFL teams usually have is age and athletic ability. Eric Glavic still has to develop his arm strength, but there won't be questions about his physical ability and age if he plays two more seasons at Saint Mary's. With his size and speed, though, some teams could be eyeing him as a slotback.
Oh, and it goes without saying that yours truly was really regretting not being at the game even before a certain alma mater rented out the Steam Whistle Brewery for a party. D'oh. -- N.S.
Actual time of kickoff: 7:47 p.m. Eastern. Hey, it's not the NCAA.
Friday, Nov. 23, 2007 at 7:30 PM
Rogers Centre, Toronto
I'm not sure what we have planned here, but if possible, there'll be a game day blog. Consider this the game thread for the Vanier Cup, though, and post away in the comments.
I'll have updates as they come — but first I'll have to finish my dead-tree medium piece for the day.
1 p.m. UPDATE Here's a preview piece on the expected crowd turnout for the Vanier, and if organizers are worried about the game being lost in the Grey Cup hullabaloo.
The next time I weigh in could be from Rogers Centre.
7 p.m. UPDATE High above the field, in the press box, it's a pretty packed house on hand to cover this game. The turnout thus far in the stands is sparse, but it's still a half hour until kickoff (and besides why would anyone leave the Rider Nation party down the street early?).
Not much to report really. They're showing The Score's pregame show on the big screen here, and the coverage was, once again, pretty impressive. It's great to see the network cover this game like any other big-time sporting event.
Both the teams are currently on the field warming up, likely trying to get used to just how noisy it is in here (and they haven't seen anything yet on that front). Manitoba has a full cheerleading squad here, which is pretty impressive.
7:14 UPDATE Oh, my mistake: Saint Mary's has a cheerleading squad here, too. I'm afraid I'm too far away to report any more on that front.
It's still empty in here. I feel bad for the real hardcores who forked over $30 a ticket to sit in the 500 level even though there are plenty of great seats in the lower bowl that look like they'll go unused.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Boy, Brian Dobie's team is sure taking a beating lately, and all for playing well within CIS rules. The league has already instituted a new rule to limit the number of ageing junior football veterans in CIS, something that's being grandfathered in and will ensure Manitoba's the last of a dying breed.
But for now, the team is what it is.
And just to add a few more voices to the debate, I asked Dobie about a few of the team's success stories, off the field moreso than on, for a piece in tomorrow's paper.
"I do get riled up when I hear this," said Dobie, whose inbox was flooded with ugly messages from disgruntled Mustang fans after Saturday's win. "I say everybody has a right to go to university at any age and everybody has a right to participate in anything that school offers.
"Elitism in education is ugly. It's unfair and it's ugly, and that is what comes out of this."
I won't take a side here, but I will say that there are some great stories among the older players, many of whom never imagined they'd ever go to school or get a degree, and many of whom wouldn't have if not for football and the University of Manitoba.
Saint Mary's coach Steve Sumarah said he also felt there were times when older players should be allowed in CIS, and that 25+ players on his team had made significant contributions.
It was interesting, too, to get the perspective someone like 29-year-old running back Karim Lowen, who said he supported the rule change.
He added that he didn't see what the fuss was about. "After you hit a certain age, when you play on these teams, you’re all adults. It’s not really better to be older, other than just the maturity part. I don’t really understand why everyone’s making such a big deal out of it."
It's a good choice; certainly, sorting between SMU's scrambling sophomore, the country's most efficient passer, Ottawa Gee-Gees QB Josh Sacobie, and record-setting runner in Bishop's Jamall Lee is a nice problem to for the coaches who picked the award. What tipped it to Glavic, from a coach's mindset, is the thought of having to game plan for a true dual-threat quarterback who can run and pass. Throw in the early exit of Sacobie and Lee's teams, Saint Mary's run to the Vanier Cup and that cinched it for Glavic.
There's also no denying that there might have been a mindset going in that really, it was high time to give the award to a player from outside the OUA.
Glavic, who's 6-foot-6 and sufficiently light on his feet to moonlight with the Saint Mary's basketball team, might be the most physically impressive athlete in the CIS. That's not enough to be the Hec Crighton winner, but he averaged more than 9 yards per pass and had a 16-to-5 TD-to-interception ratio while being sacked just twice in the regular season. He held his own in their toughest regular-season games vs. Concordia and at Laval, too.
(It would be nice to know what The Score, which is announcing the awards tonight, thinks of being scooped by its own broadcast partner. Somehow, someway, the story is on the CIS website, dated for tomorrow no less. It might be a leak or a boo-boo, but I miss the part where that's my problem.
UPDATE: 5:38 p.m. -- the story no longer appears on the website.)
Incidentally, how'd you like to be Sasha Glavic, Erik's brother? He played with the 2006 winner, Daryl Stephenson; and would have also defended against the 2002-03, '04 and '05 winners, Tom Denison, Jesse Lumsden and Andy Fantuz. It's also possible that as a rookie in '02, Glavic might have played against the 2000 winner, Kojo Aidoo.
CIS football awards: Glavic captures Hec Crighton Trophy (cisport.ca)
"You know where football coaches get screwed up? They seem to forget this is an educational institution and an educational issue. It's not a football issue. Football is a part of the University of Manitoba, and part of the unification of universities across the country. University is the key word here, and sport is the second element in that issue. I stand by that as an educator. Most guys coaching football have never frigging taught a day in their life in a school, so don't talk to me about that." -- Dobie
Some would call it obfuscation (a 10-dollar word for baffle 'em with bullflop), but it's a master framing job by Dobie. Calling the man on that is very tough to do without throwing stones at the U of M's academic merits.
It's true that there are late-20-somethings on the Bisons who get to play the game and pursue an advanced degree. But the tail wags the dog here: It's a physical game, it's a developmental league, and 26 players who are 25 or older is an affront to the game.
In the Ontario, Western and Quebec major junior hockey leagues, there are plenty of young men who benefit from an overage season. It's a good thing, but major junior hockey clubs are nevertheless limited to three 20-year-olds. Why? Because it's a developmental league; some people can stand with a little extra development, but there are limits.
A few years ago in Junior A (or Tier II) hockey, it was commonplace to see teams load up with 15, 16 overage players for a run at the Royal Bank Cup. Eventually, Hockey Canada said enough's enough, and capped teams at nine 20-year-olds for a given game.
The same principle exists in some of the lower-level minor-league hockey circuits. It's also at play in some of the independent baseball leagues, where teams can only have a few players who have more than four or five seasons of pro experience.
The CIS needs to cap how many players 25 or older a team can dress at about 10-12 per team. That would open a window to the individuals who come into university a bit late and want to get an education and play. But 26 on one team? Common sense has to prevail.
(Oh, and FYI, to Brian Dobie, Tom Denison was not "27 and 28" when he won his back-to-back Hec Crightons at Queen's. He was 24 and 25.)
Criticism of Bison players' ages draws Dobie's ire (Kevin Mitchell, Saskatoon StarPhoenix)
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Flynn missed the '88 championship game due to an injury, pressing wide receiver Bill Scollard into service. Who was a chair of the Uteck Bowl? Bill Scollard. You can't make this up.
The network will also be doing a live blog during the game.
It's great to see the Vanier getting this kind of coverage.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
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?
"Well, here's another reason to like (the Argonauts). When they line up to face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers tomorrow, they'll start nine Canadians, otherwise known as non-imports.
"Why does that matter? Well, they only have to start seven.
In a country that self-consciously believes a product of Ohio State, USC or Florida is genetically superior to one from Laurier or Acadia, even when it comes to playing the three-down game, that is unusual. Other teams have done it, but it's still a rarity."
-- Damien Cox, Toronto Star, Nov. 17
Cox has it mostly right. It's commendable for the Argos, but it's not unusual. All four teams playing in today's CFL division finals start more Canadians than they're required to by the league's byzantine import rules, and each has CIS grads playing important positions.
What's interesting, though, is that the two worst teams in the league this season were not relying too heavily on CIS talent by season's end. On the last weekend of the regular season, the Edmonton Eskimos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played a nothing game that held little interest to anyone outside the players' immediate families. The Eskimos didn't start a single CIS grad. The Ticats, albeit with Jesse Lumsden injured, started two, rookie wideout Chris Bauman (U of Regina) and safety Pierre Gauthier (Laval)
There's other reasons for why the Ticats and Eskimos are struggling. It might be telling, though, that the teams with the highest degree of CanCon are the ones still alive for the Grey Cup.
The Argos' nine Canadian starters include three CIS grads: wideout André Talbot, guard Jude St. John and linebacker Michael O'Shea. Their opponent in the East final, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, also have nine, including four who played in the CIS: Left tackle Alexandre Gauthier (Laval), left guard Matthew Sheridan (Manitoba), centre Dominic Picard (Laval) and slotback Arjei Franklin (Windsor).
It's the same story for the West final, with seven CIS products starting. The host B.C. Lions start a total of eight Canadians, including a middle linebacker, former UBC standout Javy Glatt, which used to be unheard of. (Their other CIS grads are guard Kelly Bates and slotback Jason Clermont.) Their opponent, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, have Clermont clone Andy Fantuz at slotback, along with Gene Makowsky and Mike Abou-Mechek on the offensive line and safety Scott Gordon.
Let that be a lesson to the teams who were left watching the playoffs about the need to do more with Canadian-born and -trained talent.
Can-con gives Argos an edge (Damien Cox, Toronto Star)
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The Capers were, to quote Ulysses S. McGill, in a tight spot coming in. Paul Blake and Phil N'Nkrumah, two of their starters, are out with injuries. Another player, Jonathan Wyse, was charged with mischief this week in relation to a vandalism incident on university property, so he wasn't available.
Still, out of that adversity (where is the narrator from NFL Films when we need him?), the Capers pulled of a stunning win. The Huskies provided plenty of help with some yips at the foul line, going 8-for-22. There's no telling much the Cape Breton crowd made concentrating tough for the mainlanders). The freshman at the point, Tremaine Anderson, had 18 points, six assists and four steals, while big man Eric Breland had a double-double.
Saint Mary's, strangely enough, used just seven players, as it did in a game vs. Acadia last week, who also used just seven. However, that's doesn't get Saint Mary's off the hook; they did lose to a team with only six.
Friday, November 16, 2007
I just spoke with Laval coach Glen Constantin and a few Rouge et Or players, who are in Halifax preparing for tomorrow's Uteck bowl against Saint Mary's.
What follows are the thoughts from Constantin on the Huskies, and specifically their quarterback Erik Glavic:
I think, firstly, we're going to see pretty much the same thing [as their regular season meeting] because we played them late in the season. Obviously, like every team, they're going to have some wrinkles here and there, not necessarily trick plays, but different formations, but the core will be the same.
They're going to dance with what brought them there, you know?
I think we matchup fairly well. I think we're a strong run defence, they seem to rely a lot on their running game. Where the challenge resides is basically in the way, with what happens on second down when a passing play goes sour on them, then that's when the Glavic factor kind of kicks in. We need to be very disciplined and respect our rush lanes and play the full down, avoid the second play because he scrambles so much.
We need to pursue the whole down, we need to lockup with receivers as he's scrambling. We've seen a lot of scrambling quarterbacks this season, but contrary to the other ones, he's very poised and he's patient and when he runs, he almost tries to run to pass the ball.
I'd rather play a really, really good running back because you know he's going to play a certain play, a certain direction, but [Glavic is] like a wild card, he can run everywhere, and even when he's going forward, he can throw the ball.
He's 6-foot-6, 225, but he looks very thin. But he apparently weighs 225. But he looks very, very lean. I had him on Team Canada at the world championships, he was our quarterback ... the offensive people didn't play him very much. Now I'm looking and [thinking] 'what were we doing, you know?' I didn't really get to see him very much.
I don't think we knew that Erik could scramble like that.
He's a special kid. He reminds me a lot of the Chris Flynn, Phil Cote type of guys that are great leaders and they take it up on themselves to win games. It's always fun to play those kind of athletes.
Constantin also said that the team's backup quarterback, Cesar Sanchez-Hernandez, would be getting the start, likely all the way to the Vanier Cup, as starter Benoit Groulx continues to have problems with a high ankle sprain suffered midseason.
Should be a heckuva game tomorrow.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The gist of it was there are longer odds for the Gee-Gees even when it comes to beating out Queen's and Toronto for second in the OUA East and possible berth at nationals, but this group wants to get its due.
Lead guard Josh Gibson-Bascombe has taken on more of a leadership role this season; in his first couple seasons he just had to go out and play: "It's business, all business," was how the 21-year-old grad of Toronto's Jarvis Collegiate put it, adding that he's trying to lead by example on and off the court: "I have to make sure that I'm always in class, always have all my schoolwork done, always show up 15 minutes early for practice."
The big if to contemplate with the Gee-Gees is their depth, and whether they'll be able to play their high-tempo style if the starters -- Gibson-Bascombe, shooting guard Donnie Gibson, big man Dax Dessureault and forwards Sean Peter and David Labentowicz -- have to play 32, 33 minutes per night. Gibson, for instance, averaged 17 minutes last season coming off the bench, but he played a career-high 38 vs. McMaster last Saturday.
Coach Dave DeAveiro pointed out that's bliss for someone such as Gibson, who has to wait his turn to start. At the same time, he said "patience is going to be a virtue for us" in regard to seeing if the rookies, such as forward Marvin Bazile out of Montreal, develop.
Toronto plays hard every night and Queen's can run the Princeton-style offence for threes and backdoor layups all night. Throw in the fact the York has the conference's best point guard in Tut Ruach and that Boris and Igor Bakovic at Ryerson are its best set of bigs, and it will be a dogfight behind Carleton. There's something about the Gee-Gees that makes them bear watching.
Taking their shot: GGs out to prove skeptics wrong (Ottawa Sun)
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
But the coach of the Laval Rouge et Or, the defending Vanier Cup champion, has a decision to make this week.
Constantin has relied on back-up Cesar Sanchez-Hernandez, a native of Mexico City, as his starter for the last five games while 2006 Hec Crighton finalist Benoît Groulx recovers from a high-ankle sprain he suffered in early October."
So you're Glen Constantin. Start the QB who took the Rouge et Or to the Vanier Cup, or play the hot hand? It wouldn't be surprising to see the latter, Sanchez-Hernandez, starting Saturday. He's played well across the past five games. Groulx would be ready to come in if the Rouge et Or can't get untracked.
A Big decision (Monty Mosher, Halifax Herald)
Sunday, November 11, 2007
John Makie from Manitoba
Mike Faulds from Western
Cesar Sanchez-Hernandez from Laval
and Erik Glavic from Saint Mary's
I was also able to track down the Bisons coach, Brian Dobie, for a chat, and he sounded genuinely thrilled/surprised at how the Hardy Cup game ended up going (a 48-5 romp over Regina). Both Manitoba and Western said they were just starting to get a look at one another via game tape, so I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of game plans for either side.
Sunday was actually Faulds's 24th birthday, so it was especially nice that he took some time out of his day to chat a bit. The media requests on these guys are starting to pileup, something that will reach an apex heading into the Vanier Cup here in Toronto.
"We knew going in that Guelph was going to be a tough team," Faulds said of the Yates Cup game. "We probably played as poorly as we did all year when we played them before in Game 4, so we knew we were going to have to change a lot of things."
I'll probably have more from Faulds later in the week.
Glavic sounds like an interesting cat. He's the youngest of the four pivots left at 21, but seems to have a pretty laissez-faire take on this whole Bowl game business.
Maybe that's why they call him 'Easy E', or the 'Snowman', which he gave as his two nicknames on the team.
On what happened against St. FX in the Jewett Trophy game: "We persevered and came out with a win, so we’ll live."
We talked about the spread as well, where the X-Men were said to be 27-point underdogs. "I asked the guys, who would you take, would you bet on us? Would you take the 27 points ... the bad weather, even to put up 27 points is tough."
He said he got knocked around a bit in that one, and that his throwing game was off given his shoulder was stiff/sore. Still, this was a big deal.
"To win a championship – everybody wants to talk about the Vanier Cup, Vanier Cup, but you’ve got to be an AUS champ before you can win that. That’s definitely a huge win for us and definitely the biggest of my career. No time to celebrate on that."
He said he thinks he compares to Vince Young, as for someone in the pros, and talked about about his family. His parents were immigrants (mother from Peru, father from Croatia) and didn't know much about football when he and his two brothers picked it up, but all three were terrific high schoolers at St. Mary Secondary in Pickering.
I didn't get a chance to catch up with the other fellows, at least not yet, but stay tuned. I don't think a Laval-Manitoba Vanier Cup is all that farfetched, and there may be quite a bit written about both teams by the time we're done.
That was a terrific OUA championship football game in Guelph yesterday that the
overzealous game officials almost found a way to ruin.
-- Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun
It's a matter of concern when a promiment sports columnist in the country's media capital's remarks on the Yates Cup, the OUA's signature sports event, involve dodgy officiating and the "bad" rule that a player who returns a punt or missed field goal "out of the end zone to the two-yard line and his team automatically gets the ball at the 20."
Simmons is pot-stirring, sure, but there's merit to his remarks. It seems like the reward for, as he says, bringing the ball a couple yards out of the end zone is out of all proportion to the deed itself. (Correction on myself: Teams now get the 20-yard line for an interception in the end zone, but isn't that more of an impressive act than catching a missed field goal?)
The CIS really needs to look a lot of the rules regarding the kicking game and scoring. Here's a few that should be addressed and by no way am I married to any of these ideas:
- Move the kickoff back: The game has evolved to the point where kicking from the 45-yard line is an holdover from the days when everyone played more than one position and star players such Neil Lumsden also handled the kicking duties. Now every team has a kicking specialist who can boom the ball. Some teams have two.
How many times do you see underdog teams get pinned inside the 25, go two-and-out and punt, setting up the Lavals of the world with a short field? For a league that constantly faces questions about parity, they should do more to level the playing field.
Move the kickers back to the 40 next season, and back to the 35 in five years or so.
- Discourage the conceded safety: It's just not anyone's idea of fun to watch the punter do the Safety Dance while the punt rushers half-heartedly chase him, no matter how much you liked Men Without Hats back in the day.
Sure, it's two points for the other guys, but a team can gain up to 74 yards in field position. Simple change: Move the kickoff following the safety back to the 25-yard line from the 35. Oh, and if the team elects to forgo the kickoff and scrimmage the ball, move that up. Midfield seems about right.
- Tweak the out-to-the-20 rule: There's no arguing that the idea of rewarding teams for electing to run the ball out of the end zone has value. Three missed field goals have been returned for touchdowns in these playoffs, which is a hell of a lot more exciting than a guy taking a knee.
With the old rule, St. FX's Jon Hood probably never would have attempted the return that became an 128-yard touchdown in the X-Men's win over Acadia; he'd have just given up the point.
Guaranteeing the returning team the 10-yard line (some security, but still in the shadow of its goal posts) for running the ball out seems like an acceptable compromise. Another way to encourage returns is to no longer bring the ball out to the 35 after a single, but maybe just the 25. Keep the current 15-yard difference for not giving up a point.
The second game, when the U of A's Jesse Gimblett, an Ontario boy amid all that Prairie stock, scored to force overtime, even drew a crowd of 1,241. That came on a night when the CIS game was up against an Oilers-Flames match on Hockey Night in Canada. Let that be a standard for other schools to shoot for.
Much obliged to Andy Grabia at Battle of Alberta for the heads-up.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
David Clayton's emergence is the story of Western's second-half surge... his two big catches downfield have been the bulk of the Mustangs' first-quarter offence.
The one caveat with the Gryphons is their young receivers: David Harrison dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, which is a hug momentum swing.
Anthony Adderley had a nice second-down catch to set up Western's first touchdown, a five-yard run by Randy McAuley. It's 7-0 after one.
The OUA is going to have to look into changing the application of this penalty: Guelph blocked a punt by Western's Derek Schiavone, but was called for illegal interference during the scramble for the ball, allowing the Mustangs to keep possession (first down at the point of the foul).
It was third-and-20, and as Tim Micallef rightly pointed out on The Score, "There's no way that Schiavone picks up that ball and picks up 20 yards." That could have really helped Guelph out to take over in Western territory.
Too funny by half: On the next play, Western's Jesse Bellamy was making the universally acknowledged signal for a pass-interference call. This was after a poorly applied rule kept Western's offence on the field, and two plays after Adderley was awarded a catch on a ball that appeared to touch the ground. (Duane Forde said, "I'm not sold," while watching the replay, and remember, he's an ex-Mustang.)
Is it just me, or can Guelph come up with a way to get penalized whenever it's got Western down a bit? An unnecessary roughness call on a punt moved the ball out from the eight-yard line to the Mustangs 23.
A two-play, 98-yard drive: That will defeat the purpose of trying to play ball control. Guelph just tied the game 7-7 on a 58-yard run by Nick FitzGibbon, who had lined up as a slotback on the play. It was set up by a 40-yard catch by Harrison.
Sign just spotted in the crowd: "Western, easier to take down than the Saugeen Stripper." No idea what that could refer to; no idea at all.
Well, maybe not so much. The 'Stangs have come right back to reopen a seven-point lead, 14-7, with McAuley scoring from five yards out after a long catch by rookie wideout Zach Bull. Three minutes to go in the half.
Injuries are starting to pile up for the 'Stangs: Their only OUA first-team defensive all-star, Corey McNair has limped out and outside linebacker Jason Kosec just had to be helped off. Zach Bull, who had that big catch, is done for the day with an injury.
For the second time in three weeks, a major media outlet has called Justin Dunk "Jason." The odd part is that when Adnan Virk did it, he called him by his correct name first, then quote-unquote corrected himself.
Halftime — Western 14, Guelph 7
Quick analysis of the Mustangs: Western's playing a good road game again -- solid defence except for that one Guelph drive that probably account for half the Gryphons total yards. They were a second-half team in both the first two playoff rounds, so it's huge for them to be ahead at the half.
Quick analysis of the Gryphons: The question is whether not getting rewarded early, thanks to a dropped TD pass in the end zone and missed field goal, has caused frustration to set in for a young Guelph team.
Guelph tied it on a TD catch by Harrison, but Western replied with a 37-yard Schiavone field goal. (Work commitments are making for spottier blocking.)
Take nothing away from Western for sticking with what's working, but man, is their offence boring. Run up the middle. Sideline pass. Yawn. It's not sport, it's art, man.
A six-play, 72-yard drive, capped by a TD catch by Adderley, has put Western up 24-14 and now it's just in the wind-the-clock stages. Full credit to Western, it's earned it with a stout defensive effort and a reliable offence.
Strange call by Guelph just to go with unimaginative QB sneak on a third-and-1 that failed with with seven minutes left. Why not try something? Seven minutes left, down 10 in an elimination game, isn't that the time to go against the book?
Schiavone tacks on a field goal to make it 27-14. Ball game.
Guelph will regret a couple early drops by its young receiving corps, the failure to get Nick FitzGibbon into space in the second half and maybe some tentative play from its secondary that allowed Michael Faulds to convert some broken plays. Western was clutch; the Gryphons will feel like they spit the bit somewhat. They are a young team, so it's reasonable to believe they will be back.
Who did a more egregious job of giving away a playoff game on home turf — Queen's, Ottawa or now Guelph? That's not meant to take away from Western's accomplishment, but when a road team wins in the post-season, usually the other guys had to do a lot to grease the skids. It's not fair to Western to say this Yates Cup fell into its lap; they did what they had to do, but it really feels like about four other teams missed a big opportunity.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Believe it or not, some on-line sports books accept action on CIS playoff football and Western has been listed as a three-point favourite over Guelph for Saturday's game.
Last weekend, Guelph was an eight-point underdog at Laurier and Western was a 12.5-point dog at Ottawa. Both dogs, needless to say, had their day.
Other spreads this weekend: Laval is a 14.5-point fave over Concordia, St. Mary's is a 27-point favourite over Saint FX and Manitoba is a 6.5-point fave over Regina.
Quarterbacks Teale Orban of the Regina Rams, Erik Glavic of the Saint Mary's Huskies and Josh Sacobie of the Ottawa Gee-Gees each took home player of the year honours from their respective conferences on Thursday.
Joining the three quarterbacks as Hec Crighton Award nominees for most outstanding player in Canadian Interuniversity Sport football is running back Jamall Lee of the Bishop's Gaitors, who was named Quebec's top player on Tuesday.
The OUA, once again, has a good shot here, as Sacobie had quite a year.
- Oh, brother: The reigning champion Concordia Stingers, led by brothers Damian and Dwayne Buckley in the backcourt, probably get the benefit of the doubt in pre-season prognostications, although that might be ignorance on this end. Concordia is ranked No. 3 in the country
- Red alert: Either the Laval Rouge et Or or McGill Redmen will likely be the biggest roadblock to Concordia getting back to nationals. Veteran coach Jacques Paiement's Rouge et Or boast one of the country's most dominant players in J.P. Morin, who had the single-game scoring high at two different tournaments the Rouge et Or attended.
McGill is coming off a 9-20 season, but coach Craig Norman, who gave RMC some winning moments in hoops a few years back, looks like he might do it again at a bigger school with a bigger budget and more recruiting clout. The Redmen turned heads by winning their home tourney for the first time since 2000. Senior Sean Anthony gives them a high-scoring guard.
- Changing face: Back in the summer, globesports.com's Michael Grange penned a profile of the Philadelphia 76ers' Samuel Dalembert that touched on "the 'other' Montreal — increasingly urban, poor, and black." There is a lot of hoops talent in Montreal, plus players can develop their games at a CEGEP, but like in Toronto, most players only have eyes for the NCAA. The hope would be that UQAM, whose lineup includes four players born outside Canada and the U.S., might change that in due time; with more scholarship money coming available and Quebec's relatively inexpensive tuition, it's doable.
The CIS has never seen a top team from an urban school, save for Ryerson in the late '90s and then only briefly.
- Let's see Senior Nicholas: The Bishop's Gaiters are not the power they once were, but guard Junior Nicholas can score in bunches.
- Con U and everyone else? Outside of the Stingers, Quebec didn't have a team in the top third of the final RPI rankings last season. Concordia, as the No. 1 seed, was then upset by Saint Mary's in the first round of the Final 8, so if you want to be selective with the facts, it's reasonable to wonder about the conference's strength relative to the rest of the country.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
A quick look at the OUA's nominees for major awards:
- Hec Crighton Award (top player): Josh Sacobie, Ottawa quarterback. The correct call. It's a regular-season award and Sacobie had a stellar senior season, putting up 21 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Sacobie, of Maliseet First Nation, N.B., would also be the first aboriginal player to win. He wouldn't be the first Hec Crighton winner off a team which fell short of the conference final; Queen's Larry Mohr (1985) and Tom Denison ('03) also did, just to name two.
- Presidents' Trophy (top defender): Anthony Maggiocomo, Laurier linebacker. On his career accomplishments, he's there with anyone. It's funny: The OUA has better defences, but doesn't seem to have a lot of lights-out defensive stars (one thinks of Yannick Carter or Jason Pottinger). Maggiocomo had a good senior season, leading the OUA in tackles.
- J.P. Metras (top lineman): Scott Evans, Laurier offensive tackle. The Golden Hawks led the OUA in yards-per-carry, and much of that was due to a line that had three fifth-year players and two OUA first-team all-stars.
- Peter Gorman Trophy (rookie of the year): Ryan Chmielewski, McMaster linebacker. It could have been either of two players from Niagara Falls, Chmielewski or Guelph defensive back Sebastian Howard. The national winner is probably not coming out of the OUA. The smart money might be on Regina receiver Jordan Sisco or Alberta d-back Rhys Coppens.
Chmielewski emerged toward the end of the season. He'll be a good one for Mac. The Niagara Region, which knows from bumper crops, was well-represented among OUA rookies: Howard, Guelph kick returner Jedd Gardner and d-back James Savoie were all high school teammates there. Mac used to own that turf for recruiting.
- Russ Jackson Award (community involvement): Mike Goncalves, Toronto d-lineman. It's a nice reminder that the CIS is about developing people, not just players, although Goncalves produced good football for the Varsity Blues across his entire career.
- Frank Tindall (coach of the year): Pat Sheahan, Queen's. No team exceeded the widespread pre-season expectations during the regular season (important caveat) than the Golden Gaels. Sheahan's team had improved offensive line, defensive and special teams play. It's the fourth time he's been up for the national award; twice at Queen's and twice at Concordia. How many coaches have had that accolade at two schools, let alone in two conferences? (Blake Nill at Calgary will soon enough, though.)
- Rise of the eggheads: Toronto and Queen's are projected for a 2-3 finish in a pre-season coaches' poll conducted by the Ottawa Citizen's estimable basketball writer Wayne Kondro. Coach Mike Katz's Varsity Blues have a game that has a strangely retro feel to it; they're not flashy, but get out there and leave a couple layers of skin on the floor almost every night out. They have a steady hand at the point in fifth-year guard Mike DeGiorgio; teams with that kind of experience tend to be a tough out.
Toronto has known some winning moments in hoops, particularly in the '80s when Brian Heaney was coach, but it's totally new to Queen's, who is nationally ranked for the first time in school history. Golden Gaels coach Rob Smart's team went 5-1 vs. CIS schools in pre-season despite playing without its best scorer, Mitch Leger, and guard Ryan Hairsine.
- Tut, tut: If you live in the GTA and have never seen a CIS game, head out to York and catch the Lions point guard, Tut Ruach, who practically gives his check windburn when he drives to the hoop. With the 24-second shot clock coming in, Ruach should be able to open the throttle. York is a young team overall, and could have some very frustrating nights.
- Ravens reloaded: There were a couple cast changes -- Oz Jeanty graduated and is now playing in Germany; lead assistant Taffe Charles took over the Ravens women's team -- but Carleton is back, as good as ever. Their share-the-ball system will be in full effect, although Final 8 MVP Aaron Doornekamp might be looking to score more.
- On the step back: The Ottawa Gee-Gees are a bit like the Boston Celtics of the league, with three stars (Dax Dessurealt as the big, Josh Gibson-Bascombe as the light-it-up guard and Sean Peter as the reliable small forward) but not a whole lot of depth. Donnie Gibson is a good glue guy who provides secondary scoring. Last season's national semi-finalists are very much a work-in-progress.
- Brotherly love: The final playoff spot will come down to rebuilding Laurentian, now coached by former Euro-league player Shawn Swords, or Ryerson, which features the brothers Igor and Boris Baković. Boris Baković had a great summer playing for Canada at the under-19 worlds in Serbia.
- Win city: Having three fifth-year seniors starting in point guard Ryan Steer, wing Kevin Kloostra and forward Greg Allin, along with with a fourth-year big, rebounding machine Greg Surmacz, suggests the No. 2 Windsor Lancers were built to win this year.
- Ready to Brock: The Badgers, who beat a NCAA D-1 school on its own floor, should be a challenger, along with Guelph, Laurier and Western. Fifth-year point guard Brad Rootes has the handle and they have added Rohan Steen, who can light it up from outside. Steen started at Brock, then played the past two seasons at York, whom he helped reach the Final 8 in 2006.
- Look who's back: The Western Mustangs were a .500 team last season, but have been bolstered by a trio of NCAA transfers, including 6-foot-6 Keenan Jeppesen who once finished No. 2 in the Ivy League in scoring when he played at Brown. (Jeppesen eventually left after Penn declined to let him transfer there so he could play for the coach he'd had at Brown.) Brad Smith and Andrew Wedemire give the 'Stangs most of their scoring punch; they can run and gun a bit.
- Open the throttle: Guelph, coming off a 12-10 record in the conference, plans to play more up-tempo with the shorter 24-second clock. Coach Chris O'Rourke's team has been poking around the cishoops.ca Top 10 the past couple weeks. Guard Nick Pankerichan is a 20-points-per-night type of player.
- Frosh start at Mac: The Marauders are so young coach Joe Raso has to hold naptime in the middle of practice; they face a steep learning curve after losing five seniors off last season's team. They have a sophomore point guard, Jermaine DeCosta, who missed time since he plays football too, and his backup, Tyrell Vernon, is a freshman. There are a lot of first- and second-years, albeit talented ones, playing major minutes, such as guard Aminu Bello and posts Geoff McLaughlin and Mouctar Diaby.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Guelph tailback Nick FitzGibbon not being a first-team selection over Laurier's Ryan Lynch shows that people in football have to play catch-up when it comes through determining what stats are important.
Lynch was a 1,000-yard rusher, true. It's a different picture when rushing and receiving stats are combined. Why wouldn't you consider both in evaluating a running back? Nothing FitzGibbon did catching the ball out of the backfield matters?
FitzGibbon averaged 7.3 yards per touch during the regular season (161 carries and catches for 1,170 yards).
Lynch averaged just 6.0 per touch (187 touches for 1,131 yards). He scored just 10 TDs, three less than FitzGibbon did on 26 fewer touches.
Then there's the halo effect of being surrounded by a good team. Laurier averaged 5.7 yards when Lynch rushed the ball, but 7.8 when someone else did. Guelph averaged 6.2 yards when FitzGibbon ran the ball, 5.9 when someone else did.
Remember, in the 10-team OUA, each team misses someone on the schedule every year. FitzGibbon didn't face the worst defence, Toronto. Lynch did. He had a stats-padding 133 yards on just 11 carries against the Varsity Blues. FitzGibbon had a four-TD game vs. the statistically top-ranked defence, Western. Lynch did not face the Mustangs.
The irony: If a true fullback was to be picked instead of a second tailback, it would be Laurier's Peter Quinney over Guelph's Graeme Reed and others.
- Western having only two first-team picks (d-back Cory McNair and punter Derek Schiavone) seems low considering they are playing in the Yates Cup. Like Western needs any more ammunition in its underdog argument.
The picks are made by the coaches, and Western's penalty and sack problems during the regular season certainly hurt them getting an all-star nods on the offensive line. The Mustangs had a 1,000-yard rusher in Randy McAuley, but none of their O-linemen even rated a second-team pick. (Even York, with the 27th-ranked running game in the country, had a second-team O-lineman in tackle David Gauer.)
- Hat tip to York wideout Steve Hughes for being on the first team. It's well-earned.
- Ottawa slotback David Crane (third-leading receiver in the OUA, seventh in the country) is only a second-teamer? Did anyone see the pro quality-diving catch he made in the Laurier game? Ottawa might still be playing if Crane had been good to go in the semi-final vs. Western.
Crane likely should have been on the first team ahead of Queen's Rob Bagg, who padded his stats with a ridiculous 341-yard game against Toronto.
- Western's Jesse Bellamy was the most productive receiver not selected and he didn't do any stat-padding. Most of his yards (352 of 575) came when the Mustangs were struggling during an 0-4 start and needed his catches. He and teammate Dave Clayton (487 yards) have been the two best receivers during the OUA playoffs.
- The conference sacks and interceptions leaders, Waterloo DE Andrew Heeley and Guelph DB Sebastian Howard, were not selected. That might not be a bad thing. Stats don't always tell the whole story.
- Seeing Queen's have 12 selections going out in the first round is reminiscent of the very long 1999 season when the Gaels had as many all-Canadians as wins (two). One of the coaches later cracked, "You'd think they'd give us an extra win for that."
The OUA's nominees for the major awards will be announced Thursday.
Monday, November 05, 2007
The division runners-up will play off for the berth if the Carleton Ravens, who have the host team berth, also win the OUA East, which is a distinct possibility. That's the fair thing to do, since it ensures the most deserving teams get to Scotiabank Place. If the OUA West's second-best team is better than the East's second-best team, so be it.
That said, it's the East that has three teams in Mark Wacyk's new Top 10 — the No. 1 Ravens, No. 8 Queen's (!) and No. 10 U of T. The West has just a single rep in No. 2 Windsor, although the Brock Badgers, Guelph Gryphons and Western Mustangs are going to be heard from in that division.
Lee told the French-language La Tribune that Peterson is a runner he's tried to emulate: "When he played at the University of Oklahoma, my father told me to watch him closely. He's basically the same height and the same weight, he's fast and can run with power."
Now Lee, on the much smaller CIS scale, has taken the league by storm much the same way Peterson is with the Vikings (and hey, their teams each wear purple).
Presidents' Trophy (top defensive player): Eric Maranda, Laval outside linebacker. Maranda is just way past most of his competition in terms of physical ability and he helped the Rouge et Or finish No. 2 in the country in total defence despite a rash of injuries.
Metras Award (top lineman): Martin Gagné, Montréal defensive end. Gagné, the Q's nominee last season and might have been a reputation pick, since he had only 1 1/2 sacks last season after being credited with 4 1/2 in 2006. In fairness, since it's hard to evaluate linemen, let's assume that what he's done isn't reflected on the field.
Peter Gorman (top rookie): Liam Mahoney, Concordia quarterback. This is probably the most contentious pick, since Laval wideout Julian Feoli also presents a very strong case. Mahoney came on halfway through the season to somewhat right a sporadic Stingers offence and has been perhaps the best running quarterback in the country, although there are several others who run well and are much more polished passers.
Russ Jackson (community involvement): Clovis Langlois-Boucher, Sherbrooke defensive back. Boucher maintained a high academic standing while balancing football and caring for his father, who is battling multiple schlerosis. He would be the first Vert et Or player to win a major CIS award.
Frank Tindall (coach of the year): Leroy Blugh, Bishop's. Blugh, who won the Presidents' in 1988 as a Gaiters linebacker, delivered Bishop's its first winning season this decade and has helped restore some hope to what had been a struggling program in the Eastern Townships. The coach-of-the-year award has Saint Mary's Steve Sumurah's name written over it, most likely.
Lee and Maranda probably offer the Q its best chance of winning a major award.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
n. A fabulous beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.
That's about as good as it gets when it comes to school monikers in CIS — although what, exactly, a gryphon would be doing in southwestern Ontario is beyond me.
Guelph may have home field advantage on Saturday, but they have to qualify as the biggest surprise still in the mix, especially considering all of the big dogs in the OUA were wary of Western going in.
Even five years into covering the league, I still haven't had a chance to get to know every program and every coach, and Guelph's been one of those on-the-fringe clubs that I never had reason to write about. This season, I think most OUA observers were banking on a Laurier at Ottawa Yates Cup, but with two underdogs now vying for the right to tromp out to the prairies for a bowl game in mid-November, it gives me a chance to get to know a new team.
Guelph coach Kyle Walters was in his office early this afternoon when I gave him a call (and here's the piece for the dead-tree medium).
The first thing out of my mouth was how big of a surprise it was that Guelph had now taken out two of Ontario's top teams...
"Everybody would assume we were the underdogs, but we played them (Laurier) very tough in the regular season, so we weren’t surprised," Walters said.
At 34, my guess is Walters is the youngest head coach in CIS football right now. There are only 27 jobs across the country, and those are generally pretty coveted, so you see a lot of lifers in the role.
It's a big difference talking to a guy like Walters, only a few years removed from playing in the CFL, and someone like Laurier's Gary Jeffries, who has seemingly seen it all in CIS ball. Not better or worse mind you, but certainly different.
Walters also said he thought there was more parity in the OUA this season: "A lot more parity this year, for sure.
"I think some of the middle-the-pack and lower teams are putting more emphasis on football, which hasn’t always been the case. Now, those programs are trying to catchup with the programs that have always taken football seriously."
How does Guelph match-up against Western?
"We probably played one of our better games against them in the regular season. Defensively, they’re big and strong up front — they’re loaded with talent. They don’t give up big plays, and offensively, Randy McCauley is as good as anybody in the league. He can make a touchdown every time he touches the ball. But they’re unique offensively in that they’re one of the few teams that has the ability to run the ball when they want and pass the ball if you take away the run. They pose some issues for us, defensively."
I've noted this before, but Guelph was one of the top teams in the country at limiting teams on the rush, which should make for an interesting match-up for Western's Greg Marshall.
I also asked the coach how his team has improved since the regular season:
"What we’ve improved on is closing games out. With a young team, an inexperienced group, sometimes when things don’t go well, you kind of pack it in, or don’t step up to the challenge. What I’m most excited about the past couple of games is that things haven’t gone exactly right for us and we’ve been able to pull the game out at the end – which is the biggest improvement for our guys.
"It couldn’t have gone much worse for us after 15 minutes [against Laurier, when Guelph went down 24-0], and it would have been pretty easy for our players to pack it in and say we’re overmatched, we’re out of our league here. But they didn’t: They just kept fighting and chipping away – and before you know it, we’ve got a football game.
"As poorly as we played, to only be down 10 was kind of reassuring for us [at halftime]."
He also noted that he's expecting a big, big turnout from the Western fans, which should make for an interesting atmosphere on Saturday. I know I'm planning on being there.
A bit more background on Walters that I wasn't able to fit into my piece:
- He graduated from Guelph in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science degree, the same year he captained the Yates Cup winning club. They also won in 1992, his rookie season.
- Walters started his football career as a running back, but an injury moved him into a free safety role (he was an all-Canadian for his final two years in that position)
- He was picked in the second round of the 1996 CFL draft by the Ticats
- He's from St. Thomas and grew up watching Western play
- He's a certified high school teacher
It's really going to be interesting to see if the Gryphons' rise this season is the start of something at the University of Guelph because I get the sense Walters is a hungry, young coach, someone who's going to be out there recruiting heavily and looking to put his team in contention every year.
Guelph's record in the years since Walters graduated to the CFL and before he became head coach:
Hood, a fourth-year defensive back out of Mississauga, has also had a 107-yard kick-return TD vs. Laval and took a punt back 101 yards in the regular season vs. Acadia. He actually gained more yards on returns against Laval than the St. FX offence did.
Mount Allison fans will still insist Gary Ross is the most dynamic return man in the conference, though.
Guelph 38, Laurier 31: This was the Elway-esque game OUA observers have long expected out of Gryphons QB Justin Dunk, who rescued broken play after broken play to lead Guelph's stunning comeback from a 24-0 deficit. His scramble and toss to Nick FitzGibbon for Guelph's first offensive TD seemed to be a game-turning play, along with the return of a missed field goal for a touchdown.
This almost went along the lines of the famous 1981 Chargers-Dolphins game... a comeback from 24-0 down, followed by a team who lost a big lead rallying late. Guelph will host a playoff game for the first time in 21 seasons — in the Yates Cup, no less.
Ex-quarterback Jamie Shaw, now a defensive back, recovered an onside kick and broke up Laurier's final third-down pass to seal the win. Game balls on the Guelph side have to go to the veterans in the force unit, D-lineman Chris Hladich and linebacker Tag Russell. Russell was knocked out early with a charley horse, but was on the field when Guelph won in the fourth quarter.
Talk about an abrupt end to a CIS career for Laurier's five-year players: Linebacker Anthony Maggiacomo, DB Brent Hickey and O-linemen Andrew Dietrich, Tyler Felber and Kyle Sanderson. This was devastating for Laurier, but it's also the only time in their careers they haven't played in a Yates Cup.
During the pre-season, Guelph coach Kyle Walters talked about finding a big time punt return man. Today, he had two: Freshman Jedd Gardner started the comeback with a 113-yard return touchdown off a missed field goal, while defensive back Sean Riley's long punt return set up the go-ahead TD. Riley also recovered a fourth-quarter fumble.
Walters learned his lesson from a Preposterous Punt early. He elected to kick on the Gryphons' second possession rather than gamble on third-and-1 at their own 49-yard line. It took Laurier only two plays to get past the point where the ball was kicked from, and they went on to score and go up 14-0. In hindsight, maybe he just didn't want to look desperate. Guelph had a similar scenario in the fourth quarter and picked up the first down on a sneak by Dunk before going on to score the backbreaking TD.
One nod to Laurier: Peter Quinnie would be an OUA all-star if the selectors make a point to pick a true fullback and a tailback instead of two tailbacks. He averaged 10.1 yards per touch in the regular season; today he had a terrific downfield block that cleared the way for Laurier's third touchdown, and he came up with a big catch on third down that kept Laurier alive for another couple minutes.
Western 23, Ottawa 16: The Mustangs pulled it out on a touchdown with just more than 2 minutes left and delivered a shocking end to the unbeaten Gee-Gees' season.
Western has been an excellent second-half team, now having outscored Waterloo, Queen's and Ottawa by a combined 58-3 after the intermission in three straight must-win games. A lot of credit has to go to their offensive and defensive lines, who have become more cohesive, along with defensive co-ordinator Paul Gleason and his fellow coaches making halftime adjustments.
That said, it's not fair that Western gets to be portrayed as an underdog. Western types are not underdogs in anything. Guelph will be my adopted team for a week. (Scratch that. N. Sager is nothing but a damn jinx for teams. Go Mustangs!)
One small consolation for Ottawa QB Josh Sacobie, who's undecided on returning for a fifth season: Phill Côte also had his 8-0 team lose in the playoffs during his Hec Crighton Trophy-winning season in 1999. The Gee-Gees won't be making any excuses for this; 16 points at home in the playoffs on a day when the weather was not a factor is inexcusable. Receiver David Crane, a likely all-Canadian, was ruled out, and not having him as a stabilizer hurt Ottawa's offence.
Is it even worth going into the stats? The Gryphons quietly came within two yards of leading the CIS in run defence (82.5 yards per game) and they will be facing a Western running game that was completely stymied vs. the Gee-Gees. Randy McAuley ran nine times for a grand total of 10 yards, raising questions of how fresh he is after catching or carrying the ball 257 times in the first nine games.
So it was crazy to think Calgary could upset No. 3 Manitoba: The Bisons forced seven turnovers in a 27-5 semi-final win and won going away despite being outgained 392-263. The defence, led by Justin Shaw's two sacks, had a statement game entering the conference final vs. Regina.
Has anyone seen a clip of Bisons receiver Jeff Strome's 50-yard touchdown catch? Apparently it would have been a highlight-reel grab in any league?
The young Dinos took a step forward in Blake Nill's second season. They just need some continuity in the passing game. Just wait till Dalin Tollestrup returns in 2009.
OK, maybe now Saskatchewan Huskies coach Brian Towriss will admit there is a rivalry with Regina: The Rams pulled out a 19-13 win over the Huskies in the Canada West semi-final on Friday, in the wake of Towriss downplaying the rivalry by saying "we're treating it as a playoff game."
Regina basically did to Saskatchewan what Western did to Queen's last week. Long derided as a soft team, they showed they can block, tackle and play physically. Second-year D-lineman Stan Van Sichem had four sacks and one-time Okanagan Sun standout linebacker Mat Nesbitt was once again all over the field, as the Huskies were held to 312 yards.
The Huskies' season-long shuffling of quarterbacks and tailbacks bit them in an uncomfortable place; down nine in the fourth quarter, a fumbled handoff at the Regina 1-yard line led to them kicking a field goal instead scoring a touchdown. Saskatchewan never scored again.
Irony: The Montreal Carabins player who had the most face time this afternoon, punter Michael Shouska, was wearing a tinted face shield. Meantime, who needs Benoît Groulx? Behind César-Roberto Sánchez, Laval scored the first 28 straight points to win 28-16. They might have had a few more points, but a potential touchdown pass to Duane John hit an official.
Concordia set up a rematch in the Quebec final with a 34-18 win over Bishop's, as Jamall Lee ran just 11 times for 28 yards. The story of the Stingers has been their ability to get people ready to go in wherever needed. QB Liam Mahoney, who ran for 105 yards and threw for 101, started the season as the punt returner. Cornerback Marc Champagnie, who took down a pair of interceptions, moved over from offence after playing wide receiver in '06.
It's a tough end for Bishop's, although as some consolation, Lee and Gaiters coach Leroy Blugh should be the conference's nominees for some national awards.
St. FX handled Acadia easily 38-17. The story of Acadia's season is youth and inexperience on defence and special teams.
Here's hoping Hurricane Noel somewhat spares the East Coast. It isn't expected to hit till tonight, well after the Acadia-St. FX semi-final.
Friday, November 02, 2007
The Brantford, Ont., native was displaced this season after Rouge et Or coach Glen Constantin decided he to dress only one kicking specialist, Christopher Milo, the superior punter of thw two. Milo went just 12-for-19 on field goals (compared to Takacs' 19-for-21 in '06), but he was also the fourth-leading punter in the country with a 40.3-yard average.
Concordia's incumbent, Rene Paredes, has a better track record as a kicker than a punter. The rookie is the most accurate kicker in the country at 88.2% (15-of-17), but is fifth in the six-team Quebec conference in kickoff average and dead last in punting. Takacs could offer a slight improvement in those areas next season.
Takacs se tourne vers les Stingers (Richard Boutin, Media Matin Quebec)
Thursday, November 01, 2007
"But most impressive was Jamall Lee of Bishop's. The third-year running back from Port Coquitlam, B.C., shattered the Quebec conference single-season rushing record, running for 1,464 yards, an average of 183 a game.
Lee, who carried a conference-record 181 times and ran for 12 touchdowns, should be a unanimous pick as nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy as the outstanding player in the country."
-- Randy Phillips, Montreal Gazette
This goes back to a post I wrote last year at Out of Left Field after the uproar when Windsor's Daryl Stephenson became the seventh straight OUA player to win the Hec. The CIS needlessly creates the wrong kind of controversy -- the kind that stems from confusion -- by not hyping the Hec well enough nationally.
The way it's done currently, a a talented sportswriter in Montreal such as Mr. Phillips might not know enough about a worthy candidate in another conference such as Ottawa's Josh Sacobie or Calgary's Anthony Woodson.
The CIS should adopt something like the NCAA does with the Hobey Baker Memorial Award in college hockey. The coaches vote during the season to identify 10 candidates. Then a panel of media members and pro scouts whittle it down to three finalists and the award is presented at the national championship.
It would be a lot more fun and informative for the funs and the media. It would stop sportswriters from spreading misinformation like saying Lee will be a "unanimous pick" for the Hec Crighton.
Let's be clear: Lee, the Little Miss Sunshine of CIS running backs, has an excellent shot of winning. If he does, it would be an awfully close vote over Sacobie. The Gee-Gees QB is just as much statistically without peer among CIS quarterbacks as Lee is among runners and there is a tendency to reward senior stars on top teams.
Remember, Little Miss Sunshine didn't win the Oscar for Best Picture either.
There's a ton of questions with this, namely whether UBC could be a NCAA D-2 school for 10 sports, play D-1 in two sports (likely hockey for the men and volleyball for the women) and then keep membership in the CIS "where it's appropriate," in the words of athletics director Bob Philip.
The story makes no mention of football... this is way down the line, but would UBC sacrifice its football program if it couldn't stay in the CIS? My belief was baseball was the reason for the push, since the T-Birds have a Cadillac program which, of course, produced Colorado Rockies ace left-hander Jeff Francis.
UBC poised for NCAA application (Howard Tsumura, Vancouver Province)