Football: Calgary-Laval, Saint Mary's-Western on tap for Semi-Final Weekend

Dunsmore Cup

Laval 28, Concordia 17:
 The Rouge et Or had a scary final 30 minutes.  Concordia was in range to kick a tying field goal, before a deep ball into the end zone was picked off by Alex Surprenant to preserve the lead.

That allowed the day to belong to the left side of the Laval O-line, which cleared the way for the bulk of rookie tailback Sébastien Lévesque's 268 yards, including touchdowns of 51, 47 and 90 yards. The last one clinched the win with 56 seconds left, right after the interception.

Concordia is just betwixt and between. Some would say they're too conservative and close to the vest when they face Laval and ultimately a risky gambit, taking a shot at the end zone when they had reliable René Parades ready to tie the game, backfired.

Lévesque's first TD was a counter play to left guard Vincent Turgeon's side, with Samuel Fournier out front. On the second, Lévesque skated through a highway-wide hole between Turgeon and centre Louis-David Gagné, but Concordia clearly was not done.

This kind of gives credence to those who say the Québec final would be as good as any bowl game or Vanier Cup match.  

One play that is bound to get lost in the shuffle resulted in a 10-point swing late in the first half. Concordia defensive halfback Bryan Charleau jumped on a long sideline throw and would have had a pick-six, but the ball just sailed past his fingertips and Matthew Leblanc made the catch. Laval finished the drive with a field goal to go up 6-3 at halftime, and came out and got the first two TDs after the break.

On such thin threads do the larger glories hang.

Cory Greenwood had an interception and sack against Hec Crighton favourite Benoît Groulx, who threw 28 times for 170 yards with no TDs. Laval was maybe a B-minus, but they get a good draw for the Uteck Bowl against a young Calgary team.

Hardy Trophy

Calgary 44, Simon Fraser 21:
The obvious question about a Calgary-Laval Uteck Bowl is are the Dinos physical enough to make the Rouge et Or one-dimensional.

Actually, is Laval even beatable at home in one of these games? The Rouge et Or are 3-0 at home in national semi-finals (1-3 on the road, and one of those was against a Blake Nill-coached team). That is the elephant in the room, along with the fact Calgary is fairly young for a Canada West championship team, with just four fifth-year players.

The common thread of Laval's last two semi-final losses was that an opponent was able to force them to become pass-wacky. They had just 15 rush attempts against 38 passes vs. Saint Mary's in last fall's Uteck Bowl. The ratio 21 rushes, 56 passes in the 2005 Mitchell Bowl vs. Saskatchewan. In both cases, they were playing catch-up.

Teams don't run much on Calgary (only Saskatchewan faced fewer rush attempts in Canada West). They faced more pass plays than any team in their conference, and took down 17 interceptions against just five TD passes.

A gut feeling -- and frankly, I've come to the conclusion that my guts know nothing -- is that Calgary is physical enough and plays good enough defence to hang in with Laval. Whether it can stand up to their defence is another story.

Offensively, Deke Junior was 21-of-27 for more than 300 yards with three TDs, two to Anthony Parker. It is going to take that kind of passing game to have any chance in Quebec next week, against Laval or Concordia.

Matt Walter ground out 126 yards on the ground with converted linebacker John Gruninger throwing some big blocks from the fullback spot. Defensively for Calgary, Matt Grohn was involved in two takeaways.

Calgary, Western and Saint Mary's have all been in the final four twice before, in 1988, for you history buffs. Blake Nill coaching against Laval is one obvious storyline. His Saint Mary's teams were 2-5 against the Rouge et Or, but the two playoff losses were close (14-10 and 14-7 in the 1999 and '03 Vaniers) and they beat Laval in 2002 on a last-second field goal by Dave Stala.

The Dinos might also be here a year earlier than expected. Their skill position players, Matt Walter and the key receivers, Parker and K.C. Prince, are in their second seasons. Former Canada West rookie of the year QB Dalin Tollestrup is due back next season from his Mormon mission.

The Dunsmore Cup, Concordia-Laval, is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern (RDS). For anyone who is wondering about travel affecting the game, The Fan 960 says Calgary has been able to make a deal to charter a plane to Quebec.

Loney Bowl

Saint Mary's 29, St. Francis Xavier 27 (final):
It was a reprise of last season's Atlantic final, with the Huskies almost blowing it on their home field but surviving.

Saint Mary's had one big quarter, a 23-0 second, and hung on despite being outgained by 150 yards and giving up 69- and 75-yard scoring passes in the final quarter. (And you guys play Michael Faulds and Western next week? Good luck with that.)

It is true that Saint Mary's shows up for bowl games. Their 2002 national championship team was a bit slack -- it lost to Acadia and St. FX in the regular season -- but it went into Southern Ontario and beat a Greg Marshall-coached team in a bowl game.

The difference between now and then is experience at quarterback, plus Marshall has changed his offensive thinking somewhat since 2002. Six years ago, Saint Mary's had a poised QB, Steve Panella, while Mac was playing two QBs that season in the first year after Ben Chapdelaine's graduation. (Panella was a first-year starter but had got plenty of mop-up time in '01 on a loaded team.)

This time around, Western has a fifth-year passer, Michael Faulds, and Saint Mary's has a rookie, Jack Creighton. Creighton (son of the former Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks forward Adam Creighton) is going to be something special. It is just a matter of when. In the here and now, one wonders how he will stay at the optimal point, being in that big a game that close to home.

Creighton had good numbers vs. St. FX, throwing 17 times for 198 yards (11.6 average), with two short TDs. A simplified playbook likely will not cut it against Western and neither will playing a young QB -- just ask Laurier.

St. FX played a great game today. Steve Snyder threw 35 times for 379 yards, including three second-half TDs to nearly bring the X-Men back from a 21-point deficit. He got them into field goal range in the final minute, but X kicker Kyle Chisholm just missed on a game-tying field goal with about 30 seconds to play in the game. Suffice to say, about half of the CIS football-watching country is pretty proud of the X-Men; who would have guessed that the Atlantic conference would have the most exciting championship game?

Yates Cup

Western 31 Ottawa 17:
To quote an old Bob Marley lyric, you can't run away from yourself, especially when Davie Mason is unable to run.

Western restored the sanctity of the OUA regular season, as Michael Faulds and their defence and special teams were the trump cards in a decisive win. The Mustangs built a big early lead when they had the 25 km/h wind at its back in the first quarter.

The game sort of hit a tactical stasis over the final 45 minutes. Ottawa was plagued by dropped passes and penalties, and Western moved the ball in drips and drabs. It was boring, but it's their life. The London crowd barely seemed into the game (and this is coming from someone who lives in Eastern Ontario, where sports crowds are known to be quiet).

Ottawa's penalty and special teams problems popped up today. The Gee-Gees missed two field goals in the second quarter, despite having the wind.

One hidden play early on was Mustangs backup running back Ryan Tremblay making a great tackle in punt coverage inside the Ottawa 10 on the first possession. Western got field position from that and never relinquished it for the balance of the first quarter, getting out to a 16-0 lead. Matt Carapella, the safety, also made two big special teams plays in the second. His 15-yard run on a fake punt and a great rush up the middle that kept Ottawa from getting a punt off each led to second-quarter field goals.

Carapella also drove in the last spike with an interception. Faulds, though, was a clear choice as game MVP.

He has remade himself over the past two seasons. He makes plays with his legs that he didn't during his first couple seasons at Western. One has to credit him for not settling and becoming a better player. Saint

Western's running game did not pick up until Ottawa's defence started to tire. They'll also face a tough running game from Saint Mary's next week.

Ottawa was emotionally unavailable today. Perhaps it is true it emptied the tank to beat Queen's last week. Ironically, the ex-Golden Gael Ian Hazlett had two sacks and was in Faulds' face a couple other times.

The officials, I hate to say it, had a rough day. The second Western TD drive was helped by a pass interference call on Ottawa cornerback Chayce Elliott. On The Score, Mike Morreale said, "I didn't really see a tug at all," and remember, he's an ex-receiver. They always think there was interference. Three have been at least three catch/drop calls that, in the NFL, might have warranted a challenge flag. Two went Western's way and one went Ottawa's way. It did not impacted the game, thank God.

Please spare a thought for Ottawa's Josh Sacobie, who would have traded all the personal accolades to play in a Vanier Cup. It's not about the final score with someone as special as Mr. Sacobie.
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  1. The only thing worse than not being able to go to the game (despite living 2 km from the stadium)due to kid hockey, H2O heater issues etc., was having to listen to it on CHRW the home of Mustang football. The announcers, despite verbally recognizing how lame it was to compare Felix Potvin the Ottawa Gee Gee to FP the former NHL goalie, continued to do so! Eyeballs meet knitting needle.

  2. Judging by the attendance, a lot of Western students have children or younger siblings in mior hockey.

    Recycling nicknames is brutal. There was only one Rocket (Richard), one Pistol Pete (Maravich, not Sampras).

    Anyway, good job by Western today. I jokingly said, "Ottawa by a field goal," on Kingston radio, because I said "Queen's by a field goal" the week before, mostly as a defence mechanism. Unfortunately, it was radio, so they couldn't see me winking.

  3. Ah, the Yates Cup: analogous to winning the WAC or Sun Belt conference.

  4. @ anon.

    Most times yes it is. This year I don't see the usual dominant team of men from out West, nor the semi pro team from Quebec existing. Time will tell.

  5. Sun Belt? It's at least analoguous to Conference USA or the MAC. Give it some credit.

  6. Aren't one of you bloggers from Ontario tobacco country (i.e., Simcoe and environs)?

    Local boy Bryan Charleau played excellent football this year (today too) for Con U and should have been a QUFL all-star this season.

    He - like every other Con U player - deserved a better fate today against the semi-pro team from Quebec City.

    (Yes, I said semi-pro, which is what Laval is. If the roles were reversed - Concordia had a $1.2 million football budget whilst Laval was staggering along with a fraction of that - there would be all manner of complaints from Laval fans and the Bloc Quebecois about the injustice of it all).

    Yes, I'm bitter.

    An unlevel playing field; props if you think this is going to change any time soon.

  7. Concordia played a decent game ... like I have said, it's not so much that Laval is a semi-pro team, but that no one is trying to rectify the situation and let other schools in the East do the same.

    Bryan's final high school season, 2004-05, was my first as the sports ed. of the Simcoe Reformer. I can't remember off-hand, but we picked him as Norfolk County defensive player of the year, or maybe even as our player of the year.

    Simcoe Comp lost a heartbreaker in the Haldimand-Norfolk Bowl last year to Caledonia ... 0-0 game in the fourth quarter and they elect to try a chip-shot field goal on 4th-and-1 from inside the 5 and the kicker hits the upright.

    Caledonia got in position with two seconds left to punt for the winning single from the Simcoe 20 ... they snapped it short on a designed fake, the punter took the snap on the run, and just got inside the pylon for the winning touchdown.

    I was surprised that he wasn't a QUFL all-star at defensive half, but didn't want to make a big deal out of it because I didn't want to seem like more of a homer than usual, and Lukca from McGill is considered a CFL prospect. My heart was in my throat when he jumped that route yesterday and almost had the pick. It was a great play just to be that close to picking it off.