The stage is set for what could be a legendary clash here at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium. In one corner, the legendary old powerhouse Western Mustangs, decked out in the classic purple, silver and white. They have six Vanier Cups to their name, but haven't won since 1994 and haven't been in the final since 1995, although they've had a lot of success at lower levels during those years. In the other corner, we have the new dynasty on the block, the Laval Rouge et Or, wearing red uniforms with gold trim and golden helmets. They have four Vanier titles to their name, all since 1999. The complete stats breakdown is after the jump. As with the CFL previews, I'm sticking to regular-season numbers here unless otherwise specified; I find the larger sample size more revealing. Live blogging will start with the kickoff.
Western: 7-1 regular season (second in OUA), 3-0 in playoffs
Laval: 8-0 (first in Quebec), 3-0 in playoffs
Western: Michael Faulds, 176 completions on 277 attempts (63.54 per cent) for 2596 yards (first in CIS) in eight games (9.37 yards per attempt, 14.75 yards per completion), 19 touchdowns versus 8 interceptions
Laval: Benoit Groulx, 185 completions on 246 attempts (75.20 per cent, CIS record) for 2385 yards in eight games (9.70 yards per attempt, 12.75 yards per completion), 12 touchdowns versus 2 interceptions
Advantage: Laval. Faulds is very good, and led CIS in passing yards, but Groulx won the Hec Creighton for a reason. Most impressive to me is his completion percentage and his lack of interceptions. He tends to throw shorter passes than Faulds, and he's been extremely successful with that so far.
Western: Slotback Jesse Bellamy, 39 receptions for 686 yards (seventh in CIS, 17.59 yards per catch average) in 8 games (85.75 yards per game average), six touchdowns
Laval: Wide receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino, 65 receptions for 785 yards (fourth in CIS, 12.08 yards per catch average) in 8 games (98.13 yards per game average), four
(Note: Western's second-leading receiver is wide receiver Nick Trevail, who finished 15th in CIS with 558 yards on 43 catches. Laval's second-leading receiver is wide receiver Matthew Leblanc, who finished 40th in CIS with 369 yards on 32 catches. Western's Nick Pasic (28th, 436 yards on 24 catches) and Zack Bull (30th, 423 yards on 26 catches) also finished ahead of Leblanc.
Advantage: Western. Feoli-Gudino is very impressive, but the Mustangs have a lot of depth in their receiving corps. The Rouge et Or haven't shown that depth so far.
Western: Running back Nathan Riva, 487 yards (21st in CIS) on 61 carries (7.98 yards per carry) in six games (81.17 yards per game), seven touchdowns
Laval: Running back Guillame Allard-Cameus, 389 yards (30th in CIS) on 77 carries (5.05 yards per carry) in 8 games (48.6 yards per game), five touchdowns
(Note: Western running back John Leckie is 31st in CIS with 379 yards on 65 carries (5.83 yards per carry), one slot back of Allard-Cameus).
Advantage: Western. Laval's ground game hasn't been overly impressive this year. It's a bit of running back by committee at Western, but both Riva and Leckie have better per-attempt numbers than Allard-Cameus.
Western: Tackle Chris Greaves leads the team with 4.5 sacks (20th in CIS).
Laval: Tackle Etienne Legare, who earned the J.P. Metras trophy earlier this week as the CIS outstanding lineman, leads the team with 6.5 sacks (tied for 20th in CIS).
(Note: Laval defensive end Marc-Antoine Beaudoin-Cloutier also is ahead of Greaves, recording six sacks this year (tied for 10th in CIS)).
Advantage: Laval. Huge advantage to the Rouge et Or here. If their impressive defensive front can stop Western's run game and force Faulds to hurry his passes, that will go a long way towards winning the game. Western's line is less formidable, and Laval's short-pass system also makes it tougher to hit Groulx before he gets rid of the ball.
Western: Defensive back Cory Watson leads the team with four picks in seven games, tied for fifth in CIS.
Laval: The Rouge et Or have three players tied with two interceptions each; middle linebacker Kelly-Joseph Hilare, cornerback Olivier Turcotte-Letourneau and free safety Jonathan Laliberte, who recorded his two picks in only four games.
Advantage: Western. Only a slight advantage, though, as they don't have anyone other than Watson in the top 40.
This should be quite the match. We've got the old dynasty in Western and the new one in Laval, and plenty of fans from both sides. Unfortunately, the sun's gone behind a cloud and it's getting quite cold here, but that hasn't discouraged the fans so far; they're loud and into it, and we haven't even kicked off yet. Laval is a 19.5 favourite, but I don't think it's going to be that much of a blowout.
Prediction: Western victory
This is going out on a limb a bit, as just about everyone likes Laval in this one. Western does surprising things as an underdog, though; see their run to the Yates Cup from the #6 seed last year. I like Western's depth at reciever and running back. If they can win a few of the trench battles, this could go their way. I think they'll keep it close in any rate, but I can see them narrowly taking this one.