Football: Conference Championship Saturday thread: Calgary beats UBC on record 59-yard field goal; Laval beats Montréal, and it's That '70s Show For Western

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

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



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

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

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

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

Elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

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

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





Notes on all that below.


Quebec — Dunsmore Cup

Laval 25, Montréal 22

  • Keep calm and get Caron. Lines win championships, and Laval's D had five sacks on Montréal's Sam Caron. Defenders Mathieu Betts and Edward Godin both toppled Caron at the most propitious times, right when the U de M was at the lip of the score zone between the 40 and 30-yard line. That entire unit only allowed a touchdown in the final minute.

    The offensive line did its best work after Laval took over with 4:20 left, ahead by eight. It o opened sufficiently big enough holes for Vincent Alarie-Tardif to use up almost three minutes and set up a field goal for an all-important 11-point cushion.

    The Carabins offence came back with its first offensive TD against Laval in more than eight quarters and got both the two-point convert and onside kickoff. But the magic wore off before they could find Louis-Philippe Simoneau's field-goal range.

    Laval's defence accounted for three first-half points with a strip-sack in the Carabins' zone, while a safety touch resulted from the Carabins compounding a bad-field-position situation with a UR penalty.
  • No offence, Carabins, but your offence must score too. The Carabins' scoring in the first 58½ minutes came through a scoop-and-score defensive TD from linebacker Brian Harelimana, a single on the ensuing kickoff and two field goals.

    The Carabins and Sam Caron finally had a drive before halftime, but it ended with that conservative-coaching contagion, the fewer than 20-yard field goal (a 16-yarder). You don't win friends with salad, or win with short field goals.

Canada West — Hardy Trophy
Calgary 44, UBC 43 

  • Best Hardy since 2016, or ever? The lead changed hands twice in the fourth quarter before changing twice more in the final 16 seconds, and perhaps all that happened was that they ran out of time.

    That completes a triptych of outstanding playoff games in the last three seasons between Calgary and UBC, with the Dinos having the two most recent wins (44-43 this time, 46-43 in 2016, after a 34-26 loss in 2015). The close call should be emboldening, since Calgary surely must know it tempted fate by settling for field goals (DiFonte was 6-of-8, and also had two kickoff singles for a 23-point day) when touchdowns would have wiped out UBC.
  • Different breed. The main talking point with the Dinos involves the change in offensive opponent. O'Connor and UBC are a passing team. Laval always has a massive front line and Richard  has the read-option in his repertoire. It's not a great look on the part of Calgary that UBC had 479 yards despite having the ball for fewer than 23 minutes.
  • Second crack at Laval. Adam Sinagra no doubt prepared for the 2016 Vanier Cup against Laval like he was the starter, rather than a backup to Jimmy Underdahl, whom he replaced early in the game. It's going to be different now that it is solely his show.

    Maybe that transfers into Calgary playing better situational football. That was almost their downfall against UBC. The boxscore tally has Calgary at 591 yards, but a lot of the "settling" came after being stopped on second and short. There will be less allowance for that against Laval.
  • No shame on UBC's end. The 'Birds lived up to their rep as a late-peaking team. It took a record-long field goal to beat them.

    O'Connor still has at least one more season in university football. That's a scary thought. 
Ontario — Yates Cup

Western 75, Laurier 32  
  • The field tilted after some hit-me-with-your-best-shot haymakers. The long and short of that is that 10 games in there is still no idea what Western would do against a defence that could limit it to fewer than 200 rushing yards. Joseph had 21 rushes for 259 yards and three touchdowns, and leading rusher Alex Taylor (knee) will get another week to work back to game readiness.

    The 59-yard touchdown catch by Harry McMaster in the second quarter came on a read-option where the influence of a fake handoff left the Golden Hawks with a single-high safety and a straightforward read for Chris Merchant. I wanted to see Merchant in situations involving cycling through routes in an obvious passing situation, but that didn't happen too often. The first two instances resulted in a misfired timing route, and a sack.

    Once Laurier started to gas, though, that element became more evident. Merchant's best tight-window throw was a touchdown pass to Brett Ellerman that capped a two-minute drill at the end of the fight half.

    Western had more passing yardage (205) than rushing (171) during the first half, but a lot of it came on play-action passes. It was a beatdown in all senses of the term.
  • Laurier role reversal. Michael Knevel returned from a three-week absence to connect on two long touchdowns, but the Golden Hawks' player usage was the story on that side of the ball. Primary back Levondre Gordon was spotted due to a hamstring ailment and slotbacks Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and Carson Ouellette had take handoffs in the backfield. It was a creative stab at a solution, if not a sustainable one.

    There really was very little Laurier could do. 
  • The third phase. Western was spurred early by rookie Mike Sananes, whose nearly 150 return yards included a 95-yard kickoff-return TD.

    The 'Stangs have some special-teams nits to pick, though. They had two penalties in punt-return situations that extended Laurier drives, and had a wasted timeout before a field goal. Details like that should be tight with a team that had two bye weeks recently, don't you think?

    That could actually matter somewhere down the line.

Atlantic

Saint Mary's and AUS went to court over the cancellation of the Loney Bowl. Could they play on Monday if a judge grants SMU's request for an injunction?



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