CIS roundup: T-Birds dominate StFX, will face defending champs in Vanier Cup
Photo credit: Kyle Rodriguez
UTECK BOWL: T-Birds dominate StFX, will face defending champs in Vanier Cup
ANTIGONISH, N.S. (Courtesy of StFX Athletics) – The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds advanced to the CIS football final for the first time since 1997 thanks to a convincing 36-9 win over the hometown St. Francis Xavier University X-Men in the Uteck Bowl Saturday evening at Oland Stadium.
In the ArcelorMittal Vanier Cup presented by Promutuel Assurance, next Saturday at 1 p.m. in Quebec City (Sportsnet and TVA Sports), the Canada West titlists (9-2) will face the defending national champion Montreal Carabins (9-2), who earlier today dominated Guelph 25-10 in the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl.
UBC head coach Blake Nill, a graduate of StFX who started his stellar career on the sidelines with the X-Men in 1992, will make his ninth appearance in the Vanier Cup as a coach, including one as defensive coordinator with StFX in 1996 and eight as a head coach.
“This one is an unusual one,” said Nill, in his first season at the helm of the Thunderbirds after long stints at Saint Mary’s and Calgary.
“I would never have expected this in a hundred years with this group, a group that was 2-6 last year and to get them to a Vanier Cup; and it is not like we have had an easy road either – we had to win in Calgary, we had to win in Manitoba, win in Saskatchewan. We beat some good teams to get here.
“I don’t think we played our best today, but we did play well enough to win,” he added.
On the first play of the game, the X-Men opened the scoring on a Jonathan Heidebrecht kick-off for a rouge.
After being penned in their own zone, StFX punter Jeremy Ford conceded a safety to make it 2-1 for the visiting Thunderbirds.
On the second UBC offensive drive, AUS all-star linebacker Daniel Tshiamala intercepted Thunderbird freshman quarterback Michael O’Connor.
On the subsequent X-Men drive, veteran defensive back Taylor Loffler picked off a deflected Tivon Cook pass and returned it deep into StFX territory.
Spearheaded by the rushing of Brandon Deschamps, UBC scored the first touchdown on a one-yard run. With the point-after from Quinn van Gylswyk, the Thunderbirds took a 9-1 advantage.
That was the score after the opening quarter, with Deschamps leading the way for UBC with 63 yards on nine carries.
“It was a crazy game,” said Deschamps, the Uteck Bowl MVP who racked up 128 yards on 20 rushes and another 50 on three receptions. “They have a lot of great athletes and they came out hard. They came out and they competed really well.”
He credited his team’s defense for their great play in the road victory.
“They were so good tonight; they didn’t let them score points until the end of the game, which was huge for us. It gave us confidence on offense. It was a good team effort,” Deschamps said.
AUS season MVP Ashton Dickson collected 25 yards on eight carries for the X-Men in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, X-Men defensive back Dylan Bell forced a UBC fumble, with the recovery by Tshiamala, but the StFX offense came up empty after the turnover.
Late in the second quarter, O’Connor and freshman receiver Trivel Pinto combined on back-to-back pass catches to give the Thunderbirds their second major score.
On a key second-and-17, O’Connor connected with a leaping Pinto, who made the 39-yard catch to take the ball to the X-Men eight-yard line. On the next play, Pinto tight-roped the sideline in the end zone to make the touchdown catch from a scrambling O’Connor. With the van Gylswyk extra point, UBC stretched to a 16-1 edge with under three minutes remaining before halftime.
With the X-Men trying to carve into the UBC 15-point advantage, Cook went deep for wide receiver Keon Hughes, but Thunderbird defensive back Stavros Katsantonis grabbed the interception.
A late UBC drive stalled after a huge sack by StFX defensive lineman Kyle Forde. On the next play, van Gylswyk missed a 50-yard field goal attempt.
At halftime, the Thunderbirds led the X-Men 16-1.
In the second half, UBC tacked on a rouge from the opening kick-off to take a 17-1 lead.
During the first X-Men offensive possession of the third quarter, the UBC blitz forced a Cook fumble and they recovered in the StFX zone.
UBC took advantage of the cough up, with O’Connor finding Pinto at the pylon along the goal line for 16 yards and the touchdown. With a van Gylswyk conversion, the Thunderbirds extended to a 24-1 lead.
Keyed by two first-down catches by Keon Hughes, including one on third down, the X-Men drove to the Thunderbird nine-yard line. After the drive stalled, UBC blocked a Heidebrecht field goal. With the conceded rouge, StFX trailed 24-2.
With a van Gylswyk 26-yard field goal, the Thunderbirds stretched their edge to 27-2 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter.
The X-Men patched together a couple of first downs and made it into the UBC zone, but Cook had a pass deflected, which Terrell Davis intercepted for the Thunderbirds.
In the fourth quarter, van Gylswyk kicked three consecutive fields goals to give the Thunderbirds a 36-2 lead.
The X-Men wrapped up the scoring in the game on a touchdown catch by fifth-year senior Donald Tabor.
“It was a tough game. UBC came out strong and came out well,” Cook said, noting the X-Men also had to contend with a “couple bad bounces” that didn’t go their way. “Now, we know where we need to get for next year. We now know what level we need to get to go to the Vanier next year.”
Cook, the AUS all-star quarterback, was asked about the ‘heart’ his team showed during their playoff run, which included the X-Men’s first conference title since 1996.
“We had a never-say-die attitude. It doesn’t matter what the score is, how much time is left on the clock – we try to finish [hard] for our fans and the guys on the team; put a good product out for this community.”
Head coach Gary Waterman said the X-Men – as they have done all season – played with “tremendous effort.”
“Just too many mistakes our there, in terms of turnovers. It is hard to win a football game turning the ball over that many times,” the AUS coach of the year added, noting it was “disappointing we did that.”
“But, the effort was there and we competed hard,” Waterman reiterated.
He talked about the X-Men team motto this season – ‘keep digging.’
“I thought that was really appropriate for how they approached the whole season. They just kept finding a way to keep coming back in many adverse situations. They played hard and never gave up in games; they had a never-say-die attitude.”
For the X-Men, Cook completed 24-of-37 for 250 yards, with three interceptions, matching his total in the regular season. Dickson ran for 52 yards on 18 carries, while Randy Roseway was the leading receiver for StFX with five catches for 61 yards.
O’Connor had 21 completions for 272 yards for UBC. Davis, with six catches, and Pinto (four), collected 66 and 73 yards, respectively, through the air.
Defensively, Mike Miller led the X-Men with nine tackles. For UBC, Loffler and Davis has six tackles apiece.
“Our biggest concern is going to be getting to know Montreal – getting to know their defence, getting to know their offence; what their good at and stuff like that, and understanding how their players play,” Deschamps said, when asked about the Vanier Cup match-up.
NOTES: UBC travelled to Quebec City back on Aug. 29 and stunned Laval 41-16 in preseason action… Blake Nill becomes the first head coach to lead three programs to Vanier Cup appearances (Saint Mary’s, Calgary, UBC)… Nill holds a 2-5 Vanier Cup record as a head coach. With his eighth appearance as a bench boss, he will tie Laval’s Glen Constantin (7-1) for second place all time, trailing only Saskatchewan’s Brian Towriss (3-6)… UBC’s five previous trips to the Vanier Cup resulted in three wins (1982, 1986, 1997) and two losses (1978, 1987)… The Thunderbirds are now 6-1 all-time in CIS Bowl games, adding to a 34-29 win over Mount Allison in the 1997 Atlantic Bowl (at Halifax), a 33-31 win over Laurier in the 1987 Western Bowl (at Vancouver), a 32-30 win over Bishop’s in the 1986 Central Bowl (at Lennoxville, Que.), a 54-1 win over StFX in the 1982 Atlantic Bowl (at Halifax), a 25-16 win over Laurier in the 1978 Western Bowl (at Vancouver) and a 30-8 loss to Western in the 1976 Forest City Bowl (at London, Ont.)… StFX falls to 1-4 in national semifinals… Today’s Uteck Bowl marked the first-ever national semifinal played on the St. Francis Xavier University campus… The 1982 Atlantic Bowl – won 54-1 by UBC – was the only previous meeting between the Thunderbirds and X-Men.
UBC 9-7-11-9: 36
StFX 1-0-1-7: 9
StFX – Jonathan Heidebrecht single, 0:05 (1-0 StFX)
UBC – Team safety, 5:17 (2-1 UBC)
UBC – Brandon Deschamps 1 run (Quinn van Gyslwyk convert), 11:41 (9-1 UBC)
UBC – Trivel Pinto 8 pass from Michael O’Connor (Quinn van Gyslwyk convert), 12:21 (16-1 UBC)
UBC – Quinn van Gylswyk single, 0:00 (17-1 UBC)
UBC – Trivel Pinto 16 pass from Michael O’Connor (Quinn van Gyslwyk convert), 2:58 (24-1 UBC)
StFX – Jonathan Heidebrecht single, 8:32 (24-2 UBC)
UBC – Quinn van Gylswyk 26 field goal, 11:13 (27-2 UBC)
UBC – Quinn van Gylswyk 20 field goal, 2:39 (30-2 UBC)
UBC – Quinn van Gylswyk 14 field goal, 5:05 (33-2 UBC)
UBC – Quinn van Gylswyk 25 field goal, 12:35 (36-2 UBC)
StFX – Donald Tabor 22 pass from Tivon Cook (Jonathan Heidebrecht convert), 13:57 (36-9 UBC)
ARCELORMITTAL DOFASCO MITCHELL BOWL: Carabins use big first half to earn return trip to Vanier Cup
Photo credit Kyle Rodriguez
GUELPH, Ont. (Courtesy of Guelph Athletics) – The University of Montreal Carabins are heading back to the Vanier Cup. The defending national champions will have an opportunity to capture a second consecutive CIS title – and the second in program history – after dominating the hometown University of Guelph Gryphons 25-10 in front of a crowd of 3,732 at Alumni Stadium in the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl on a frigid Saturday afternoon.
Montreal awaits the winner of the Uteck Bowl between the UBC Thunderbirds and the St. Francis Xavier X-Men later today in Antigonish, N.S. The ArcelorMittal Vanier Cup presented by Promutuel Assurance is set for next Saturday at 1 p.m. in Quebec City, live on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.
The experienced Carabins looked poised throughout the day and were difficult to stop despite the hostile environment provided by the pro-Guelph crowd. But the enthusiasm of the hosts and their supporters waned as Montreal registered 23 unanswered points before halftime, which proved to be enough offensive output to help the Carabins advance to another Vanier Cup.
“It never gets old,” said Montreal head coach Danny Maciocia. “This is special and to be associated with a program that basically shares the same vales as I do, is definitely something unique and special.”
Montreal quarterback Gabriel Cousineau completed 18 of 27 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown. Running back Sean Thomas Erlington was unstoppable as he rushed for 170 yards with one touchdown on 23 carries, while Guillaume Paquet led the Carabins in receiving with seven catches for 80 yards.
“It proves that we have a strong program year after year, that we work hard and that most of the time, people think we’re not that good, we show up at games,” said Thomas Erlington, who has a mind-boggling 581 rushing yards in three playoff games after amassing 517 in eight regular season contests. “I give all the credit to our offensive line. They made great pushes throughout the game.”
Guelph manufactured some good second-half drives but two fourth-quarter interceptions by Zacary Alexis and Junior Luke, the game MVP, finished the Gryphons off as they desperately tried to get back into the game. Guelph’s 10 points came from Gabriel Ferraro 30 and 32-yard field goals in the third quarter and two conceded safeties in the fourth.
“We didn’t change anything in our preparation this week, and it’ll be the same next week,” said Luke, who finished with one interception, three tackles, two tackles for a loss and one sack, a week after blocking a field goal attempt on the final play of the game to propel Montreal to a dramatic Dunsmore Cup win over Laval. “It was a total team effort. We’re a very tight unit.”
While Guelph had difficulty moving the ball, Montreal was efficient on offence, scoring on five first-half drives to enter the break with a commanding 23-0 lead. The Carabins finished the game with 25 first downs and 401 yards of offence, compared to 10 and 265 for the Gryphons.
“We kind of had a breakdown there in the second quarter,” said OUA standup defensive player of the year John Rush, who once again led his side on defence with a game-high 10 tackles. “We weren’t communicating as well as we should have been. Clearly, they did an outstanding job of game planning for us. They knew our tendencies and we thought we knew their tendencies but they came out in the second quarter and adjusted some things. It took us too much time to adjust back to what they were doing.
“It’s devastating personally,” added the fifth-year linebacker. “It’s my last game ever on this field.”
Both teams exchanged possessions throughout most of the first quarter, though Montreal’s offence was more successful moving the ball. After a few punts, the Carabins began to finish their drives.
The visitors opened the scoring with 1:54 remaining in the first stanza when David Deschamps connected on a 27-yard field goal. He would add a 35-yarder at 3:07 of the second quarter for a 6-0 lead.
Then came the touchdowns. After Paquet hauled in a diving catch for a big gain to get Montreal into the red zone, Thomas Erlington punched one in from two yards out at 7:16, before Phillip Enchill caught a nine-yard Cousineau pass for a touchdown with 57 seconds left in the half. Montreal got the ball back before the whistle and Deschamps was good from 18 yards out with just three seconds left on the clock, giving the defending national champions a comfortable 23-0 cushion after 30 minutes.
Guelph’s potentially explosive offence never really got going. Quarterback James Roberts completed 23 of 34 passes for 228 yards, with no touchdowns and three picks, while the strong ground attack was held to 65 total yards, 44 of them coming on nine Johnny Augustine rushes. Jacob Scarfone and A’Dre Fraser each had eight catches for 95 and 90 yards respectively, most of that yardage coming in the second half.
The Gryphons showed some life to start the third quarter thanks to a couple big returns by Ryan Nieuwesteeg. Guelph finally got on the board at 5:52 with a 30-yard Ferraro field goal. He would add another, along with a couple of conceded safeties, and the Gryphons were within two scores. But the massive deficit forced Guelph to push in the fourth and Montreal came up with the two key interceptions.
“The defence was always our strength but to have them on the field for so long was tough but they had some big bodies to push and move around,” said Guelph head coach Stu Lang, whose program was making its first Bowl appearance since 1996. “We’re a team that once we get on a roll, we tend to do well. It would’ve been nice to score a couple touchdowns and get the momentum.
“The guys may have been a little nervous. We were in uncharted territory being in the Mitchell Bowl but this is all part of the maturity of a football program.”
NOTES: The Carabins beat McMaster 20-19 in the 2014 Vanier Cup at Montreal’s Percival Molson Memorial Stadium… Montreal is now 2-0 all-time in CIS Bowl games, adding to its 29-26 home win over Manitoba in last year’s Uteck Bowl… Guelph falls to 1-3 in national semifinals… Today’s ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl marked only the second national semifinal played on the University of Guelph campus, after the 1984 Central Bowl which saw the Gryphons defeat Calgary 12-7… Montreal and Guelph were meeting in official competition for the first time since the 1960s, when the original incarnation of the Carabins and the Gryphons competed in the same conference. In their two previous official head-to-head contests, Guelph prevailed 35-20 at Montreal in 1966 and the Carabins returned the favour in 1967, winning 13-8 on the road… The two programs renewed their rivalry in 2014 in preseason action, with the Carabins winning 38-10 on home turf.
MTL 3-20-2-0: 25
GUE 0-0-6-4: 10
MTL – David Deschamps 27 field goal, 13:06 (3-0 MTL)
MTL – David Deschamps 35 field goal, 3:07 (6-0 MTL)
MTL – Sean Thomas Erlington 2 run (David Deschamps convert), 7:16 (13-0 MTL)
MTL – Philip Enchill 9 pass from Gabriel Cousineau (David Deschamps convert), 14:03 (20-0 MTL)
MTL – David Deschamps 17 field goal, 14:57 (23-0 MTL)
GUE – Gabriel Ferraro 30 field goal, 5:52 (23-3 MTL)
MTL – Team safety, 10:32 (25-3 MTL)
GUE – Gabriel Ferraro 32 field goal, 13:56 (25-6 MTL)
GUE – Team safety, 7:57 (25-8 MTL)
GUE – Team safety, 9:56 (25-10 MTL)
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