U SPORTS National Semi-Final Preview
By Mike Still
There will be a new king atop the U SPORTS football mountain in 2019, as the defending national champions, No. 2 ranked Laval were knocked off by No. 5 ranked Montreal in the Dunsmore Cup. The Carabins will go toe to toe with No. 4 Acadia, who are undefeated and in the final four for the second time in three years
On the other side of the bracket sits No.3 McMaster, who pulled the upset of the season when they knocked off previously unbeaten Western 29-15. The Mustangs were the nation’s number one team and had been to the past two Vanier Cups, winning one. The Marauders will battle No. 7 ranked Calgary, who are back in the national semi-finals for the third time in the past four years.
Mitchell Bowl: No. 3 McMaster Marauders (8-2) @ No. 7 Calgary Dinos (8-2)
There are two main storylines to follow at the quarterback position in this contest.
The first pertains to the health of fifth-year Adam Sinagra for Calgary (2018 Hec Crighton winner, 2,014 yards, 13 touchdowns in 2019).
He went down in the Dinos’ 29-4 victory over Saskatchewan. One would assume he’ll do everything he can to play, and if so will go throw-for-throw with third-year Andreas Dueck for Mac (led the nation in completions, at 200 and was also second in passing yards per game, at 304), who picked up game MVP honours following the biggest victory of his university career against Western in the Yates Cup.
The second storyline involves 6’3”, 215-pound Dinos backup quarterback Josiah Joseph, a fourth-year product from BC who previously shone for the Okanagan Sun.
Widely regarded as one of the best backups in the nation, he would have no issues stepping into the spotlight. Joseph started one game this year for an injured Sinagra and was spectacular, going 24-for-30 for 334 yards and three scores in a critical 34-16 win late in the season against Alberta. He also went 9-of-10 for 95 yards in the Hardy Cup and added 26 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Both teams also have a plethora of weapons to throw to at receiver, making the matchup in the secondary that much more intriguing.
Dueck distributed the ball well for the Marauders, and had four players record at least 25 receptions in the regular season in Tommy Nield (38 catches, 498 yards, three scores), Tyson Middlemost (25 receptions, 442 yards, four majors), Xander Tachinski (34 receptions, 411 yards, three scores) and Michael Bazzo (32 grabs, 314 yards).
Those four combined for 161 yards in Mac’s win over Western, however they’ll be up against a stiff test in the Dinos, who tied for the most interceptions in the CanWest conference in the regular season, with 11.
Four of those came from conference all-star and 2018 First Team All-Canadian Deane Leonard, who leads a Dinos secondary that allowed just 230 yards per game through the air. Conference all-star linebacker Grant McDonald (11 tackles and a sack in the Hardy Cup) and high school teammate Charlie Moore (fellow linebacker, four tackles and an interception in the Hardy Cup) are also likely to have full stat lines.
On the other side is a Calgary receiving core that is fully healthy and dangerous, led by the triple threat of the Philpot brothers and Hunter Karl. Jalen was a conference all-star after finishing second in CanWest in receiving yards and had 91 in the Hardy, while Tyson – last season’s Rookie of the Year – and Karl, a 2019 CFL draft pick combined for 143 yards and a score.
Their biggest challenge of the year will be this weekend, as the Marauders led the OUA in interceptions in the regular season, with 14. They also added more two in the Yates Cup.
Conference first-team all-star Noah Hallett at halfback and second-team corner Nolan Putt anchor a physical unit in the secondary, while second-team all-star Eric Blake (5.5 tackles, one sack against Western) and 2018 OUA All-Rookie Eryk Bujalski (seven tackles, one sack against Western) are pivotal to the team’s success at linebacker.
The x-factor in this contest could be the success of either team on the ground. Robinson Rodrigues, who was the Dinos’ lead back most of the year after an injury to Jeshrun Antwi, has gone off for 193 yards in two post-season games after recording 271 yards in the regular season. McMaster offers a 1-2 combo of Justice Allin and Jordan Lyons, who combined for 667 yards in the regular season and have added 222 in two playoff contests.
No. 5 Montreal Carabins (8-2) @ No. 4 Acadia Axemen (9-0)
This is a battle of contrasting styles, as AUS MVP Hunter Guenard’s high-powered Acadia offence takes on a Montreal defence that includes four conference all-stars.
Conference pride is also on the line as the Axemen seek to become the first AUS team to reach the Vanier Cup since St. Mary’s did so in 2007.
Montreal are looking to return to the Vanier Cup for the first time since making back-to-back appearances in 2014 and 2015. They won the rubber match over Laval 25-10 in the RSEQ championship, which featured another stellar performance from their defence.
Among the standouts in the contest were unanimous conference all-star Marc-Antoine Dequoy, the Dunsmore Cup MVP who recorded an 85-yard pick six to seal the deal for the Carabins, as well as fellow conference all-star Brian Harelimana, who had five tackles. Defensive back Jean-Sébastien Bélisle – who had a pick six against Laval in the regular season and a team-leading seven tackles in the Dunsmore – is another playemaker in the secondary who will look to contain Guenard and his many offensive threats.
Included in Acadia’s offensive arsenal are conference all-star receivers Glodin Mulali and Cordell Hastings – who are both capable of making a big play at any time – as well as fellow all-star and Loney Bowl MVP Dale Wright. Wright had 118 yards rushing and all three of the Axemen’s touchdowns in their 31-1 victory over Bishop’s to claim the conference banner.
Acadia’s defence is no slouch either, featuring AUS Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year/Student Athlete Community Service Award winner Bailey Feltmate at linebacker and fellow conference all-stars Angelo Gentile (defensive tackle) and Riley Gabriel (linebacker).
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup to watch will be a hard-hitting Acadia secondary against receivers such as 6’4” RSEQ all-star Kevin Kaya as well as the shifty Carl Chabot, who had 96 yards on six grabs against Laval in the Dunsmore.
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