U SPORTS PLAYOFF PREVIEW : CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
By Mike Still
The field has been trimmed to eight as we get one step closer to determining the 2019 Vanier Cup champion. There are a number of familiar faces still in the mix, including two conference championships that are a rematch from a year ago. Here is what to expect during this weekends conference championships.
Dunsmore Cup : No. 5 Montreal Carabins (7-2) @ No. 2 Laval Rouge et Or (8-1), Saturday 2pm EST
For the seventh year in a row, and 11th time in the history of the Dunsmore Cup, perennial powerhouses Laval and Montreal will duke it out. The Rouge et Or have won eight of the past ten tilts in the conference title game between the two, including their previous 3 Dunsmore Cup tilts.
The two teams split their season series this year, with Montreal claiming a 23-18 victory in mid-September and Laval getting redemption with a 16-3 win a few weeks ago.
There is no doubt that defence will be a major storyline of this contest. The two schools have been well known historically for being able to cause turnovers and force pressure and this season was no different.
In Montreal’s early season victory, the difference was a 60-yard pick six from 5’11”, 200-pound fifth-year defensive back Jean-Sébastien Bélisle, while the rematch saw Laval record five turnovers. Three of those came on interceptions, one of which was from last year’s Vanier Cup defensive player of the game Adam Auclair.
While defence is the name of the game for both sides, it’s the play of a few different receivers that could make the difference.
For the Rouge et Or, look for RSEQ all-star Antoine Dansereau-Leclerc to step up. He had a touchdown in the first matchup and recorded four receptions for 101 yards in the second. On the Montreal side, fellow RSEQ all-star Kevin Kaya should be primed for a big game. He’s a matchup nightmare at 6’4” and had five receptions for 70 yards in the second contest of the regular season.
Marshall Ferguson (TSN 1150) : Laval Rouge et Or
Donnovan Bennett (Sportsnet) : Laval Rouge et Or
Mitch Robson (3 Down Nation) : Laval Rouge et Or
Hardy Cup : No. 6 Saskatchewan Huskies (6-3) @ No. 7 Calgary Dinos (7-2), Saturday 1pm MST
This game should be an instant classic, as the Huskies and Dinos battle in a rematch of the 2018 Hardy Cup, won 43-18 by Saskatchewan.
The two teams met just once in the regular season, with the Huskies emerging victorious 29-15.
A major storyline in that game – as well as last year’s conference championship – was the pressure put on defending Hec Crighton winner Adam Sinagra (2,014 yards, 13 touchdowns) from the Saskatchewan defence. The Huskies were able to intercept the fifth-year pivot a combined six times during those two contests and are also coming off a semi-final win over Alberta where they secured three picks.
Look for defensive tackle Evan Machibroda, a 2019 CFL draft pick, and defensive end Nicholas Dheilly – both of whom had five sacks in the regular season – to set the tempo up front. The secondary is led by Canada West all-star Nelson Lokombo at halfback, who tied for the conference lead in interceptions, with four.
Getting to Sinagra will be no easy feat though with a solid Dinos offensive line that features two conference all-star nods in guard Peter Nicastro and tackle Logan Bandy. Last week, the veteran pivot also showed what he could do when running the ball, taking off for 71 yards and a touchdown in a last-second 47-46 thriller against Manitoba.
Sinagra has no shortage of weapons to throw to either, including Canada West all-star Jalen Philpot (second in the conference with 767 receiving yards), who had a critical kick return major during the Dinos’ win over Manitoba, along with CFL draft pick Hunter Karl and former rookie of the year Tyson Philpot, who along with Karl recently came back from injury.
For Saskatchewan, first-year starter Mason Nyhus is coming off of one of the best games of his university career thus far, as he threw for 329 yards and a major against the Golden Bears. His favourite target was a man who has come on hot down the stretch, Sam Baker. Nicknamed ‘the touchdown maker,’ he’s recorded five touchdowns in his last four games, along with 342 receiving yards.
Never to be forgotten in the backfield is Hec Crighton favourite Adam Machart. He led the nation in rushing yards with 1,330 and kept on trucking against Alberta, with 164 yards and a score.
The Dinos counter with a defence that includes conference all-stars Deane Leonard (tied for conference lead with four interceptions), J-Min Pelly (2.5 sacks) and Grant McDonald (35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception).
Marshall Ferguson (TSN 1150) : Calgary Dinos
Donnovan Bennett (Sportsnet) : Saskatchewan Huskies
Mitch Robson (3 Down Nation) : Calgary Dinos
Yates Cup : No. 3 McMaster Marauders (7-2) @ No. 1 Western Mustangs (9-0), Saturday 1pm EST
It’ll be a battle of two of the nation’s best quarterbacks when Western and McMaster duel it out for the Yates Cup.
Fifth-year Chris Merchant from Western (former Vanier Cup champ and MVP, threw for a career-high 2,378 yards) has the big game experience, including back-to-back conference titles, and will be looking for the three-peat against a McMaster team that the Mustangs beat 34-17 in the third game of the season.
Opposing him is breakout star Andreas Dueck, a third-year product out of Winnipeg who enjoyed a career season under a returning Stefan Ptaszek at head coach. Dueck led the nation in completions, at 200 and was also second in passing yards per game, at 304.
In the lone contest between the two gunslingers this year, it was Dueck who had the advantage statistically, going 30-of-42 for 384 yards and two scores, while Merchant was 21-of-27 for 219 yards and an interception. Merchant also ran for 103 yards.
Both teams utilize a number of weapons in the receiving corps, with Brett Ellerman (621 yards receiving, five majors) and Cole Majaros (400 yards receiving) for Western, as well as Tommy Nield (498 yards, three scores) and Xander Tachinski (411 yards, three scores) for McMaster being just a few of the names who will see a significant amount of targets.
McMaster is one of the more difficult matchups defensively for Western, due in part to the fact that they led the OUA in interceptions, with 14. Lucas Bill added two more against Guelph last week, while hard-hitting Noah Hallett had four during the regular season to lead the team. Mitch Garland also had two interceptions and was the one who intercepted Merchant during the regular season tilt between both sides.
The Mustangs defence is also loaded with playmakers, including veteran Bleska Kambamba, who had two interceptions during the regular season and first-year sensation Kojo Odoom, who had two picks against Waterloo in the semi-finals.
Marshall Ferguson (TSN 1150) : –
Donnovan Bennett (Sportsnet) : Western Mustangs
Mitch Robson (3 Down Nation) : McMaster Marauders
Loney Bowl: Bishop’s Gaiters (4-4) @ No. 4 Acadia Axemen (8-0), Saturday 2pm AST
The Axemen returned a significant amount of their roster from last season and it showed, as they went undefeated in regular season play, including two victories (53-13, 24-12) over the Gaiters.
Acadia’s offence paced them all year, led by fourth-year pivot Hunter Guenard, who finished fifth in the nation in passing yards with 2,287, while also finishing second in touchdown passes, with 16. He had plenty of weapons to distribute the ball to as well, including 2017 AUS MVP Dale Wright at running back (fourth in the nation in rushing yards with 813), plus Glodin Mulali (721 yards, second in AUS), Cordell Hastings (654 yards, third in AUS) and many others at receiver.
Guenard threw for a combined 472 yards in Acadia’s two regular season wins over Bishop’s and will need to be contained by a Gaiters defence that recorded six sacks last week in the AUS semis against Mount Allison, two of which came from Liam Patton. Defensive backs such as Nicolas Cartagenise (tied for second in AUS interceptions with four) and Aarron Franklin (20 tackles, two interceptions) could also be game-changers for the visitors.
Freshman pivot Charles Aubry out of Laval also continued his progression last week for Bishop’s. He was second in the conference with 1,563 yards and added 213 more and two scores against the Mounties. He’ll need to play smart against an Axemen defence that’s sacked him six times and recorded two interceptions in two games. Playmakers on that side of the ball for Acadia include linebackers Bailey Feltmate (second in AUS with 58.5 tackles) and Franck Kemayou (tied for second in AUS with four interceptions).
Marshall Ferguson (TSN 1150) : Acadia Axemen
Donnovan Bennett (Sportsnet) : Acadia Axemen
Mitch Robson (3 Down Nation) : Bishops Gaiters
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