Laval downs Calgary, will defend Vanier Cup title

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Michel Belanger

CALGARY (CIS) – The defending Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or will have a chance to reclaim their national title next week in Vancouver following a 41-10 defeat of the second-ranked University of Calgary Dinos Friday night in the Mitchell Bowl at McMahon Stadium.

The Rouge et Or will face the Uteck Bowl champion McMaster Marauders in the Vanier Cup final Friday, Nov. 18 at BC Place Stadium. Kickoff is 6 p.m. PT (9 p.m. ET), live on TSN and RDS. Laval will be seeking its seventh championship in 13 seasons, while the Marauders are making their first Vanier Cup appearance since 1967.

Turning four University of Calgary special teams turnovers into 24 points, the Rouge et Or rebounded from a lackluster first quarter to dominate the Dinos in the final 45 minutes in a rematch of the 2010 Vanier Cup, a 29-2 Laval win.

Sébastien Lévesque ran for 144 yards and an all-important touchdown late in the second quarter en route to Mitchell Bowl MVP honours. The MVP nod is Levesque’s third in as many major title games, as he was named the MVP in both last week’s 30-7 Dunsmore Cup victory over l’Université de Montreal and last year’s Vanier Cup victory over the Dinos.

Lévesque knew that his Rouge et Or were in for something extraordinary on Friday.

“There has been a special feeling all week around our team; we started rolling a few weeks ago but this could have been our best performance yet,” said the fifth-year tailback. “The Dinos started strong, but we showed what we were made of by overcoming and taking the game over from there.”

With the 41-10 victory, Lévesque and Laval moves on to face the McMaster Marauders, who beat Acadia 45-21, in next weekend’s Vanier Cup in Vancouver. It is McMaster’s first Vanier Cup appearance since 1967, while Laval will be looking for its seventh CIS championship in 13 seasons.

Canada West teams held a combined 17-2 all-time record in Bowl games at home heading into Friday’s tilt, while the Dinos were 16-2 in home playoff games including a perfect 3-0 record in semi-final games. Along with a three-game losing streak in bowl games on the road for Laval, Calgary had good reason to believe their fortunes would change this year against the Rouge et Or. Calgary fell to Laval twice in the past three years at the Telus-Université Laval Stadium in Québec City by scores of 59-10 in the 2009 Uteck Bowl and 29-2 in last year’s Vanier Cup.

It was not to be, however, as the Laval defence made Calgary’s three-headed rushing monster look downright docile on Friday, holding Matt Walter, Anthony Woodson and Steven Lumbala to a combined 44 yards on the ground. Eric Dzwilewski did run for 77 yards individually, but the 121 total yards were still a far cry from the 234.2 rushing average the Dinos achieved up until the Mitchell Bowl. Laval allowed only 53.7 rushing yards per game in 2011, and for the fourth straight year they’ve led country in points allowed.

Laval Head Coach Glen Constantin was thrilled with his team’s effort.

“We were nervous at the start, and it showed,” said Constantin. “(QB) Bruno (Prud’homme) had a hard time managing the offence, but we calmed down and we played great football from the second quarter on. We showed a lot of character in overcoming the bad start, and overall it was one of our best games of the season.”

The game took an early fortuitous turn for the Dinos when an uncharacteristic mistake from Prud’homme turned into six quick points for Calgary. Taking it 30 yards to the house, Tye Noble converted only the second touchdown against Laval for the Dinos in the past three games and solidified the early 7-0 lead.

Sparked with momentum, the Dinos defence was rock-solid in the early going, holding the explosive Rouge et Or to nary a first down in the first 15 minutes. Laval had only 47 yards in the opening quarter.

Despite the stellar early play from their defence, Calgary fell apart after the first quarter, giving up an astounding four turnovers on special teams, something that Head Coach Blake Nill had no answer for.

“We just made some really uncharacteristic mistakes for this team,” said Nill, who is now 2-2 in bowl games with the Dinos.

“I can attribute 24 points directly to mishandled balls on special teams. If you take that away, I thought our defence played really well overall. And with that big turn in points, it seemed to press our offence and keep us out of rhythm.”

The Dinos fumbled twice on a punt and a kickoff which led directly to 10 Rouge et Or points in the first half. Prud’homme converted seven of those, finding Guillaume Rioux on the edge of the end zone for a nine yard marker just one minute and 47 seconds after hitting Julien Feoli-Gudino for a 12 yard score.

Both the turnovers and the improved play from Sébastien Lévesque and the Laval offensive line put the Laval offence back in gear in the second quarter. Lévesque made it 27-10 late in the half with a plunge up the middle for a 35 yard untouched scamper to pay-dirt. Lévesque finished the half with 130 yards on 15 carries.

Laval salted the game away on the opening kickoff of the second half. Calgary returner Chris Dobko collected the ball 11 yards deep in his end zone, crossed the goal line, then turned back into the end zone. He coughed up the ball, and Jéremie Chrétien bounced on the loose rock for a touchdown just nine seconds into the third quarter to make it 34-10.

Christian Lavaud scored the final points of the game on another fumble return late in the fourth quarter.

Dzwilewski finished with a dismal 98 yards passing with only nine completions on 24 attempts. Prud’homme, meanwhile, finished the game going 15-24 for 165 yards. His favorite receiver was Patrick Lavoie, who brought in three catches for 52 yards.

Frédéric Plesius led the Laval defensive charge with 6.5 tackles and one of their forced fumbles, while Noble responded for Calgary with a spectacular effort of nine tackles and the lone Calgary touchdown.

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