Usual suspects ready to battle for Vanier Cup berth

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November 15, 2012, OTTAWA (CIS) – The CIS football semi-final weekend officially kicked off on Thursday afternoon with the traditional Meet the Teams media conferences in Quebec City and Hamilton.

The four head coaches – all of them named coach of the year in their respective leagues this season – and a number of star players were on hand to talk about Saturday’s Uteck and Mitchell Bowls, live on TSN and RDS at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST, respectively.

The winners of the CIS semis earn a ticket for the 48th Vanier Cup final on Friday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at Rogers Centre in Toronto, also on TSN and RDS.

UTECK BOWL: Acadia (8-1) at Laval (10-1), TELUS-UL Stadium, Quebec City

In the Uteck Bowl, reigning two-time AUS champion Acadia (8-1) returns to Quebec City for the second time this season. The Axemen lost 31-7 to Laval (10-1) in interlock action on Sept. 15, dropping their all-time record against the Rouge et Or to 0-6 since their first head-to-head meeting in 2002.

One of those defeats was a 57-10 decision at TELUS-UL Stadium in the 2006 Uteck Bowl, the only previous duel between the two programs in the national semi-finals.

“When we played here in September, it was our second game of the season and I think the third for Laval. We now know what we have as a team. We have a lot more experience now and we have played a full season so we know what to expect from ourselves,” said Acadia head coach Jeff Cummins, whose troops played in front of 15,797 raucous Laval fans two months ago. “When we played here last time, we were trying to figure out who we were, as evident by our running back. We didn’t know he (Thomas Troop) was going to be that good. We have played out the season and now we have a guy who we can give the ball to 20-25 times.”

After AUS all-star Zack Skibin suffered a season-ending injury in training camp, freshman Thomas Troop took over as the Axemen’s number one back midway through the schedule and impressed so much in only four starts he was voted rookie of the year in the Atlantic. The 18-year-old was also named MVP of last Saturday’s Loney Bowl conference final following a 181-yard tally in a 17-9 win over Saint Mary’s.

“When we played the Rouge et Or in 2006 we were very young, and we played like a young team,” added Cummins. “This time around we’re led by a fifth-year quarterback, and a very good one.”

“We want to come out and play our game and play the best we can. The experience we had in front of their crowd the last time we played Laval will help us out this time,” said senior pivot Kyle Graves, who is the AUS nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy for the second straight year. “There is no doubt that playing in front of 2,500 fans at home doesn’t compare to 15,000 here, but I think the experience we had in September will help, along with having some fourth and fifth-year players on our team. There is no doubt that this will be a good game. Laval has a great program and we hope to just play our best on Saturday. We’ll need to play our best to beat them.”

The Rouge et Or, who got off to a slow start this fall, seem to be peaking at the right time and claimed their CIS-record 10th consecutive conference title thanks to a 40-17 victory against Sherbrooke in the RSEQ’s Dunsmore Cup final.

Laval also extended its all-time CIS mark with a 57th straight win on home turf, dating back to 2004.

“We’re happy with the way we’re playing right now. But we know it’s going be a great game on Saturday. Acadia is a very good team, a solid program, and they are very well coached,” said Laval bench boss Glen Constantin.

“One big difference this week is the game is not as emotional as some of our provincial battles in Quebec, when all the players know one another, they all come from the same province, they’ve all played with or against each other. I think it allows our players to focus on the game a little more this week.”

Defensive end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon talked about the role of Laval’s veteran players leading up to the Uteck Bowl.

“Our veterans have done a great job this week at showing the way for the younger guys, keeping everyone focused on Acadia. Sometimes when you get to this point, it’s easy to start thinking about the big game (Vanier Cup). But there’s no chance of that happening with this group,” said the two-time CIS most outstanding down lineman. “We’re thrilled to be in the national semi-finals once again and to have this chance to return to the Vanier Cup. That’s what you play for all season long.”

MITCHELL BOWL: Calgary (9-1) at McMaster (10-0), Ron Joyce Stadium, Hamilton

In the Mitchell Bowl, the visiting Dinos (9-1) and top-ranked Marauders (10-0) will meet for the first time in history on Saturday.

Both squads repeated as conference champions in record-setting fashion last weekend. Calgary became the first team to claim five consecutive Canada West banners thanks to 38-14 Hardy Cup win over Regina, while McMaster’s 30-13 defeat of Guelph in the Yates Cup championship game marked the 20th win in a row overall for the reigning Vanier Cup champion Marauders dating back to last year, a new CIS standard.

Fireworks are expected at Ron Joyce Stadium as the contest will feature the top two offences in the country. The Dinos ranked first in points (47.5), total yards (592.1) and passing yards (374.6) per outing during the regular season, while the Marauders finished second in all three categories averaging 45.6 points, 582.5 yards and 370.0 passing yards.

“When you get two programs like this, it is a showcase of CIS football to the fullest,” said Calgary head coach Blake Nill, who has the luxury of an offensive line that includes three CFL draft picks in Kirby Fabien, Carson Rockhill and Reed Alexander. “I’ve told my team we will have to play our best game on Saturday. We’re looking forward to it and we will be ready to play.”

“We’re used to playing in the cold, so weather won’t be an issue,” said third-year quarterback and Hec Crighton Trophy nominee Eric Dzwilewski, who led the nation this fall with a Canada West record completion percentage of 70.6. “I’m pretty excited to be in this game and we’ll be ready.”

Added linebacker Mike Edem, the Canada West defensive player of the year: “Coach has had us watching a lot of film. We’ve been watching most of the McMaster games to see if we can pick up tendencies. Coach will have us prepared.”

The Marauders, who claimed their first Vanier Cup a year ago thanks to a memorable 41-38 overtime win against Laval in Vancouver, were represented at the media conference by head coach Stefan Ptaszek, quarterback Kyle Quinlan and linebacker Aram Eisho.

“I told my kids that once we got through Yates Cup, we are going to the Show,” said Ptaszek, who hopes to lead McMaster to its first-ever Bowl win at home following losses in 2000, 2002 and 2003. “These young men have had a productive year, and getting out of Ontario is no small feat. Calgary is one of the strongest rosters I’ve seen in my years involved in CIS football, but we’re excited for the opportunity and we’ll be ready.”

“We had so many of our fans travel last year and they flew all over the country to support us. To play this game in our backyard, we’re pretty excited for our fans,” said Quinlan, a fifth-year pivot who is also in the running for the Hec Crighton Trophy and had a playoff run for the ages in 2011 when he was named MVP of the Yates Cup, Uteck Bowl and Vanier Cup.

Eisho, the OUA defensive MVP, offered his take on trying to slow down the powerful Calgary offence.

“No doubt about it, they play well on offence. They run the ball well, they throw the ball well, but to be the best you have to beat the best. Coach Knox (McMaster defensive coordinator) is an evil genius and we’ll be ready on Saturday.”

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