10 reasons to watch CIS football this week

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Only six games are on the CIS football schedule this week as the RSEQ and Canada West conferences – along with three OUA teams – head into their traditional Thanksgiving break, but there are still plenty of reasons to follow the action in OUA and AUS. Here are a few things to keep an eye on.

CIS Football Has Momentum

A total of 84,452 fans walked through the turnstiles at 13 stadiums across the country last weekend, making it the best-attended weekend in CIS football history. The record figure included a spectacular 23,329 raucous supporters at TD Place Stadium in the nation’s capital for the annual Panda Game between Carleton and Ottawa, which was the largest regular-season attendance for a CIS football game in over two decades. Other highlights included: 16,500 for the first football game at the new Mosaic Stadium, between visiting Saskatchewan and Regina, a new Canada West standard; 11,693 at TELUS-UL Stadium in Quebec City for McGill-Laval; as well as capacity crowds at Stade de l’Université de Sherbrooke (7,446) and StFX’s Oland Stadium in Antigonish, N.S. (5,600).
CIS Record Update
A number of players across the country are enjoying record-breaking seasons, most notably Regina quarterback Noah Picton (2,084 passing yards in 5 games), who is on pace to throw for a mind-boggling 3,334 yards, a total that would shatter the single-season CIS standard of 3,162 set last year by former Calgary standout Andrew Buckley.
Among the players who are set to take the field this week, keep an eye on:
Derek Wendel, quarterback, Ottawa: After throwing for 3,136 yards a year ago (second all-time behind Buckley on the CIS list), Wendel has 1,857 after five games this season and is on pace to once again finish around the 3,000 mark. For his career, the talented pivot is the national leader among active players in passing yards (7,784) and touchdown passes (60).
Nate Behar, receiver, Carleton: Behar leads the nation this season in receptions (44) and receiving yards (574), and ranks second in TD catches (7). With 165 career receptions, he ranks 16th on the CIS all-time list, just 15 shy of the Top 10. The fourth-year senior is also the CIS leader among active players in career receiving yards (2,363).
Daniel Vandervoort, receiver, McMaster: Vandervoort caught the 28th touchdown pass of his CIS career last Saturday against Guelph, tying him for third place on the all-time national list with two players, including former Marauders head coach Stef Ptaszek. The fourth-year veteran trails only former Western great Andy Fantuz (41) as well as Ivan Birungi (33), who played for Acadia and Ottawa.
Lewis Ward, kicker, Ottawa: With 59 career field goals, Ward needs one more to become the 15th player in CIS history to reach the 60 mark. The fifth-year senior, who is 14-for-15 this season on field goal attempts, is also the CIS leader among active players with 291 career points.
Kaion Grant, receiver/returner, StFX: Grant currently leads CIS with 195.3 all-purpose yards per game (781 in 4 games). The sophomore is on pace for a 1,562-yard campaign, which would trail only CIS legends Gary Ross (1,936 & 1,601) and Eric Lapointe (1,667 & 1,652) on the AUS single-season list.
Coaching Milestones

Mount Allison’s Scott Brady picked up his first win as a CIS head coach last Saturday, two weeks after Saint Mary’s James Colzie III accomplished the feat against his Mounties; Queen’s bench boss Pat Sheahan (130-84-1) captured the 130th regular-season victory of his CIS career last weekend versus Waterloo; Sheahan (148-103-1) and Laval’s Glen Constantin (148-29) are both two wins shy of the 150 mark overall (regular season & playoffs).

Playoff Race Update

With conference-leading Western (5-1) heading into its bye week, no less than four teams could join the Mustangs atop the OUA standings over the next few days, including nationally sixth-ranked Carleton (4-2), No. 7 Laurier (4-1), No. 8 McMaster (4-1) and No. 9 Ottawa (4-1). Following a well-deserved rest, Western will wrap up its regular schedule with a pair of tough matchups, at Ottawa and at home versus McMaster. All other remaining games for the Ravens, Golden Hawks, Marauders and Gee-Gees are against sub-.500 opponents.

In the AUS, reigning champion St. Francis Xavier (3-1) has built a two-game cushion over Saint Mary’s (1-3), Mount Allison (1-3) and Acadia (1-3) at the midway point of the season. In the RSEQ, first place will be on the line on Oct. 15 when the top two teams in the national rankings, Montreal (5-0) and Laval (4-1), square off in their return from the Thanksgiving break. In Canada West, UBC (3-2), Manitoba (2-3) and Saskatchewan (2-3) are battling for positioning behind division leaders Regina (4-1) and Calgary (4-1).

Laurier (4-1) at Toronto (1-5) (Thursday)

After starting the campaign with four straight wins, the seventh-ranked Golden Hawks were humbled last Saturday in London, where they suffered a 45-26 setback against OUA-leading Western. On paper, it looks like Laurier has a golden opportunity to bounce back on Thursday night as the Hawks have outscored their opponents by an average of 44.4 to 17.8 so far this season, while Toronto has been outscored by a 37.8 to 19.0 margin. While Laurier prevailed 53-17 in the last meeting between the two teams, in 2014, the Varsity Blues had won the previous three head-to-head contests in 2013 (27-20), 2012 (19-0) and 2010 (forfeit).

Windsor (2-3) at Carleton (4-2) (Friday)

With wins over Windsor and Waterloo (0-5) in their final two games of the regular season, the No. 6-ranked Ravens would not only post their best record since their return to CIS football in 2013, it would also mark their best finish since they went 6-1 to top the OQIFC conference back in 1986. Coming off a superb performance against previously undefeated Ottawa in the Panda Game (12 receptions, 138 yards, 2 touchdowns), Nate Behar, who was ranked No. 8 on the CFL Scouting Bureau’s top prospect list released a month ago, will look to exploit a Windsor defence that ranks last in CIS against the pass (397.6 yards per game) and 25th overall (577.4). Carleton is 2-1 against the Lancers since 2013, including a resounding 62-16 road win last season.

Queen’s (2-3) at McMaster (4-1) (Friday)

While the No. 8-ranked Marauders are well aware of their league finale against Western on Oct. 22, they aren’t looking past their next two opponents as they know they need wins over Queen’s on Friday and York (2-3) the following weekend to have any chance of finishing atop the OUA standings. Queen’s is arguably the best sub-.500 team in the country, having given Laurier, Guelph and Western a run for their money before finally breaking the ice over the past two weeks with wins against Toronto and Waterloo. Case in point: the Gaels are currently ranked higher than McMaster in both overall offence (416.8 yards per game vs. 393.6) and defence (349.8 vs. 382.8).

York (2-3) at Ottawa (4-1) (Friday)

Coming off their first loss of the campaign in the Panda Game, the No. 9 Gee-Gees will look to get back on track Friday against the visiting Lions. Led by star quarterback Derek Wendel (371.4 yards per game, 15 TD passes), Ottawa’s nationally second-ranked offence (545.6 yards per game) squares off against York’s last-ranked defence (610.8). Lions pivot Brett Hunchak has been brilliant in wins over Waterloo and Windsor, averaging 435.5 yards per contest with eight TD passes, but has struggled in losses to Laurier, Toronto and Carleton, averaging 194.3 yards with a single passing major.

Acadia (1-3) at StFX (3-1) (Friday)

The AUS-leading X-Men have already defeated each of their three conference opponents this season, with their lone loss coming at Concordia in interlock action. The Axemen are currently heading in the opposite direction, with three straight losses following a convincing 30-1 win over Saint Mary’s in their league opener. StFX quarterback Tivon Cook leads the AUS in most passing categories and had one of his best outings of the campaign on Sept. 17 in a 37-8 defeat of Acadia, when he completed 27 of 33 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown.

Mount Allison (1-3) at Saint Mary’s (1-3) (Friday)

The Mounties would rather forget their first meeting of the season with the Huskies on Sept. 16, when they let a 27-2 lead slip away en route to a 32-27 loss on home turf. The result marked the first win as a CIS head coach for James Colzie III, but more importantly it put an end to Saint Mary’s 18-game overall losing streak after back-to-back 0-8 campaigns. Players to watch on Friday evening in Halifax include fifth-year Mount Allison linebacker Kyle Horsman, who currently leads the AUS and ranks second in the nation with 9.5 tackles per game, as well as Saint Mary’s sophomore D’Shawn Miller, who averages 87.5 receiving yards per contest.

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