The No. 1 Laval Rouge et Or won their ninth national championship and third in the last five years Saturday, with a 31-26 victory over the No. 6 Calgary Dinos in the 52nd ArcelorMittal Dofasco Vanier Cup at Tim Hortons Field.
Laval’s quarterback Hugo Richard (Longueuil, Que.) won the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy as the game’s MVP, tossing two touchdowns and rushing for another on the ground. He completed 25 of 32 attempts, recording 339 yards in the air and another 62 yards on the ground.
“The kid is kind of guilty of having a great freshman season,” said Laval head coach Glen Constantin. “The expectations are very high on him and people are hard on him. And you know what, he’s started more games after three years than most quarterbacks do in five years. I’ve very very proud of him. He’s resilient, a better leader and the future is great.”
Richard, Vincent Alarie-Tardi (Chibougamau, Que.), Antony Auclair (Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Que.) and Mark-Antoine Pivin (Sherbrooke, Que.) all scored in Laval’s first Vanier Cup win since 2013.
For Calgary, Adam Sinagra (Pointe Claire, Que.) tossed 276 yards and one touchdown in relief of injured starter Jimmy Underdahl. Prior to his first quarter injury, Underdahl was three of four, throwing one touchdown and 123 yards.
Dinos running back Jeshrun Antwi (Calgary) rushed for 177 yards, while Anthony Anderson (Medicine Hat, Alta.) scored one touchdown on the ground in the loss for the Calgary.
Cédric Lussier-Roy of Sherbrooke, Que. won the Bruce Coulter Award as defensive MVP. Lussier-Roy forced a critical turnover in the third quarter which resulted in a Rouge et Or touchdown and shifted the game’s momentum to Laval. Lussier-Roy finished with seven total tackles, a forced fumble and one sack.
Calgary came out rolling in their 10th appearance at the Vanier Cup, securing a 14-point lead in the opening five minutes of the game by scoring on their first two possessions.
Underdahl, the fifth-year senior who started the game, connected with Michael Klukas (Calgary, Alta.,) for an 86-yard touchdown strike on Calgary’s first play from scrimmage. Following a Rouge et Or punt, Dinos receiver Anderson capped a six-play, 85-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run followed by a Niko DiFonte (Winnipeg, Man.) rouge seconds later on the ensuing kick to set the score at 14-0.
Underdahl was injured on a Rouge et Or sack by Vincent Desjardins of Quebec, which saw his understudy Sinagra relieve him for the remainder of the game.
The Rouge et Or got on the board on a quick-strike play with 5:34 remaining in the opening quarter, with Richard hitting Pivin on a 37-yard toss to bring the score to 14-7.
In the second quarter, the two teams traded field goals, with Calgary’s DiFonte knocking a 43-yard field goal and Laval’s Dominic Levesque (Saint-Georges, Que.) notching a 38-yard kick to set the score at 17-10 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Calgary added to their lead with DiFonte hitting his second of four field goals to extend the score to 20-10.
At that point, with Calgary looking poised to take control of the game, Lussier-Roy came up with the game-changing sack on Sinagra, who dropped the ball. Lussier-Roy recovered the fumble, and that turnover resulted in a Rouge et Or touchdown, with Richard finding Auclair on a five-yard pass two plays later to bring the Rouge et Or within three points at 20-17.
“I don’t know if we win the game without it – it’s that important,” said Laval first-team All-Canadian Mathieu Betts of the fifth-year veteran’s critical play. “He deserves it…It could have happened to anybody. I think we all worked really hard but it came down to Cédric. He was there to make the football play and I’m just so proud of him – his last (U Sports) football game ever.”
From there, the game see-sawed back and forth, with Laval taking their first lead of the game when Alaire-Tardif punched in a three-yard rush with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.
In the fourth, DiFonte notched back-to-back field goals, giving Calgary the slender 26-24 edge, and setting up a dramatic final few minutes.
Laval went up 31-26 with just 2:33 remaining in the game on a one-yard Richard run.
“That was a designed play,” said Richard. “It’s a play we run a lot on our goal-line offence. It’s a standar QB-power (play) and we love it. A lot of teams have trouble stopping it and it’s our go-to play – we need to score (on it).”
Calgary had two shots to get in the endzone in the remaining minutes, with one of the final drives coming when Laval turned the ball over on downs with 1:27 remaining on a third-and-inches play. Calgary would drive down the field to Laval’s 23-yard line, but failed to convert on third and 10, handing the Laval Rouge et Or their ninth Vanier Cup title.
“There was plenty of time,” said Sinagra. “A minute and 30 is a dream. It’s too much time and we should have scored.”
The game featured 10 quarterback sacks, with Calgary tallying seven and Laval three. Michah Teitz and Boston Rowe, both of Calgary, were the Dinos top defensive players, recording 12 total tackles. Nic Statz of Calgary had two of the Dinos seven sacks.
“We know Laval’s a good team, we didn’t expect anything but a tough game today.” said Calgary head coach Wayne Harris Jr. “I don’t know if people expected a tough game out of us but we tried to provide one.”
NOTES: This was Laval’s 10th Vanier Cup appearance since 1999 … Laval is 3-0 against Calgary in Vanier Cup games and 5-0 all time on the national stage … Laval also has perfect 3-0 record in Vanier Cups played in Hamilton; Laval earned wins in 2008 vs. Western and 2004 vs. Saskatchewan; both were played at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
Online Stats: STATS
LAV 7-3-14-7: 31
CGY 14-3-3-6: 26
CGY – Michael Klukas 86 yard pass from Jimmy Underdahl (Niko Difonte convert failed), 00:30 (6-0 CGY)
CGY – Anthony Anderson 3 yard run (Niko Difonte convert), 04:18 (13-0 CGY)
CGY – Niko Difonte 0 rouge 4:21 (14-0 CGY)
LAV – Marc-Antonie Pivin 37 yard pass from Hugo Richard (Dominic Levesque convert) 9:26 (14-7 CGY)
CGY – Niko Difonte 43 yard field goal, 2:56 (17-7 CGY)
LAV – Dominic Levesque 38 yard field goal, 5:18 (17-10 CGY)
CGY – Niko Difonte 31 yard field goal 4:40 (20-10 CGY)
LAV – Anthony Auclair 5 yard pass from Hugo Richard (Dominic Levesque convert) 6:46 (20-17, CGY)
LAV – Vincent Alarie-Tardif 3 yard run (Dominic Levesque convert) 0:21 (24-20, LAV)
CGY – Niko Difonte 31 yard field goal 11:55 (24-23, LAV)
CGY – Niko Difonte 29 yard field goal 8:12 (26-24, CGY)
LAV – Hugo Richard 1 yard run (Dominic Levesque convert) 2:33 (31-26, LAV)