Guelph, ON – Go beyond.
It's been the mantra for the University of Guelph Gryphons football team from the start of what has already turned out to be a historic 2015 Ontario University Athletics season. The Gryphons, with their fourth ever Yates Cup championship in tow following last weekend's dramatic 23-17 win over the Western Mustangs in London, will have the rare opportunity to host the Mitchell Bowl at Alumni Stadium this Saturday (game time is 12:30 pm) against the defending national champion Montreal Carabins. The winner goes to the Vanier Cup, which is now the new objective of every coach and player associated with Guelph football. Despite a massive victory in which they trailed, made a comeback and then manufactured a defensive stand on the last series of an OUA championship game, the Gryphons refuse to look back.
"We haven't been wearing anything Yates Cup related," said fifth-year middle linebacker John Rush, the reigning OUA defensive player of the year and Yates Cup MVP after racking up 12 tackles and three sacks against the Mustangs. "We're focusing solely on the next game and not thinking about the past. Even though winning the Yates Cup and beating Western was always our goal from the start of the season, we don't want to be satisfied now. Our motto this year is 'Go Beyond' and now that's what we're trying to do."
This group is relishing the opportunity. It's been 31 years since Guelph hosted a bowl game on campus, the last time coming in 1984 when the Gryphons beat Calgary 12-7 in the Central Bowl before capturing the school's only Vanier Cup in a 22-13 win over Mount Allison at Toronto's old Varsity Stadium. And just like in 1984, each of the conference winners had to go on the road to advance to their respective national semi-finals. Members of this program, who have endured a couple heartbreaking defeats in the Yates Cup in recent years, know what this chance means.
"After losing our last two Yates Cup games, this feels pretty good," said OUA first-team offensive tackle Matthew Toppan. "But it's passed, it's long gone. Our focus is the Mitchell Bowl."
"We're representing the OUA. We're proving to ourselves, as well as everyone else, that we're the best in the OUA. And we're trying to get to the Vanier."
The task ahead of the Gryphons is significant. The Carabins, who beat McMaster 20-19 in Montreal last year to win their only Vanier Cup, come to Guelph on the heels of an 18-16 win over powerhouse Laval in last week's Dunsmore Cup, a game decided on a blocked field goal. They are a mature, physically strong team, boasting talent at key positions, like RSEQ all-stars Sean Thomas-Erlington (running back), Louis-Mathieu Normandin (receiver), Jonathan Boissonneault-Glaou (defensive end) and Junior Luke (defensive tackle), among other elite personnel. The two teams did meet in the 2014 preseason, where the Carabins beat Guelph 38-10 in Montreal, but much has changed since then. The Gryphons have been diligent about watching film on Montreal and know that they will have to dictate to advance.
"Last game, one of the biggest things we wanted to do was be the hammer and not the nail," said Rush. "We knew that is was going to be like a heavyweight match and we were going have to throw punches. Western was an aggressive team but we knew we needed to be more aggressive if we wanted to win that game. It's the same with Montreal.
"We're going to have to be very sound in our fundamentals. We have to make sure we're sound tackling, sound DB wise and that we don't break in coverage. If we can do all of those things and not allow any big plays, we should be successful on defence."
Guelph's defence has certainly risen to the occasion and the offence has done the same. The Gryphons have run the ball with success in the playoffs, thanks to a combined 353 yards from powerful third-year running back Johnny Augustine. In the Yates Cup, the Welland, ON native amassed 108 yards on 16 carries, while his backfield partner Brandon Gordon added 98 more. Quarterback James Roberts hopes to connect again with Jacob Scarfone, who caught six passes for 142 yards last Saturday, including a crucial 36-yard touchdown to tie the game in the fourth quarter. But the men up front will determine if that offensive production can be repeated. Solid play on the line is a priority for the Gryphons.
"Just like Western, they're a pretty physical defence so we will have to show up and have the same effectiveness running the ball," said Toppan. "They have some great players. It'll be a challenge."
The Gryphons are up for it. They have disposed of a rival and lifted the Yates Cup. But this tight group, which Rush calls the closest he has seen in his five years on campus, indeed wants to 'Go Beyond.' They have helped the program evolve the past few years. They've achieved more each season. But in 2015, the players have a chance to add something special to the recent successes. To win the Mitchell Bowl against Montreal, on home turf in Guelph, would show just how far the program has come.
"It's been a long battle," said head coach Stu Lang. "You take a player like John Rush. He was the premier middle linebacker coming out of high school and he decided to come to Guelph when we had no success to show. So it was great to see those fourth and fifth-year guys who came here just on a promise, to win the Yates Cup and achieve the highest accolade in Ontario. To see all of the joy on their faces is something was something I'll remember forever."
With a raucous Alumni Stadium crowd supporting their Gryphons this Saturday, the hope is that there are even better memories to come.
"This is one game," added Lang. "We need to refocus. Montreal is a tough opponent. This is a wonderful opportunity that not many teams get a chance to do, to go to a Vanier Cup."
Matchup Quick Facts
WHEN: Saturday, November 21 - 12:30pm
WHERE: Alumni Stadium (University of Guelph)
WHAT: 2015 Mitchell Bowl (CIS semi-final, winner heads to Vanier Cup)
Regular Season Record: 7-1 (2nd in OUA)
Playoff Record: 2-0, (W 33-21 over Carleton and 23-17 over Western in the Yates Cup)
National Ranking: 5
Bowl Wins: 1 (1984, 12-7 over Calgary in Central Bowl)
2015 OUA All-Stars: 11
Regular Season Record: 8-2
Playoff Record: 2-0, (W 31-24 over Sherbrooke and 18-16 over Laval in the Dunsmore Cup)
National Ranking: 4
Bowl Wins: 1 (2014, 29-26 over Manitoba in Uteck Bowl)
2015 RESQ All-Stars: 10
Head-to-head: 1-1 (Guelph defeated Montreal 35-20 in 1966 in Montreal; Montreal defeated Guelph 13-8 in 1967 in Guelph. The 2014 preseason win by Montreal is not included in official head-to-head result.)
The ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl can be seen live on television and online.
TV: Sportsnet will be broadcasting the game live, coast-to-coast, on Sportsnet 360. Sportsnet's pre-game show begins at noon. The game can also be seen live in French on TVA Sports.
Web: Log on to CIS-SIC.tv
Tickets for the game can be purchased online or in-person at the Client Service desk of the W.F. Mitchell Athletics Centre