GUELPH, Ont. (CIS) – The traditional meet-the-teams media conference was held on Friday in advance of Saturday's ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl between the reigning national champion University of Montreal Carabins (8-2) and the host University of Guelph Gryphons (9-1). Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. at Alumni Stadium (Sportsnet 360 & TVA Sports / pre-game show at noon on Sportsnet 360).
The winners advance to the ArcelorMittal Vanier Cup presented by Promutuel Assurance on Nov. 28 in Quebec City. In the 51st CIS football final, they will face the victors of tomorrow's Uteck Bowl between the UBC Thunderbirds (8-2) and the hometown St. Francis Xavier X-Men (7-3) at Oland Stadium in Antigonish, N.S. (5 p.m. AST / 4 p.m. EST, Sportsnet 360 & TVA Sports).
The Montreal and Guelph programs have only met twice in the past in official competition, back in the 1960s when the original incarnation of the Carabins and the Gryphons played in the same conference. The visiting team prevailed on both occasions, Guelph by 35-20 in 1966 and Montreal by 13-8 the following year. The two schools did renew their rivalry in 2014 in preseason action, with the Carabins winning 38-10 on home turf.
"I have the utmost respect for Coach Lang and what he's done with his program. We need more Stu Langs across CIS football, people who think outside the box," said Montreal bench boss Danny Maciocia, who a year ago became the first person to with Vanier Cup and Grey Cup titles as a head coach. "We're about to face a very well-coached, well-prepared team. We know we'll have to be at our best if we want to return to the Vanier Cup."
"Danny has been very gracious to me. He allowed me to come to Edmonton when he was with the Eskimos and wander around, and ask tons of questions. He was always willing to answer those questions," said Stu Lang, himself a five-time Grey Cup champion with Edmonton as a player. "We share something else. We both have a Goliath in our conference in Laval and Western. It's nice to see that our programs have reached the next level and that we can occasionally beat them."
Mutual respect was the theme of the day as all players attending the media conference on the U of Guelph campus were quick to praise their opponents.
"We have a great challenge in front of us. Guelph is a great team. We're going to have some fun on Saturday, that's for sure," said fifth-year quarterback Gabriel Cousineau, who helped guide the Carabins to their first-ever Vanier Cup title a year ago. "We had a very good season. A few ups and downs but it's not how you start a season, it's how you finish it.
"Last year, our run was a little magical. It finished with a blocked field goal. Last weekend, when we beat Laval and it was on a blocked field goal again, it felt just like déjà vu. We're a tight group, a great family and we have confidence in everyone around us. We have each other's backs. I think we're in for a good game."
Cousineau's counterpart James Roberts led the Gryphons to their first Yates Cup triumph since 1996 in his second season with the team, his first as the starting pivot.
"The Yates Cup was the main goal from the get go. That's why a lot of guys came here. But once that happened, it sinks in that we can be a part of much more. This is an opportunity that not everyone gets, that we can win this Mitchell Bowl and move on, that we can go to the Vanier.
"This being said, we don't really treat it as Yates, Mitchell, Vanier, we treat it as just a Saturday game that comes up and we have to prepare for it just like the last one."
Roberts' teammate John Rush anchors a defensive unit that held the highest-scoring offence in CIS history, Western, to a field goal in the second half of the Yates Cup. The fifth-year linebacker, who was named the OUA defensive player of the year this season, was voted Yates Cup MVP after a remarkable 12-tackle, three-sack performance.
"One of our favourite things is to go around and hit people. One of the biggest things we've tried to install in this team is to go around, have fun and be a team. We love playing together, we love being together and making big plays together."
Rush knows he and his teammates will have their hands full once again on Saturday.
"Sean Thomas Erlington runs the ball very well. He just makes plays where there are no plays to be made. It's really special what he can do. As for Cousineau, we need to limit the plays that he is able to make. A fifth-year guy, he's going to make a lot of smart plays. They just beat one of the best teams in the country in Laval so obviously he's able to handle the pressure well."
"Gabriel was the first player we recruited when I took over in 2010. He's a special player and a big part of what we've built over the past five years," said Maciocia of his veteran signal-caller, the MVP of last year's Uteck Bowl win over Manitoba. "Our program is built on family and tradition. Once a Carabin, always a Carabin."
The last word belonged to Guelph star receiver Jacob Scarfone.
"At the end of the day, it's just another football game so it's not like we're going in with a crazy different kind of strategy. One of the things that we always try and do as an offence is get the run game and pass game both going. It just makes it a lot easier to move the ball and when a defence has to focus on both, it makes it a lot harder for them.
"As an OUA team, the Yates Cup is the game you really want to get to. Now that we've won that, it's almost like we get to play the Yates Cup all over again but against Montreal. It's wild, emotions are flying. It's gonna be fun."