GUELPH, Ont. (Courtesy of Guelph Athletics) – The University of Montreal Carabins are heading back to the Vanier Cup. The defending national champions will have an opportunity to capture a second consecutive CIS title – and the second in program history - after dominating the hometown University of Guelph Gryphons 25-10 in front of a crowd of 3,732 at Alumni Stadium in the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl on a frigid Saturday afternoon.
Montreal awaits the winner of the Uteck Bowl between the UBC Thunderbirds and the St. Francis Xavier X-Men later today in Antigonish, N.S. The ArcelorMittal Vanier Cup presented by Promutuel Assurance is set for next Saturday at 1 p.m. in Quebec City, live on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.
The experienced Carabins looked poised throughout the day and were difficult to stop despite the hostile environment provided by the pro-Guelph crowd. But the enthusiasm of the hosts and their supporters waned as Montreal registered 23 unanswered points before halftime, which proved to be enough offensive output to help the Carabins advance to another Vanier Cup.
"It never gets old," said Montreal head coach Danny Maciocia. "This is special and to be associated with a program that basically shares the same vales as I do, is definitely something unique and special."
Montreal quarterback Gabriel Cousineau completed 18 of 27 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown. Running back Sean Thomas Erlington was unstoppable as he rushed for 170 yards with one touchdown on 23 carries, while Guillaume Paquet led the Carabins in receiving with seven catches for 80 yards.
"It proves that we have a strong program year after year, that we work hard and that most of the time, people think we're not that good, we show up at games," said Thomas Erlington, who has a mind-boggling 581 rushing yards in three playoff games after amassing 517 in eight regular season contests. "I give all the credit to our offensive line. They made great pushes throughout the game."
Guelph manufactured some good second-half drives but two fourth-quarter interceptions by Zacary Alexis and Junior Luke, the game MVP, finished the Gryphons off as they desperately tried to get back into the game. Guelph's 10 points came from Gabriel Ferraro 30 and 32-yard field goals in the third quarter and two conceded safeties in the fourth.
"We didn't change anything in our preparation this week, and it'll be the same next week," said Luke, who finished with one interception, three tackles, two tackles for a loss and one sack, a week after blocking a field goal attempt on the final play of the game to propel Montreal to a dramatic Dunsmore Cup win over Laval. "It was a total team effort. We're a very tight unit."
While Guelph had difficulty moving the ball, Montreal was efficient on offence, scoring on five first-half drives to enter the break with a commanding 23-0 lead. The Carabins finished the game with 25 first downs and 401 yards of offence, compared to 10 and 265 for the Gryphons.
"We kind of had a breakdown there in the second quarter," said OUA standup defensive player of the year John Rush, who once again led his side on defence with a game-high 10 tackles. "We weren't communicating as well as we should have been. Clearly, they did an outstanding job of game planning for us. They knew our tendencies and we thought we knew their tendencies but they came out in the second quarter and adjusted some things. It took us too much time to adjust back to what they were doing.
"It's devastating personally," added the fifth-year linebacker. "It's my last game ever on this field."
Both teams exchanged possessions throughout most of the first quarter, though Montreal's offence was more successful moving the ball. After a few punts, the Carabins began to finish their drives.
The visitors opened the scoring with 1:54 remaining in the first stanza when David Deschamps connected on a 27-yard field goal. He would add a 35-yarder at 3:07 of the second quarter for a 6-0 lead.
Then came the touchdowns. After Paquet hauled in a diving catch for a big gain to get Montreal into the red zone, Thomas Erlington punched one in from two yards out at 7:16, before Phillip Enchill caught a nine-yard Cousineau pass for a touchdown with 57 seconds left in the half. Montreal got the ball back before the whistle and Deschamps was good from 18 yards out with just three seconds left on the clock, giving the defending national champions a comfortable 23-0 cushion after 30 minutes.
Guelph's potentially explosive offence never really got going. Quarterback James Roberts completed 23 of 34 passes for 228 yards, with no touchdowns and three picks, while the strong ground attack was held to 65 total yards, 44 of them coming on nine Johnny Augustine rushes. Jacob Scarfone and A'Dre Fraser each had eight catches for 95 and 90 yards respectively, most of that yardage coming in the second half.
The Gryphons showed some life to start the third quarter thanks to a couple big returns by Ryan Nieuwesteeg. Guelph finally got on the board at 5:52 with a 30-yard Ferraro field goal. He would add another, along with a couple of conceded safeties, and the Gryphons were within two scores. But the massive deficit forced Guelph to push in the fourth and Montreal came up with the two key interceptions.
"The defence was always our strength but to have them on the field for so long was tough but they had some big bodies to push and move around," said Guelph head coach Stu Lang, whose program was making its first Bowl appearance since 1996. "We're a team that once we get on a roll, we tend to do well. It would've been nice to score a couple touchdowns and get the momentum.
"The guys may have been a little nervous. We were in uncharted territory being in the Mitchell Bowl but this is all part of the maturity of a football program."
NOTES: The Carabins beat McMaster 20-19 in the 2014 Vanier Cup at Montreal's Percival Molson Memorial Stadium... Montreal is now 2-0 all-time in CIS Bowl games, adding to its 29-26 home win over Manitoba in last year's Uteck Bowl... Guelph falls to 1-3 in national semifinals... Today's ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl marked only the second national semifinal played on the University of Guelph campus, after the 1984 Central Bowl which saw the Gryphons defeat Calgary 12-7... Montreal and Guelph were meeting in official competition for the first time since the 1960s, when the original incarnation of the Carabins and the Gryphons competed in the same conference. In their two previous official head-to-head contests, Guelph prevailed 35-20 at Montreal in 1966 and the Carabins returned the favour in 1967, winning 13-8 on the road... The two programs renewed their rivalry in 2014 in preseason action, with the Carabins winning 38-10 on home turf.
MTL 3-20-2-0: 25
GUE 0-0-6-4: 10
MTL – David Deschamps 27 field goal, 13:06 (3-0 MTL)
MTL – David Deschamps 35 field goal, 3:07 (6-0 MTL)
MTL – Sean Thomas Erlington 2 run (David Deschamps convert), 7:16 (13-0 MTL)
MTL – Philip Enchill 9 pass from Gabriel Cousineau (David Deschamps convert), 14:03 (20-0 MTL)
MTL – David Deschamps 17 field goal, 14:57 (23-0 MTL)
GUE – Gabriel Ferraro 30 field goal, 5:52 (23-3 MTL)
MTL – Team safety, 10:32 (25-3 MTL)
GUE – Gabriel Ferraro 32 field goal, 13:56 (25-6 MTL)
GUE – Team safety, 7:57 (25-8 MTL)
GUE – Team safety, 9:56 (25-10 MTL)