Head-to-head look at the 2016 Uteck Bowl

Head-to-head look at the 2016 Uteck Bowl

TORONTO – The stage is set for the U Sports football national semifinals on Saturday, when the last four teams still standing will battle for a berth in the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Vanier Cup on Nov. 26 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
  
The OUA conference champion Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (9-1) and the RSEQ titlist Laval Rouge et Or (9-1) kickoff at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time in the Uteck Bowl at TELUS-UL Stadium in Quebec City.
  
The ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl follows at 2 p.m. Mountain Time (4 p.m. ET), with the AUS champion St. Francis Xavier X-Men (8-1) visiting the Canada West monarch Calgary Dinos (8-2) at McMahon Stadium.

Both contests are scheduled to be televised live on Sportsnet 360 and TVA Sports (Mitchell Bowl on TVA Sports 2), with Sportsnet 360 kicking things off at noon with a 30-minute pre-game show. The doubleheader is also available online through Sportsnet NOW and TVASports.ca (authenticated users only).
  
At a time when parity in Canadian university football remains under the microscope, the conference finals produced three new champions for the third straight year as only StFX earned a return trip to the U Sports Final Four. One of the teams that saw their campaign come to an end last Saturday was the 2015 Vanier Cup champ UBC Thunderbirds, who couldn't quite reproduce their Cinderella run from a year ago.
  
Three of the four league finals were decided by three points, two in favour of the visiting team. These results included Laurier mounting the largest fourth-quarter comeback in the 109-year history of the Yates Cup to stun Western 43-40. In Quebec, Laval used a trick play in the final minute of regulation to reclaim the Dunsmore Cup 20-17 over archrival Montreal. In Calgary, the Dinos captured the Canada West banner 46-43despite being outscored 33-10 by UBC in the second half of the Hardy Cup.
  
You can forgive Laval head coach Glen Constantin if he and his team have a feeling of déjà vu as they prepare to face Laurier for only the second-ever meeting between the two programs. 
    
Back in 2004, just like this fall, the Rouge et Or finished second in Quebec with a 7-1 mark, then defeated Concordia at home in the RSEQ semifinals and the Montreal Carabins on the road in the Dunsmore Cup final to earn the right to host the Golden Hawks in the Uteck Bowl. Laval proceeded to beat their visitors from Waterloo 30-11 at TELUS-UL Stadium before triumphing against Saskatchewan in the Vanier Cup... in Hamilton.
  
First and foremost however, Constantin and his troops are thrilled to be back in the national semifinals after losing to Montreal in the previous two RSEQ championship matches. The back-to-back Dunsmore Cup losses both came in Quebec City, where the Rouge et Or were once considered invincible, winning a mind-boggling 70 straight games overall on home turf prior to the 2014 Quebec final.
  
"We're very excited," says Constantin, the 16-year Laval bench boss, whose program is a perfect 6-0 all-time in national Bowl games played at TELUS-UL Stadium and enters this year's Final Four on a U Sports-best nine-game winning streak. "When you manage to get out of the Quebec conference, which is very competitive, you believe even more in your chances of going all the way. We're definitely happy to get back to the Final Four."
  
The last four RSEQ finals, which each pitted Laval versus Montreal, have been decided by three points or less.
  
In 2013, the Rouge et Or won 14-11 en route to capturing their record eighth Vanier Cup. In 2014, the Carabins won 12-9 in overtime, then went on to claim their first national title. Last year, Montreal won 18-16 and returned to the U Sports championship game before falling to UBC. Last weekend, Laval prevailed 20-17.   
  
Constantin was the team's defensive coordinator when Laval won their first Vanier Cup in 1999 and has since become the most decorated head coach in Canadian university football history with seven titles as the man in charge. He knows there is still a lot of work to be done before his club can add a ninth U Sports trophy to its record collection. While he recognizes Laurier represents a formidable challenge, he welcomes the contest against an out-of-province opponent.   

"I think when you get out of your conference, it becomes less personal, in the sense that you don't know the people you're playing against. Those are still very intense games, but less emotional.
  
"Laurier is a good team, with a solid defensive front. On offence, they run the ball much more than what we're accustomed to, including formations with three running backs in the backfield. We'll have to adjust our preparation this week."

Thankfully for Constantin, whose program has never gone three straight years without winning the Vanier Cup since he took over the reins in 2001, the Rouge et Or are once again one of the top defensive teams in the country this season. In conference play, the Laval D ranked second in the nation in points allowed (9.8 per game) and total yards (294.0), third against the run (91.8) and fourth against the pass (202.3).  
  
The stingy unit is led by sophomore defensive end Mathieu Betts, who was voted the RSEQ's outstanding down lineman this fall after he racked up a conference-leading nine quarterback sacks in eight league games despite being double-teamed on most plays. The Montreal native exploded on the university scene in 2015, meriting U Sports rookie-of-the-year honours thanks to his remarkable 12 sacks, just 0.5 off the single-season national record.
  
The Rouge et Or offence is led by another former U Sports rookie of the year (2014), junior quarterback Hugo Richard, who overcame three early turnovers in the Dunsmore Cup final to finish with 392 passing yards against Montreal's nationally top-ranked defence. Richard was on the receiving end of the game-winning touchdown pass from freshman receiver Jonathan Breton-Robert with 21 seconds left on the clock. Breton-Robert had previously caught 10 balls for 161 yards and a major, and was named the game MVP.    
  
While he hasn't faced Laval since becoming Laurier's head coach in 2013, Michael Faulds is well aware of his next opponents' winning tradition. In his playing days, the former Western quarterback visited TELUS-UL Stadium for three straight years in preseason action, from 2007 to 2009, with the Quebec powerhouse coming out on top every time. Faulds' only Vanier Cup appearance as a player, in 2008 in Hamilton, also ended with a loss to the Rouge et Or. 
  
If there is one thing Faulds doesn't lack however, it's confidence. In only his fourth season at the helm, the young leader has guided the Golden Hawks to their first Yates Cup victory since 2005, when the team went on to claim the second Vanier Cup in school history thanks to a thrilling 24-23 decision over Saskatchewan... in Hamilton.  
  
"We have taken a major step this year winning the Yates Cup and especially having to go through two perennial powerhouses in McMaster and Western to do it. As cool as it is to make it to the Uteck Bowl and play in the mecca of Canadian university football against Laval, we are definitely not satisfied," says Faulds, whose team returns to La Belle Province for the second time this fall, three months after dropping a close 37-33 preseason decision against Montreal on Aug. 20. "Since we opened camp on August 13th, our two goals were to win a Yates Cup and a Vanier Cup, so we are eight quarters away now from meeting our own expectations."
  
Last Saturday's Yates Cup triumph on the road against heavily-favoured Western was one for the ages. Facing a team they hadn't beaten in 13 tries dating back to 2006, including a 45-26 loss in conference play earlier this fall, the Hawks overcame a 40-19 deficit with 24 unanswered points in the final eight minutes of the contest to prevail 43-40. It was Laurier's first playoff win in London since 1991... when the school claimed its first Vanier Cup title.
  
In only the seventh start of his OUA career, Michael Knevel, a fourth-year pivot in his first season with the team, was named game MVP after he threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns, with all his TD passes coming during the furious fourth-quarter comeback. Nathan Mesher was a perfect 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts, including the game-winner from 26 yards out as time expired. Starting for injured veteran Eric Guiltinan, sophomore running back Levondre Gordon chipped in on the ground with 164 yards and a major on 18 carries.
  
"I'm probably the only one crazy enough to think it could actually happen," Faulds said on Saturday after capturing his first Yates Cup as a coach to go along with the two he won as a player. "We knew if we could hang around just enough, we'd have a chance in the fourth. If we could hold it to two scores, we'd have a really good chance. Once they got the third touchdown, to go up three scores, I thought it was probably slim to none, but that's why we're here now. We did enough to get it done." 

One player who impressed Faulds in the historic win was his 6-foot-5 quarterback, who at one point was away for football for over a year due to a serious wrist injury.

"The thing I've noticed about him since day one is that he doesn't get nervous at all. No matter how big the situation is, he just simply doesn't, and from that, you can see the guys around him get more and more confidence."
  
While the passing game played a huge role down the stretch against Western, the Golden Hawks' identity remains running the ball on offence and an aggressive approach on defence.
  
Despite the loss to graduation of running back Dillon Campbell, a former Hec Crighton Trophy finalist, after the 2015 campaign, Laurier led the country in rushing during the regular season with 281.4 yards per game before adding 458 in two playoff contests. On the other side of the ball, the Hawks led the nation with 36 sacks and six defensive touchdowns in eight league games, and finished second with 16 interceptions. 
  
Their stellar defensive unit includes the likes of linebacker Nakas Onyeka, the 2016 OUA defensive MVP, and defensive end Kwaku Boateng, who was listed in September as the top U Sports prospect for the 2017 CFL draft. Onyeka was 16th overall on the CFL Scouting Bureau list.
   
UTECK BOWL
  
When: Saturday, Nov. 19, 12:30 p.m. ET 
Where: TELUS-UL Stadium, Quebec City
Who: No. 5 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (9-1) at No. 1 Laval Rouge et Or (9-1)
TV: Sportsnet 360 & TVA Sports (pre-game show at noon ET on SN 360)
Web: Sportsnet NOW & TVASports.ca (authenticated users only)


WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY GOLDEN HAWKS (OUA champions)

2016 season summary 
Overall record (regular season & playoffs): 9-1
Regular season record: 7-1
Regular season standing: 2nd      
Playoff record: 2-0
Top 10 final ranking (Nov. 1): No. 5
Top 10 best ranking: No. 5 (2 weeks)
Top 10 lowest ranking: No. 10 (1 week)
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (10 polls): 10
Regular season offence points (42.6 / game): 2nd OUA / 2nd U Sports 
Regular season offence total yards (500.6 / game): 4th OUA / 6th U Sports
Regular season offence passing (219.3 / game): 9th OUA / 20th U Sports
Regular season offence rushing (281.4 / game): 1st OUA / 1st U Sports
Regular season defence points (15.8 / game): 2nd OUA / 4th U Sports
Regular season defence total yards (341.3 / game): 1st OUA / 5th U Sports
Regular season defence passing (225.9 / game): 3rd OUA / 6th U Sports
Regular season defence rushing (115.4 / game): 3rd OUA / 8th U Sports
  
2016 results
Aug. 20 (away): Montreal 37, Laurier 33 (preseason)
Aug. 28 (home): Laurier 37, Queen's 18
Sept. 5 (home): Laurier 74, York 3
Sept. 17 (away): Laurier 17, Carleton 16
Sept. 24 (home): Laurier 68, Waterloo 7
Oct. 1 (away): Western 45, Laurier 26
Oct. 6 (away): Laurier 54, Toronto 3
Oct. 14 (home): Laurier 27, Guelph 25
Oct. 22 (away): Laurier 38, Windsor 9
Nov. 5 (home): Laurier 21, McMaster 19 (OUA semifinal)
Nov. 12 (away): Laurier 43, Western 40 (Yates Cup)

2016 OUA individual honours
Major awards: Nakas Onyeka (defensive MVP), Michael Faulds (coach of the year)
All-stars offence (first team): None
All-stars defence (first team): Jalen Price (DT), Kwaku Boateng (DE), Nakas Onyeka (LB), Malcolm Thompson (DB), Godfrey Onyeka (DB)
All-stars special teams (first team): None
All-stars offence (second team): Jamie Lalonde (C)
All-stars defence (second team): None
All-stars special teams (second team): Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (RET)

All-time head-to-head vs. Laval
Overall record: 0-1
Home record: 0-0
Away record: 0-1
2004 (away): 30-11 loss (Uteck Bowl)

Bowl history (since inception of national semi-finals in 1967)
Overall record: 4-4
Home record: 0-0
Away record: 3-4
Neutral site record: 1-0

2005 (away): 31-10 win vs. Acadia (Uteck Bowl)
2004 (away): 30-11 loss vs. Laval (Uteck Bowl)
1991 (neutral site: SkyDome, Toronto): 42-22 win vs. Queen's (Churchill Bowl)
1987 (away): 33-31 loss vs. UBC (Western Bowl)
1978 (away): 25-16 loss vs. UBC (Western Bowl)
1973 (away): 19-17 loss vs. Saint Mary's (Atlantic Bowl)
1972 (away): 50-17 win vs. Saint Mary's (Atlantic Bowl)
1968 (away): 37-7 win vs. Saint Mary's (Atlantic Bowl)

Vanier Cup history
All-time record: 2-3
2005 (Ivor Wynne Stadium, Hamilton): 24-23 win vs. Saskatchewan
1991 (SkyDome, Toronto): 25-18 win vs. Mount Allison
1972 (Varsity Stadium, Toronto): 20-7 loss vs. Alberta
1968 (Varsity Stadium, Toronto): 42-14 loss vs. Queen's
1966 (Varsity Stadium, Toronto): 40-14 loss vs. StFX

Head coach: Michael Faulds
Season: 4th 
Career regular season record: 16-16 (.500) 
Career playoff record: 3-2 (.600)
Career overall record (season and playoffs): 19-18 (.514)
Career overall record vs. Laval: 0-0
Bowl record: 0-0
Bowl wins: None
Bowl losses: None
Vanier Cup record: 0-0  
Vanier Cup wins: None
Vanier Cup losses: None
  
LAVAL UNIVERSITY ROUGE ET OR (RSEQ champions)

2016 season summary
Overall record (regular season & playoffs): 9-1
Regular season record: 7-1 
Regular season standing: 2nd    
Playoff record: 2-0
Top 10 final ranking (Nov. 1): No. 1
Top 10 best ranking: No. 1 (3 weeks) 
Top 10 lowest ranking: No. 4 (1 week)
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (10 polls): 10
Regular season offence points (36.1 / game): 2nd RSEQ / 8th U Sports
Regular season offence total yards (460.6 / game): 2nd RSEQ / 12th U Sports
Regular season offence passing (291.9 / game): 2nd RSEQ / 11th U Sports
Regular season offence rushing (168.8 / game): 2nd RSEQ / 9th U Sports
Regular season defence points (9.8 / game): 2nd RSEQ / 2nd U Sports
Regular season defence total yards (294.0 / game): 2nd RSEQ / 2nd U Sports
Regular season defence passing (202.3 / game): 2nd RSEQ / 4th U Sports
Regular season defence rushing (91.8 / game): 3rd RSEQ / 3rd U Sports
  
2016 results
Aug. 20 (home): Laval 36, Carleton 29 OT (preseason)
Sept. 3 (home): Montreal 24, Laval 21
Sept. 10 (away): Laval 37, Concordia 18
Sept. 18 (home): Laval 41, Sherbrooke 3
Sept. 24 (away): Laval 49, Mount Allison 4
Oct. 2 (home): Laval 61, McGill 9
Oct. 15 (away): Laval 22, Montreal 19
Oct. 23 (home): Laval 44, Bishop's 0
Oct. 29 (away): Laval 14, Sherbrooke 1
Nov. 5 (home): Laval 39, Concordia 14 (RSEQ semifinal)
Nov. 12 (away): Laval 20, Montreal 17 (Dunsmore Cup)

2016 RSEQ individual honours
Major awards: Mathieu Betts (outstanding down lineman), Adam Auclair (rookie of the year)
All-stars offence: Vincent Alarie-Tardif (RB), Antony Auclair (FB), Samuel Lefebvre (G), Samuel Thomassin (G), Jean-Simon Roy (T)
All-stars defence: Mathieu Betts (DE), Vincent Desjardins (DT), Gabriel Ouellet (LB), Adam Auclair (DB), Gabriel Marcoux (DB), Alexander Hovington (CB)
All-stars special teams: Antony Dufour (RET)

All-time head-to-head vs. Laurier
Overall record: 1-0
Home record: 1-0
Away record: 0-0
2004 (home): 30-11 win (Uteck Bowl)

Bowl history (since inception of national semi-finals in 1967)
Overall record: 9-4
Home record: 6-0
Away record: 3-4

2013 (away): 48-21 win vs. Mount Allison (Uteck Bowl)
2012 (home): 42-7 win vs. Acadia (Uteck Bowl)
2011 (away): 41-10 win vs. Calgary (Mitchell Bowl)
2010 (home): 13-11 win vs. Western (Uteck Bowl)
2009 (away): 33-30 loss vs. Queen's (Mitchell Bowl)
2008 (home): 59-10 win vs. Calgary (Uteck Bowl)
2007 (away): 24-2 loss vs. Saint Mary's (Uteck Bowl)
2006 (home): 57-10 win vs. Acadia (Uteck Bowl)
2005 (away): 29-27 loss vs. Saskatchewan (Mitchell Bowl) 
2004 (home): 30-11 win vs. Laurier (Uteck Bowl) 
2003 (away): 36-32 win vs. McMaster (Mitchell Bowl) 
2001 (away): 48-8 loss vs. Saint Mary's (Atlantic Bowl) 
1999 (home): 27-21 win vs. Saskatchewan (Churchill Bowl)

Vanier Cup history
All-time record: 8-1
2013 (TELUS-UL Stadium, Quebec City): 25-14 win vs. Calgary
2012 (Rogers Centre, Toronto): 37-14 win vs. McMaster
2011 (BC Place Stadium, Vancouver): 41-38 OT loss vs. McMaster
2010 (PEPS Stadium, Quebec City): 29-2 win vs. Calgary
2008 (Ivor Wynne Stadium, Hamilton): 44-21 win vs. Western
2006 (Griffiths Stadium, Saskatoon): 13-8 win vs. Saskatchewan
2004 (Ivor Wynne Stadium, Hamilton): 7-1 win vs. Saskatchewan
2003 (SkyDome, Toronto): 14-7 win vs. Saint Mary's
1999 (SkyDome, Toronto): 14-10 win vs. Saint Mary's

Head coach: Glen Constantin
Season: 16th  
Career regular season record: 112-19 (.855)  
Career playoff record: 41-10 (.804) 
Career overall record (season and playoffs): 153-29 (.841) 
Career overall record vs. Laurier: 1-0
Bowl record: 8-4
Bowl wins: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2003
Bowl losses: 2009, 2007, 2005, 2001
Vanier Cup record: 7-1
Vanier Cup wins: 2013, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2003
Vanier Cup losses: 2011

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