On Saturday, the semi-finals of the CIS will be played and in each game, one team will be an overwhelming favourite while another will be playing against monstrous odds.
In the Mitchell Bowl, we have perhaps the top two teams in the nation and it seems odd saying that without mentioning Laval in that equation.
The Mitchell Bowl has the OUA champions and the top-ranked team in Canada in the McMaster Marauders. They are riding a CIS record of 20 straight wins, setting that mark in the Yates Cup against Guelph last week. They play the third-ranked Calgary Dinos. Like Laval and Acadia, the Dinos lost one game this season, that to the Regina Rams but easily beat them in the Western Final. I expect the Calgary–McMaster game to be dynamic.
As for the Uteck Bowl, we know that upsets are part of sport and they can happen anytime and are never expected but it is a stretch to think that Acadia can beat Laval. Acadia's lone loss came in Quebec City in September and the final score was 37-1. But the Atlantic has been weak all year with only Acadia having a winning record. In other words, the Axemen haven't faced much competition.
In 10 years of the Quebec Conference–Atlantic Canada interlock, the Axemen have faced the Rouge et Or many times but have never won. They came close once in a game played at Raymond Field in Wolfville in 2004 but Laval hung on to win 21-18. Most other games have been one-sided.
Acadia's only chance to win is if their top-flight quarterback can put 40 or 50 points on the board. Kyle Graves is the conference MVP and will have to have the game of his life behind centre to vault Acadia over Laval. The Rouge et Or took the conference again for a record 10th time in a row. What an accomplishment! And I thought that five straight championships in a row by the Calgary Dinos was a big deal. It is, but 10 straight is really unbelievable.
Ten years ago, the quarterback for Laval was Mathieu Bertrand, who is now with the Edmonton Eskimos. Today, it is Tristan Grenon. Laval has been consistent since 1999 when they claimed their first Vanier Cup bringing 6,000 screaming fans on buses to the then SkyDome for a win against Saint Mary's. They are still a very consistent with a strong everything: offence, defence and special teams.
The one consistent factor over the last decade is their coach Glen Constantin, who has 10 league titles and five Vanier Cups, including going into overtime before losing to McMaster last year. It was his first Vanier Cup loss in six tries and the game went to overtime. What a record!
I don't think Laval will think of the Vanier Cup possibilities on Saturday but it will be hard not to.
If Acadia should cause the monumental upset, it would rival Buster Douglas, a 44-1 underdog, flooring Mike Tyson in his prime. It can happen... but.
As for Mitchell Bowl, the game is in Hamilton so McMaster will have home-field advantage and are on the best ever run of a college team. Their opponent is Calgary who, next to Laval, have fielded the most consistent and best team in the last five years. Calgary's problem has been Laval.
Calgary coach Blake Nill may be the only man to beat Laval twice in a row. He did that by winning 41-8 the 2001 Atlantic Bowl in Halifax on his way to a perfect season and the Vanier Cup in that year. And, he beat them in the very first interlock in 2002 in a last-second field goal kicked by Dave Stala, now of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
"But that was 10-11 years ago. I've had my butt kicked by Laval's coach Glen Constantine since then, including in the semi-final and Vanier. I'm fed up of losing to Laval but we must deal with McMaster," Nill told TSN.ca.
Calgary has loads of talent, including a third-year kid at quarterback, the Western Conference MVP Eric Dzwilewski and running back Steven Lumbala, who rushed 20 times for 246 yards en route to their record-setting fifth straight Hardy Cup triumph.
"They've got a fifth year guy who is experienced and polished." said Nill. "Kyle Quinlan may be the very best in the country and that is a big plus for them. They are going to be the best team we have faced this year."
It could be one heck of a weekend.
For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling
Alex J. can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org