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Walling: Calgary's Nill gets another shot at Rouge et Or

Alex J. Walling
11/14/2011 10:45:44 AM
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Calgary's head coach Blake Nill will get another shot at the Laval Rouge et Or.

Nill has a history of battling the Rouge et Or and will do so again in the upcoming Mitchell Bowl which will take place on Friday at Calgary's McMahon Stadium.

The history started 12 years ago in 1999 when Laval won its very first of six Vanier Cups. It was a close game with Nill's young team, the Saint Mary's Huskies, dropped a 14-10 decision.

The met again in 2001 on the way to Nill's perfect 11-0 CIS mark and a Vanier Cup, the first in 27 years for the Huskies. On the way Nill's Saint Mary's team knocked out Laval in the Atlantic Bowl 48-8. It remains to this day one of the most points allowed against a Laval-coached Glen Constantin team.

"That single game in Halifax changed a great deal of my coaching. After seeing the team that Blake had I changed what I needed to do", Constantin told TSN.ca.

In the next meeting in the fall of 2002, the weekend of the first interlocking match-up between the AUS and Quebec teams, the game came down to the final seconds when Dave Stala (now with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats) kicked his fourth field goal of the game for a last-second 26-25 win.

By the way, Stala had not kicked a field goal in four years. He last kicked in high school. 30 minutes before that game started the regular field goal kicker Chris Breckenridge got sick and Stala had to fill in. Breckenridge never kicked again.

But since those back-to-back wins Laval and Constantin have held the upper hand.

They met in the 2003 Vanier and Laval prevented Saint Mary's from becoming the first team to win three straight.

It was another close game with Laval winning 14-7. More interlock wins and in recent years some wins into the national semifinal and last year a Vanier Cup beating by them resoundingly 29-2 in Quebec City.

"I may have won those two games 10 years ago but coach Constantin has won his share against me," Nill told TSN.ca.

Calgary has home field advantage. While Laval has never lost a Vanier Cup, going six-for-six, it has lost semifinal contests. The last one to a Saint Mary's team in 2007 by a score of 24-2 in Halifax.

"Laval is ranked as the #1 team in the nation and there's a reason for it. They are so good with hardly any weakness. They graduate players every year, have many in the CFL, and are and have the best program in Canada," says the Calgary coach.

Nill says the only chance a team has against Laval is to play good if not great football, and make no mistakes.

"We are looking at playing our best game of the year come Friday night. We have to play a great game and not make mistakes," Nill told me.

Next is the Uteck Bowl between McMaster against Acadia.

McMaster defeated Western to get into the Uteck Bowl and that will be played for the first time in Moncton.

McMaster was close to first all year long and relied on the quarterbacking of Kyle Quinlan, who fired four touchdown passes on the way to a 41-19 road win over Western in the Yates Cup game.

The Marauders led the nation in total offence this season, getting 530 per game. The win marked McMaster's first since they won the OUA in 2003 when they were coached by Greg Marshall, who now coaches Western.

Quinlan not only can throw touchdown passes but can run the ball. In the game against Western he ran for 103 yards.

Western had averaged nearly 40 points a game until Saturday's Yates Cup contest.

Perhaps the least known and definitely underdog team has to be the Acadia Axemen.

They weren't rated until the latter part of the year and just got in the lower top ten.

There is no doubt that the best player in the conference is the Hec Crighton nominee, fourth year quarterback Kyle Graves.

Graves has come into his own this year especially in key games against Saint Mary's.

He led the Axemen to a first place win when he defeated the Huskies 41-28 two weeks ago and again this weekend 39-20.

"He has really raised his game this year," Peter Fraser, an Axemen coach, told TSN.ca. "He's not only a very good quarterback but is the best punter in the league."

It is very hard to get a reading on this Acadia Axemen team. There are so few meaningful games played in the AUS. Most years it is but a two team league and usually it's Saint Mary's and Acadia.

The other two teams, Mount Allison and St. FX, won just a few games between them. There is simply not much competition.

Graves, if given time, can throw the ball and some of his receivers such as Stu Clow and Mike Squires can put up some big numbers.

There's a new wrinkle this year and that is both the Uteck and Mitchell bowl games will be held on Friday night.

Both games will be shown on TSN and RDS on Friday November 18. The Uteck Bowl (McMaster-Acadia) will air at 6:30pm et/3:30pm pt while the Mitchell Bowl (Laval-Calgary) will air at 9:30pm et/6:30pm pt.


Alex J. can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca




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