Uteck Bowl: Laval edges Western, to play for Vanier Cup on home field
Photo credit Yan Dublet
QUEBEC CITY (CIS) – After falling just short a year ago, the Laval Rouge et Or will finally get a chance to play for CIS football supremacy on their home field.
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Top-ranked Laval (12-0) scored seven unanswered points in the final six minutes to edge No. 2 Western Ontario (9-2) 13-11 in the Uteck Bowl national semifinal on Saturday afternoon at PEPS Stadium to advance to next Saturday’s 46th Desjardins Vanier Cup at the same venue.
Laval, which extended its CIS-record streak to 43 straight overall wins at home dating back to 2004, will face either the No. 9 Saint Mary’s Huskies or the No. 5 Calgary Dinos, who square off in the Mitchell Bowl later today in Calgary.
The Rouge et Or are perfect in five previous appearances in the CIS title match thanks to triumphs in 2008, 2006, 2004, 2003 and 1999 and will have a chance to tie Western for most Vanier Cup wins all-time next weekend. The CIS final is set for 11:45 a.m., live on TSN and Radio-Canada.
In 2009, when the Vanier Cup was also played in Quebec City, Laval dropped a heartbreaking 33-30 decision to Queen’s in the Mitchell Bowl. Queen’s went on to capture the national title with a 33-31 defeat of Calgary at PEPS Stadium.
Fourth-year kicker Christopher Milo was the hero for the QUFL champions on Saturday scoring all 13 Laval points on four field goals and a rouge, including a 29-yard field goal that put the home side up 12-11 with one minute 46 seconds left in the contest.
The Montreal native, who also split the uprights from 25, 11 and 34 yards out, was named the BlackBerry player of the game.
“As a kicker, you always want to be put in a position to make a difference,” Milo said. “I missed one early in the game (from 35 yards) and that could have been the difference the other way. I’m just so happy we came out on top.”
“We knew going in it would be quite a battle, and they gave us all we could handle. We expected nothing less of Western, they are an outstanding football program,” said Laval head coach Glen Constantin, who next week could become the first head coach in CIS history to lead his troops to five Vanier Cup titles.
Milo’s counterpart Lirim Hajrullahu, who kicked a 34-yard game-winning field goal with 2.1 seconds remaining a week ago to lift Western to a 26-25 Yates Cup victory over Ottawa, had a chance to repeat his heroics against Laval. The sophomore from St. Catharines, Ont., lined up from 46 yards out with 1.6 seconds left on the clock but his kick into a strong wind fell short.
The much-anticipated battle between the top two defensive units in the country lived up to its billing, and more.
The Rouge et Or, who allowed a CIS-low 6.4 points per contest in the regular season, held the visitors to 224 total yards and 13 first downs. They intercepted quarterback Donnie Marshall of London, Ont., four times and limited the first-year starter to 61 yards through the air on 9-of-19 passing.
The OUA champion Mustangs, who gave up 12 points per game in conference play this fall, had a bend-but-don’t-break attitude all afternoon, keeping the top-scoring offence in the nation out of the end zone.
“We struggled to do anything on offence today. When you play a good football team, you have to be able to convert on your opportunities,” said Mustangs’ head coach Greg Marshall, who fell to 1-6 in Bowl games with McMaster and Western. “Our defence played very well today, and their defence played great.”
The way the defence played today, we should have won,” said Donnie Marshall, the coach’s son. “I should have played better. I felt responsible. It comes with the position.”
Laval was up 3-1 after the opening quarter but had to feel they left points on the field.
After Western took a quick 1-0 lead thanks to a Hajrullahu rouge on the opening kickoff, the Rouge et Or drove well into enemy territory on each of their first three drives but could only muster a 25-yard field goal by Milo at the 9:36-mark.
Laval’s other two first-quarter possessions ended with a missed field goal by Milo from 35 yards out and a punt from the 40-yard line.
It looked as though the Quebec champs were finally going to break through on their first drive of the second stanza but again the Western defence came up big when it needed to, stopping the locals at the three-yard line and forcing them to settle for an 11-yard Milo field goal.
It was the Mustangs’ turn to win the battle of field position in the latter part of the second quarter and it finally paid off with 15.7 seconds left before halftime when backup quarterback Ian Noble, often used on short-yardage situations, scored the only touchdown of the day on a one-yard run to send Western to the locker room with an 8-6 advantage.
Noble’s major was set up by two critical plays. Western first got new life when Darryl Wheeler recovered his own punt at the Laval 34 with 1:25 left on the clock. Moments later, a Jerimy Hipperson fumble at the one-yard line was recovered by Laval, but the Rouge et Or were called for offside on the play and the Mustangs were once again given a second chance, with a new set of downs from a yard out.
Laval racked up 193 yards of offence in the opening 30 minutes to Western’s 135 but the Ontario champs had a 118-62 edge on the ground, including 70 on 13 carries by Hipperson.
After the teams exchanged punts for the first 12 minutes of the second half, Hajrullahu made it 11-6 Western with 3:22 left in the third frame with a 47-yard field goal that was set up by a 23-yard punt return by freshman Brian Marshall.
Four minutes into the final quarter, Laval got the ball at the Western 36 following a 15-yard no-yard penalty on a short Wheeler punt into the wind. But David Lee pushed the home team back 10 yards with a huge quarterback sack and the Rouge et Or were once again forced to punt.
The next Laval drive also started in Mustangs’ territory, at the 43, but resulted in another two-and-out.
The Rouge et Or finally cut the lead to 11-9 moments later following a costly Marshall interception, his third of the game. His pass to midfield was batted down by German defensive back Daniel Schober and fell into the hands of teammate Olivier Turcotte-Létourneau, who promptly returned the ball to the Western 30. The Mustangs came up with another huge defensive stop but Milo split the uprights from 35 yards out to make it a two-point affair.
Another short field resulted in Milo’s game-winner from 29 yards with 1:46 remaining in regulation.
Following a Milo single off a punt that rounded out the scoring with 1:04 on the clock, Western got the ball back at its own 35 and quickly advanced the ball into Laval territory but saw its hopes of a 13th Vanier Cup appearance vanish when Hajrullahu’s kick fell short.
Laval quarterback Bruno Prud’homme completed 17 of 33 passes for 207 yards with one interception. The Lasalle, Que., native was injured on Laval’s next to last possession however and did not return.
Sébastien Lévesque led the Rouge et Or running attack with 102 yards on 18 carries, while Junior Haidara was their top receiver with 54 yards on four catches. On defence, Francis Beaudet had a game-high 7.5 tackles.
Hipperson of St. Catharines had 85 yards on 18 carries for Western. Lee, a London native, had 5.5 tackles including 3.0 for losses.
Western: 1-7-3-0: 11
Laval: 3-3-0-7: 13
UWO-ROUGE Lirim Hajrullahu 0:00
LAV-FG Christopher Milo 25 9:36
LAV-FG Christopher Milo 11 2:22
UWU-TD Ian Noble 1 run (Lirim Hajrullahu kick) 14:44
UWO-FG Lirim Hajrullahu 47 11:38
LAV-FG Christopher Milo 34 9:34
LAV-FG Christopher Milo 29 13:14
LAV-ROUGE Christopher Milo 13:56