Ten thoughts on Western’s dominating Vanier Cup-winning performance

The Western Mustangs used a stifling defense and superlative running game to decimate the Laval Rouge et Or 39-17 to win the 53rd Vanier Cup in Hamilton on Saturday. Here are my thoughts.

1. Domination was the name of the game as Western got the lead on the game’s opening drive and never gave it up. There were some lulls in the second and third quarters — the halftime score was just 16-7 for Western and 25-10 after three — but the floodgates opened in the fourth. Western scored twice in the final frame and the game was over by about halfway through the final quarter.

2. All the talk going into the game was about the country’s best offense (Western) taking on the country’s best defense (Laval) and how Laval’s defense would make life tough for the Mustangs. When the smoke cleared, the old adage of “defense wins championships” proved false once again as the Mustangs pasted Laval to the tune of 578 yards total offense and five touchdowns. No matter what the ‘Stangs did, whether it was running or passing, it seemed Laval did not have an answer.

3. Speaking of running the football, Western’s three-headed rushing monster — quarterback, and Vanier MVP, Chris Merchant, and running backs Alex Taylor and Cedric Joseph — was stupendous in rushing for 302 yards against a very good Laval defense. Taylor led the team with 150 yards on the ground, while Taylor and Merchant each found the end zone twice. Merchant had a couple of excellent quarterback draws and Taylor seemed to get to the second level on every run. I don’t have the historical numbers, but I can’t imagine Laval has given up 300+ yards on the ground very often. They were run off the field in this one, early and often.

4. A lot has, and will continue to be, made of the attendance woes of the two Vanier Cups held in Hamilton, but this year’s game attracted over 2,000 more fans than last year’s. While the 2016 game was much better in terms of the on-field product, ticket sales were boosted by a local team being in the game. They even opened up some parts of the second level, which was never even considered last year. I don’t think the game will be back in Hamilton any time soon, but I’m happy we got these two and I was happy to attend. Maybe if USports had a better TV deal and the games were more readily available to folks, the championship game would be better attended. But as it stands, almost 11,000 people got to see a dominating performance by the Mustangs.

5. I went down to the stadium earlier than I normally would so I could walk around and see if there was any hoopla. While it doesn’t rival the tailgates at big NFL, CFL or NCA towns, there was a few dedicated folks who had a cool tailgate going in the parking lot adjacent to Tim Hortons Field. I saw Laval and Western fans, obviously, and the crowd there was decidedly pro-Western given its proximity to Hamilton, but I saw shirts and sweaters from a few other schools (mostly Queen’s and McMaster) and a very proud Guelph alum had a huge tent set up with a Gryphons logo on it. If I didn’t know Justin Dunk was in Ottawa for the Grey Cup, I’d have thought it was him.

6. Being a neutral observer was weird, too. I literally sat right in between a see Laval fans on my left and Western fans on my right. It was such a weird dichotomy that isn’t prevalent when you go to a CFL game, championship or otherwise. This was literally split at the midfield point and it was fun to sit amongst. I had no rooting interested — UofT alum’s don’t have much to brag about when it comes to Canadian university football — so I was just there for a fun game. But if you ever get a chance to attend a Vanier Cup and you don’t have a team in the game — AUS students/alums, I’m talking about you — find a way to get seats at midfield. Your experience will be illuminating.

7. Laval quarterback Hugo Richard had as bad a game this year as he had good the year before. Richard was just off, missing opening targets and making bad decision after bad decision. After watching him play exceptionally well the year before, it was disappointing to see him play so poorly this year.

8. Laval’s offensive line is no joke. They manhandled Western’s defensive front early and really only relented when the game was out of reach. They surrendered four sacks, but a lot of that was on the quarterback for holding the ball too long. Don’t be surprised to see more than a couple of the Laval hoggies head to the next level.

9. There was a lot of chatter on social media after a couple of high hits by Western in the second quarter, the biggest being the second one on Western’s Jesse McNair hit Laval’s Marc-Antoine Pivin. (This hit led to a wee bit of an altercation in my section, but thankfully cooler heads prevailed.) I understand why both were called, but I didn’t like either call. In both cases, the Laval player was going to the ground and the Western defender had to change his positioning to make the hit. Neither seemed to have any malice behind them and looked to me to just be good, solid football plays. But in 2017, those plays just aren’t allowed, but I’m not sure what a defender is to do in that situation.

10. Going into this game, Western hadn’t won the Vanier Cup since 1994. For some perspective, the University of Toronto, which has been a doormat in the OUA for nearly two decades, last won the Vanier in 1993. Aside from hardcore USports fans, would anyone have been able to guess that Western’s title drought was nearly as long as Toronto’s? That was crazy to me. It doesn’t matter now, because Western has snapped their title-less streak (and maybe Toronto will follow suit next year… right? No? OK) and they, along with Laval, will likely be back in the hunt for the championship again next year.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.
Josh Smith

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Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.

16 Comments on Ten thoughts on Western’s dominating Vanier Cup-winning performance

  1. This win was about great Western coaching as much as anything. Thet managed to neutralize a def. end that might get a look from the NFL, M. Betts. If you saw the Dinos-Laval game you’d know how dominating he can be. Most of these Western players will be back in 2018. Yikes!

    “Maybe if USports had a better TV deal and the games were more readily available to folks, the championship game would be better attended.”

    As former TV tech I find the IPTV product put out by the various schools to be shameful. I’ve written to many people at U-Sports and Mashall Ferguson about it and gotten no reply. There’s no money to fix anything, apparently or no desire. IPTV is the cheapest way to deciminate this product. Anyone that wants to watch, can. Most bpeople have a computer in their home, but the quality of the product is horrible. I don’t think they know how to inprove it.
    The other questions are more political .Universities can’t be seen spending money on male sports and not on women’s sports. That is the elephant in the room. Let’s get a dialogue going on this problem.

    • David Carswell // November 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm //

      Well said Flanker41 – I’ve actually seen better coverage of High School football on Community Television than some of the USports coverage, which I really can’t understand….While I understand that we can’t expect TSN quality civerage, at least have announcers who know the rosters and camera ops who know how to follow a play…..

    • Attendance was 11k and 9k last year in Hamilton.
      The problem is that not too many people are interested in CIS football.
      Fewer kids playing football in high school and therefore fewer players in the CIS.
      It’s a “male” sport and sports like soccer can have women’s and mens teams.
      You could argue that there should be more coverage of soccer.

  2. Dundas dude // November 29, 2017 at 12:01 pm //

    A good analysis. I would add, I thought the penalty calls a little bit biased in favour of Laval, as were the penalty calls in favour of Laval in the game against Calgary. I don’t know why the refs seemed to favour Laval but stats for both games show a wide discrepancy in penalty yardage assessed…unusual. I thought the score complimentary to Laval. I think this very entertaining league has great potential for better marketing. Laval has been amazing team and hopefully going forward this game marks a new balance in the league.

  3. Ryerson Guy // November 29, 2017 at 12:17 pm //

    A cynic might think that instructions were given to U Sports by SportsNet that that another one sided game after the Utech bowl would not be appreciated. Hence suspect penalty calls and non calls favouring Laval.

  4. David Carswell // November 29, 2017 at 12:53 pm //

    While I really like the USports rule that ALL head hits are flagged, perhaps they need to actually start flagging the Offence when they drop their head when leading into a hit. I’m with you Josh, the way the rule stands right now there is next to nothing a Defensive player can do to avoid some of these calls….

    • Ryerson Guy // November 29, 2017 at 1:43 pm //

      Except the call against McNair was clearly NOT a head hit. Definately shoulder to shoulder. Instead of a turnover on downs Laval got a touchdown.

      • David Carswell // November 29, 2017 at 2:16 pm //

        I agree – To my eye it looked that way, anyways – but even if it had been a head-to-head, it was clearly due to the fact that the Laval player dropped his head into the hit – As a person who played Safety in my day (I’m sounding like an old guy now….) once you start that move in for the tackle attempting to avoid a head to head when the other player drops into you is damn near impossible…

  5. Good to see Western dominate Laval as they have had an advantage over other U Sports football teams for years with a private owner.

  6. Here’s a little more perspective to add to point 10. Laval’s football program started in 1996, 2 years after Western won their now next to last vanier cup.

  7. Wayne it certainly helped Laval to have their program privately financed and run like a professional operation way before the Ontario schools have been able to catch up. They also recruited all over North America because money talks and also there were different eligibility rules. We no longer see 28 year olds played for Laval. Their MO was to have players attend their CEGEP year (effectively Grade 13) which Ontario schools don’t do and then they have them play Junior ball for a couple of years before entering the Laval football factory. That’s the main reasons they have won 9 Vanier Cups since the Mustang last won. The playing field had been leveled (the Laval rule) so we’ll see how things go from here.

    • Ryerson Guy // November 30, 2017 at 7:31 am //

      Similarily the number of years of eligibility was chamged to five maximum. McGill and Western because of medical school had 28 and 29 year men that played for 8 or 9 years. The other schools didn’t have a chance.

    • I also like the idea that in Quebec before players enter the CIS they play FOUR down football.

    • For football to continue at the CIS level they are going to have to rely on more “privately financed” schemes to keep the program alive.
      Football sucks up a huge amount of a university sports budget and it’s one sport that excludes women.
      Far less high schools are playing football and fewer football players to choose from for the CIS

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