USports football: Saskatchewan Huskies flourishing in underdog role

Every opposing coach in the Canada West football pre-season coaches poll had the Saskatchewan Huskies ranked last among conference teams. Each one of those coaches is now out of the post-season mix altogether.

The Huskies proved the naysayers wrong this year by taking the conference title and earning a berth in the national semifinal – the Mitchell Bowl – on Saturday afternoon against the Ontario champion Western Mustangs.

‘Like I’ve said many times out here, ‘We’re just a bunch of hard-working guys that love football,”’ said head coach Scott Flory. “That’s just all we do. We show up each and every day and love being around the team and love getting better.”

In the other semifinal, the Atlantic champion St. Francis Xavier X-Men will visit the Quebec champion Laval Rouge et Or in the Uteck Bowl. The winners will meet Nov. 24 in the Vanier Cup at Quebec City.

UBC was the No. 1 pick in Canada West at the start of the campaign by sweeping the five first-place votes. Coaches excluded their own team from the poll.

The Calgary Dinos emerged as the top team in the regular season, earning the top seed after an 8-0 campaign. UBC and Saskatchewan were next at 5-3.

The Huskies have managed to peak at the right time, edging the Thunderbirds 31-28 in overtime before thumping the Dinos 43-18 last week.

Flory said his team has maintained its focus and never concerned itself with being labelled an underdog this season.

“It wasn’t a talking point for me, it wasn’t something I brought up once to the team,” Flory said from Saskatoon. “It’s not our concern. We concern ourselves with ourselves and within these walls … we’ve got another week to get better.”

Western will be a heavy favourite on home turf at TD Stadium in London, Ont. The Mustangs were undefeated in the regular season and have outscored their opponents 102-27 in a pair of blowout playoff wins.

The reigning Vanier Cup champions have also won 22 games in a row overall – three shy of Laval’s all-time record – and led the country by averaging 48 points per game.

Quarterback Chris Merchant – the 2017 Vanier Cup MVP – has been his dominant self under centre, completing 73 per cent of his passes in conference play while running back Cedric Joseph led the nation again with 12 rushing touchdowns.

The Mustangs beat the Rouge et Or 39-17 in last year’s championship game and the teams appear to be on a collision course once again.

Laval is also unbeaten and will be a big favourite to topple the X-Men at Telus-UL Stadium. The Rouge et Or defence was in top form all season and has given up only a single point over its first two playoff games.

Laval leads all USports teams with nine national championships. Western is next with seven.

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