By U Sports staff
The stage is set for the 2021 Vanier Cup Saturday afternoon in Quebec City, where the Saskatchewan Huskies and Western Mustangs will battle for Canadian university football supremacy.
Kickoff for the national championship is set for 1 p.m. ET and 10 a.m. PT at TELUS-Université Laval Stadium, which first welcomed the classic in 2009 and is now a seven-time host venue.
The title game will be televised live on CBC TV and the broadcast will also available online through CBCSports.ca and CBC Gem, and the CBC Sports App. The French broadcast will be available on TVASports.
This is the third meeting between the perennial powerhouse programs in the Vanier Cup and both will be in familiar territory when they battle for the most prestigious prize in Canadian university sports. The last meeting between Western and Saskatchewan occurred in the 2018 Mitchell Bowl, the Mustangs came away with a 47-24 victory.
The Mustangs are making their U Sports-leading 15th appearance in the Vanier Cup, having made their last trip to TELUS-Université Laval Stadium for the 2018 Vanier Cup, where Western lost against the host Laval Rouge et Or 34-20.
Saskatchewan is making its first appearance in the Vanier Cup since 2006 and tenth in program history. This will be the first time the Huskies will be bringing prairie football to Quebec City after dispatching the Quebec conference champion Montreal Carabins.
Western enters the match-up with a 9-1 record while Saskatchewan carries an 8-1 record on the year. Both squads are entering the showdown with confidence at a season-high after convincing victories in last Saturday’s Mitchell and Uteck Bowls.
At Western Alumni Stadium in London, ON, the Mustangs dominated on both sides of the ball in a 61-6 shellacking of the Atlantic University Sport champion St. Francis Xavier X-Men to claim the 2021 Mitchell Bowl.
The Western run game was out in full force against the X-Men with 469 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. First-year running back Edouard Wanadi stole the show for the Mustangs racking up 238 yards and three majors on the ground. By halftime, the nation’s top-scoring offence led 51-3.
The Huskies managed to outscore the Carabins 13-1 in the fourth quarter to pull off a 14-10 victory in a much closer affair. The Carabins, at home, led the entire game until senior running back Adam Machart scored a game-winning touchdown with five seconds remaining to steal a victory from Montreal, silencing the enthusiastic hometown crowd.
One thing is for sure: both coaching staffs will have their troops ready heading into game time.
At the helm of the Mustangs is Greg Marshall, a name synonymous with Western football.
Marshall is a former All-Canadian running back for Western, having won the Hec Crighton Trophy 1980 as the most valuable player in Canadian university football. Marshall later went on to win a Grey Cup with the Edmonton Football Team.
As both a player and coach, Marshall has won 21 Yates Cups and three Vanier Cups and has been named U Sports coach of the year three times to date, tying him with legendary coach Tuffy Knight.
For Saskatchewan, former Huskies offensive lineman and Canadian Football League Hall-of-Famer Scott Flory is the bench boss of the 2021 Uteck Bowl champions. Flory joined the Huskies’ coaching staff in August 2014 and was named head coach of the Huskies in March 2017.
In his four seasons in charge of the Huskies, Flory has taken the team to the Hardy Cup three times — winning the program’s 20th Canada West championship with a victory over the Manitoba Bisons earlier this month.
Returning home to Saskatchewan after a 15-year career with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL, Flory served as the team’s offensive coordinator from 2014-2016.
During Flory’s impressive CFL career, he was named a CFL All-Star nine times, a CFL East All-Star 11 times and earned the Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award twice. He also won three Grey Cup Championships with Montreal in 2002, 2009 and 2010. In 2018 he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Flory played with the Huskies from 1994 to 1998, winning two Vanier Cup championships with the Huskies in 1996 and 1998. The stout lineman was drafted into the CFL by the Als in 1998, third round, 15th overall. He was named a Canada West All-Star three times and an All-Canadian twice during his university career.
The Mustangs will look to keep their explosive run game rolling Saturday against the Huskies in an attempt to forge a path to their program’s eighth Vanier Cup.
All-Canadian Keon Edwards averaged a U Sports-high 139.7 rushing yards per game and nine regular-season touchdowns, while teammate and fellow running back Trey Humes averaged another 73.8 yards per game, punching in five majors in just four games.
In the Mitchell Bowl, Edwards ran nine times for 104 yards and one score, while Humes carried seven times for 91 yards and a trio of touchdowns. With the game out of reach, Wanadi took the spotlight, racking up 238 yards and three majors.
The three-headed monster in Western’s backfield is certainly impressive, but freshman quarterback Evan Hillock has stood out in his own right. Hillock took over starting duties part way through the season for the Mustangs, averaging 231.5 passing yards through four regular season contests, while throwing six touchdowns. Against the X-Men, Hillock completed 8-of-10 passes for 114 yards and one passing touchdown.
Although Western has the top-scoring offence in the league, their defence led by OUA Lineman of the Year Deionte Knight, allowed just 268.5 total yards per game — second least in the nation.
Even with Western’s stout defence, Knight and the rest of the Mustangs’ defence will have their hands full with Saskatchewan’s highly potent offence led by Canada West All-Star quarterback Mason Nyhus.
Nyhus averaged 275.5 passing yards per game in the regular season while ranking second in the nation with 16 touchdowns compared to two interceptions. Nyhus’ passing prowess helped propel the Huskies to an average of 36.1 points per game — second in the nation behind Western.
Nyhus is accompanied by Machart, the fifth-year running back, who was the hero of the Uteck Bowl after scoring two touchdowns to propel the Huskies to victory over top-ranked Montreal.
Machart led the Huskies with 83 yards per game on the ground during the regular season and two touchdowns. He also chipped in 14 catches in five games for 241 receiving yards.
On defence, Saskatchewan employed a unit that limited their opponents to 113 rushing yards per game, leading the Canada West conference and ranking fifth in the nation. Canada West defensive All-Stars Nathan Cherry and Uteck Bowl Defensive Player of the Game, Riley Pickett will face their toughest test of the year with Western’s powerful run game.