Kevin Mital, Marco Iadeluca relish atmosphere as Montreal Carabins edge Laval Rouge et Or in rivalry game

Photo: John Hodge/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Montreal Carabins defeated the Laval Rouge et Or in a hotly-contested rivalry game on Sunday afternoon in Quebec City, though the real winners were the 18,216 fans who were treated to an atmosphere worthy of any Canadian football game.

Stade Telus-Université Laval was packed with fans spilling over into areas designated for standing room only. The pregame tailgate was in full swing hours before the 1:00 p.m. EDT kickoff with thousands of fans enjoying the festivities with music, food, and drinks.

Though the Rouge et Or dropped the contest by a score of 31-14, star receiver Kevin Mital was smiling from ear to ear as he signed autographs for local fans after the final whistle.

“I like it. I like the fans, I like the city. In Quebec on a Sunday afternoon when you have the students section just like that, it’s incredible. It’s the best stadium in Canada,” said Mital. “It’s the main event, everyone’s here. I heard the tailgate started at six o’clock this morning.”

The game was tied until the midway point of the fourth quarter when William Perrier intercepted Arnaud Desjardins and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown, giving Montreal a 21-14 lead. Philippe Boyer hit a 39-yard field goal two drives later and the Rouge et Or were unable to secure the ensuing kickoff, giving the Carabins possession at Laval’s nine-yard line. Natan Girouard-Langlois scored a touchdown on the following play, cementing the upset win.

Stade Telus-Université Laval opened in 2012 and is the perfect home for a top-tier U Sports team. The seating is mostly comprised of wooden benches with gravel underfoot but the amenities are otherwise fantastic, including high-quality washrooms and food service. The indoor amenities attached to the west grandstand include a row of box seats and a full-size indoor practice field, which is one of few of its kind in all of Canada.

Laval entered Sunday’s game as the No. 1-ranked team in all of U Sports after winning last year’s Vanier Cup over the Saskatchewan Huskies and opening the 2023 season with convincing wins over Sherbrooke and McGill. After winning on the road in hostile territory, the Carabins will presumably move up the rankings from their current position at No. 4.

A number of key alumni made the trip to support their alma maters, including Montreal Alouettes’ offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage and tight end Antony Auclair, who played five seasons in the NFL. Lestage, a former Carabin, donned blue in support of Montreal, while Auclair sported a gold t-shirt.

Photo: John Hodge/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The game is a celebration of all things Quebec football, a culture that has exploded in recent decades. Laval’s program was founded in 1996 and the Carabins first hit the field in 2002, yet the programs have already won a combined 12 Vanier Cups. Concordia and Sherbrooke, two other RSEQ rivals, started their programs in the 1970s, while McGill’s team dates back to the nineteenth century.

Montreal got off to an early 6-0 lead to help quiet the rowdy local crowd, which exploded when Édouard Arsenault caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Desjardins near the end of the second quarter.

“(Playing at Stade Telus-Université Laval) is really challenging. These kids are student-athletes, they’re not pro football players, so it’s tough. It’s challenging, but it’s awesome when the kids respond and this is the result,” said Montreal head coach Marco Iadeluca.

“(Communicating in such a loud environment) is very hard. We got to play with a silent count for the first time, this is the only stadium (where you need it) so you don’t get to practice it year-round, but this is the best rivalry in Canadian football. It’s an awesome rivalry every year, every game is close. We got a little bit lucky at the end here to get away but it was an awesome game like always.”

Jonathan Sénécal was the most impactful player on the day as he repeatedly broke Laval’s defensive contain to rush nine times for 129 yards. The third-year quarterback also completed 18-of-33 pass attempts for 157 yards and two interceptions.

“He worked hard in the offseason, he played six games with a pulled hamstring last year, which takes away from his ability to run and that’s part of his game, so it becomes a little bit more difficult mentally as well to play,” said Iadeluca.

“We had all kinds of injuries on O-line and receiver, so it was a tough season for him last year, but he came to work in January, worked hard all winter long and I’m happy to see that it’s paying off for him.”

Mital had a relatively quiet performance as he caught five passes for 43 yards in what was his first contest back from a team-issued one-game suspension. The native of Longueuil, Que. was recently granted an absolute discharge after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of assault stemming from an incident that occurred at a bar in December 2021.

The six-foot-one, 215-pound target left Sunday’s game briefly due to an issue with his ankle but returned and later indicated that the injury wasn’t serious.

Mital has one more year of U Sports eligibility after this season but plans to enter the professional ranks this winter. The 24-year-old is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2024 CFL Draft, though he may also draw enough interest from the NFL to sign a contract south of the border.

In the meantime, his lone goal is to help Laval win a second straight Vanier Cup. He plans to help the team exact revenge against the Carabins in their second regular-season meeting on Saturday, Oct. 14 and again when the two teams presumably meet in the Dunsmore Cup, which serves as the championship game of the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec.

“We’ll go at the CEPSUM Stadium (on campus at the Université de Montréal), we’ll try to crash the party again,” said Mital. “I’ve never beat them at the CEPSUM Stadium, so I’m looking to do that and (again) probably in the Dunsmore Cup.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.