Breaking down potential reasons why the Huskies or the Rouge et Or could win the 57th Vanier Cup
So it’s down to this.
It’s perhaps a little less dramatic than a potential rematch of the 2021 Vanier Cup, but on Saturday, the Saskatchewan Huskies and the Laval Rouge et Or square off in the 57th Vanier Cup at Western University in London, Ontario.
It was a wild bowl weekend for both sides to get to the final game of the U SPORTS season. The Huskies faced the most robust challenge from the AUS in the last five years and needed a shutdown second half to come away with the 36-19 win in the Utecj Bowl over the StFX X-Men.
Meanwhile, the Laval Rouge et Or looked all but finished at halftime in the Mitchell Bowl vs the Western Mustangs. Down 17-4 and the victim of multiple brutal turnovers, the home crowd at Western was ready to send their team to the Vanier Cup as the defending champion and host. That was until the Rouge et Or completely shut Western down in the second half, outsourcing them 23-3 on the way to an upset Mitchell Bowl win.
Why Saskatchewan could win
It’s impossible to say how many kicks at the can a team gets to win a title, but after missing in 2021, the Saskatchewan Huskies have to be very aware of how difficult it would be to make it back to a third straight championship. Looking back at last year’s Vanier Cup, Saskatchewan knows how close they got. The Huskies led 12-9 at halftime before a pair of second-half touchdowns from Western’s Griffin Campbell gave the Mustangs a lead they’d never relinquish.
The idea of revenge as a motivating factor feels simple, but that’s because it is. The Huskies wouldn’t get to exact revenge on Western directly but could still do the next best thing and win the title on the Mustangs’ home turf.
The other way the Huskies could win? If Mason Nyhus plays as Mason Nyhus can play. Nyhus picked up Canada West Player of the Year honours in 2022, and rightfully so. The fifth year led the country in passing yards per game at 344.9 while finishing second with 18 passing touchdowns. In the Huskies’ 36-19 win over the StFX X-Men, Nyhus was lights out, going 30-38 for 327 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to seal the win for Saskatchewan.
Laval managed to shut down a rattled Evan Hillock in the second half of the Mitchell Bowl but on the whole, the Rouge et Or had the weakest pass defence of any of the final four teams in U SPORTS. 255.3 yards per game put them 21st out of 27 U SPORTS schools.
If Nyhus, who threw for over 300 yards six times on the season and over 400 yards twice, can get going early, that would be bad news for Laval.
Why Laval could win
Continue riding their magic
Yes, it’s hard to say a team that won five Vanier Cups in the 2010s has the ability to be “magic,” but the way the Rouge et Or have played their last two games, they at least somewhat fit the bill.
Looking back two weeks ago to the Dunsmore Cup, after Montréal tied it at 24-24 with a late field goal (after Laval had taken a 24-21 lead with 3:06 to play), the Rouge et Or managed to pick up the win thanks to Vincent Blanchard picking up the single point on the Rouge as the clock expired.
If winning a provincial title on a rouge is not evidence of magic, then the Rouge et Or’s victory over Western in the Mitchell Bowl might be. Laval looked miserable through 30 minutes at Alumni Stadium in the Mitchell Bowl. Down 17-4, thanks to an Evan Hillock touchdown pass to Savaughn Magnaye-Jones and a fumbled snap Western took for the TD, Laval seemed set to fold in the towel.
The big reason the Rouge et Or pulled off their comeback, though and also what might make the difference on Saturday, was how they won from unexpected places.
The two stars of the Laval offence had only average games on Saturday; Kevin Mital, the RSEQ Player of the Year, picked up 77 yards on just six catches, while Arnaud Desjardins went 18-28 for 265 yards and an interception.
The two stars for the Rouge et Or on Saturday? David Dallaire and Kalenga Muganda. Dallaire was the early second-half hero on offence, only carrying the ball four times on the afternoon but ending two of those carries in the endzone with rushing touchdowns on back-to-back Laval drives. Those touchdowns made it 18-17 for the Rouge et Or as Dallaire handed off to the fourth-quarter hero for Laval in Kalenga Muganda.
Muganda finished with 173 yards on the afternoon, and their last two fourth-quarter drives saw them hand the ball to Muganda eleven consecutive times (eight on the first drive and three on the second).
All told, he got them 61 yards across those two drives and critically into field goal range for Vincent Blanchard to send the two primary insurance field goals through the uprights. If Laval can find another hero at the Vanier Cup, or if Muganda can pull off a curtain call, it will be good news for the Rouge et Or.