London, ON – The lights are up, the grandstands are in place, and the stage is just about set at Alumni Stadium at Western University as the 57th Vanier Cup is officially under 24 hours away.
Both the Saskatchewan Huskies and the Laval Rouge et Or took to the field on Friday for their final practices in advance of the big game that kicks off at 1:00 pm on Saturday afternoon. These two teams present storylines to think about about the past, the present, and the future of U SPORTS.
Renewing a Rivalry
It’s been 24 years since the Saskatchewan Huskies last brought a Vanier Cup back to Saskatoon, but in the early 2000’s they came about as close as possible, if not for the Laval Rouge et Or.
Between 2004 and 2006, the Huskies made three consecutive Vanier Cup appearances but fell each time, finishing with a trio of silver medals. A tight 24-23 loss to the Laurier Golden Hawks in 2005 split up a pair of losses to the Laval Rouge et Or.
In 2004, Glen Constantin, in his fourth season with Laval, picked up his second consecutive Vanier Cup with a 7-1 win over the Huskies in the lowest-scoring Vanier Cup of all time. Two years later, the Huskies fell again to Laval, this time 13-8, as a Guillaume Allard-Caméus second-quarter touchdown for the Rouge et Or proved to be the difference.
2006 was the last time the Huskies reached the final game of U SPORTS football before last season’s loss to Western, but Saturday now presents an opportunity to exact some revenge.
A true battle at quarterback
The top two quarterbacks in the 2022 U SPORTS season get the opportunity to square off in the Vanier Cup as Saskatchewan’s Mason Nyhus takes on Laval’s Arnaud Desjardins.
Nyhus was quickly the most dominant quarterback in Canada West in 2022 and, for his efforts, walked away with Canada West Player of the Year. Averaging nearly 100 yards per game more than his next closest competitor, Nyhus tossed 18 touchdowns for the Huskies and led in player efficiency by almost fifeteen points over the next QB (163.2-148.3).
In the Huskies’ Mitchell Bowl win over the StFX X-Men, Nyhus was machine-like, going 30-38 for 327 yards and a pair of touchdown passes as the Huskies rolled to a 36-19 win.
On the other side, Desjardins walked away with U SPORTS First-Team All-Canadian quarterback honours after leading U SPORTS with 20 touchdowns and the best pass connection rate at 73%.
In his semifinal matchup in the Mitchell Bowl, Desjardins put in a mixed performance, going 18-28 for 258 yards but tossing an interception as well. In the fourth quarter, the Rouge et Or almost completely took the ball out of his hands as they relied on their run game and their special teams to hold off the Western Mustangs.
A one-off performance does not a season make, but it will be an important watch for the Rouge et Or to see which Desjardins shows up on Saturday.
What will the atmosphere be at Western?
It can be gotten out of the way quickly that the Mustangs missing the Vanier Cup dealt a blow to the local excitement for the biggest football game in U SPORTS. Still, with Western hosting the Vanier Cup for the very first time, all involved have to be hoping that Mustangs or not, a community that is known for its football support, shows up and creates an atmosphere on Saturday.
Despite the late release of a section of grandstand tickets by all accounts, the Vanier Cup will be if not sold out, extremely close to a sellout of the 8000 seats that make up Alumni Stadium.
Ultimately Western knows that the more they can get close to a sellout, the better. The Laval Rouge et Or; know firsthand that if a program can execute a successful Vanier Cup from a business perspective, they might very well keep getting the opportunity. The Rouge et Or saw 18,543 fans enter Stade Telus in 2013 for their 25-14 win over Calgary in the Vanier Cup and from then on hosted the tournament four more times, including three straight between 2018-2021.
The Mustangs may not be in the Vanier Cup this season, but if they execute well enough from a business side, they very well might get a do-over next year.