Montreal, Quebec – Montréal Carabins head coach Marco Iadeluca has a simple motto.
“In football, you either win or you learn.”
For the Montréal Carabins, in 2022, they were left to learn a tough reminder of how the smallest moments can be the difference between winning and losing a title.
After tying the 2022 Dunsmore Cup against the Laval Rouge et Or at 24-24 with 40 seconds left thanks to a Phillippe Boyer field goal, the Carabins were about to push the game to overtime as Vincent Bouchard’s game-winning field missed for Laval but Montréal’s Carl Chabot lost sight of a route out of the endzone and found himself tackled, giving Laval the rouge and the 25-24 win.
“We lost by one point on the last play of the game,” Iadeluca said “This team’s been motivated since then to bounce back this year and get back that game that we lost
One year later, the lessons had clearly paid off as it was Montréal taking advantage of every opportunity, capitalizing on every mistake, and ultimately coming away with the 12-6 win and the 2023 Dunsmore Cup.
Maybe it’s the way the stadium sits, tucked into the treeline on the east end of the University of Montréal campus, perched on top of Mont Royal, that allows it to capture high levels of sound, but CEPSUM is loud.
It started from the moment the fans stepped through the gates, the Laval core group taking the west corner of the north stand and spreading around the sound stand while the majority of both sides were baked in blue. The 5100 fans in attendance started the game loud, got even louder at every FAITES DE BRUIT (make some noise in French) from the Montréal PA announcer and didn’t let up until the final whistle.
The afternoon started about as perfect as possible for the Montréal defence. After picking off Arnaud Desjardins at the Montréal eight-yard line on Laval’s second drive of the game, one drive later, they did it again. This time it was Kaylyn St-Cyr who took the ball all the way 59 yards to the house for the 7-0 lead just eight minutes in.
The interception was one of two on the night for St-Cyr, who finished with the player of the game honours. To see the senior defensive back step up in the biggest moment was huge for his coach.
“He’s an all-star in our conference, played well all year, a leader, captain, and I’m really happy that he showed up big today,” Iadeluca said.
On the next Laval possession, Vincent Bouchard hit his first field goal of the night to make it 7-3 after a six-and-a-half-minute long, sixty-nine-yard drive that punctuated a stilted first quarter on offence for Laval but cut the lead to four after one quarter.
A mix of penalties and tough defensive carried through the second quarter, headlined by the only points coming from Laval, forced back into their own endzone on 3rd and 25 after back-to-back penalties taking a safety to make the game 9-3 at halftime.
For Laval’s head coach Glen Constantin the most decorated coach in U SPORTS history with 10 Vanier Cups as a head coach, none of this was surprising. Coming off a win in this game over Montréal a year ago onthe way to their 2022 Vanier Cup title, he knew what he was getting into.
“Montréal has got a great defensive team,” Constantin said. “It’s hard in playoff football to move the ball against these guys.”
Things didn’t get any easier for Laval in the second half. In three separate drives in the third quarter the Rouge et Or never got the ball beyond the Montréal 41-yard line as penalties, lost rushing yards, and missed catches kept compounding.
On the plus side, Marc Fortier’s defensive scheme continued to confound the reigning Player of the Year in Jonathan Sénécal.
Senecal didn’t have a bad game per-say but for a player who was a record-breaker in the regular season, 18-26 for 175 yards in the air would come off as an average performance.
Despite Laval’s clear offensive struggles, their defence stepping up really stood out to their coach, “I thought our kids showed a lot of character defensively they couldn’t have played better,” Constantin said.”
Still stuck at 9-3 after three quarters, with the sound of Sweet Caroline bellowing off of both sides of the CEPSUM stands, Montréal finally broke through. Early in the fourth, the Carabins finished off a 72-yard drive with Philippe Boyer putting his first field goal attempt through the uprights to make it 12-3 for the Carabins with a little over 13 minutes remaining.
From there, a Laval team that oftentimes has felt invincible in the last 20 years looked mortal. On his first play following the field goal, Arnaud Desjardins went deep 70 yards but was picked off for the third time on the day, this time by Louis-Philippe Gauthier.
After Montréal picked up one first down before punting, the Rouge et Or got the ball back and ground down three and a half minutes of clock, before while running a passing play through receiver François Giguère-Lacasse, the freshman launched it 31 yards, but right into the waiting arms of Kaylyn St-Cyr with his second interception.
With the ball back and under two minutes in the game, Desjardins finally had mostly his cleanest drive of the day as across 11 plays he took the Rouge et Or 60 yards downfield, where Bouchard dropped in his second field goal of the day to make it 12-6.
That meant the plan was simple, get the ball back on the on-side kick and go for a miracle. That was until, perhaps fittingly, Laval received an unnecessary roughness call while fielding the kick, giving Montréal the ball back and the win.
Some might call this win payback from a season ago but after so many rounds of this annual fight, Coach Iadeluca doesn’t see it that broadly. “I don’t know if I would call it redemption, I just think when you play football, you want to win your last game,” Iadeluca said.
For Laval though, this game marked a fitting end to a Vanier Cup title defence that never quite got into gear.
“I don’t think we played our best football; I think we’re a better team than that,” Constantin said. “I think we did some really good stuff, too. We’re proud of those guys, but we failed to get our rhythm pretty much the whole year.”
With the win, the Carabins advance to the Uteck Bowl, which they will host at home on Saturday, November 18th against the Western Mustangs.
For at least one night though, the Carabins can forget about next week, look back at the lessons they took from a year ago and get to once again celebrate another championship.