Laval, Saskatchewan set to write new chapter in their Vanier Cup history


The Laval Rouge et Or and Saskatchewan Huskies have a wealth of Canada Life Vanier Cup experience, but when the two teams link up at Western Alumni Stadium in London, Ont., this weekend it will be 16 years since the last time the two teams squared off in the national championship for men’s football, a 13-8 win by Laval in 2006.

After Saturday’s championship game, which will be broadcast live on CBC TV and, the Rouge et Or will have played in 13 — trailing only Western University’s 15 appearances — while the Huskies will tie the Calgary Dinos for third most at 11 games.

The comparison stops at appearances, however, as Laval’s 10-2 Vanier Cup record (0.833 winning percentage) is the best of any school that has made the final more than once. Saskatchewan’s 3-7 record in the national championship (0.3 per cent) is above only the 0-2 Mount Allison Mounties and 1-3 McMaster Marauders.

The Rouge et Or’s most recent championship came in 2018 with a 34-20 victory over Western, while the Huskies last won in 1998 against Concordia. Saskatchewan was defeated by Western, 27-21, in last year’s Vanier Cup.

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The Rouge et Or boast a 4-1 all-time record against the Huskies, punctuated by their two Vanier Cup victories in 2004 and 2006. Their first championship meeting in 2004 in Hamilton was the first not played in Toronto, and Laval’s 7-1 victory is the lowest-scoring Vanier Cup game in history. Their second meeting, Laval’s 13-8 win in Saskatoon, is tied for the fourth lowest combined score.

This season, both teams finished with 7-1 records, and unlike their previous defensive battles, sets up as a potential offensive showdown.

The Huskies led all Canadian schools with 348.1 passing yards per game, with the Rouge et Or right behind in second with 320.3. No other school averaged more than 300 passing yards per game.

Laval quarterback Arnaud Desjardins led all U Sports athletes with 20 passing touchdowns, with Saskatchewan’s Mason Nyhus right behind with 18.

Montreal native Desjardins developed a dominant connection with the 2022 Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) Most Outstanding Player Kevin Mital, with the two combining for 751 receiving yards and a team-record 12 touchdowns in the regular season.

Regina’s Nyhus spread the ball around more, with the trio of Rhett Vavra of Swift Current, Sask., Calgary’s Daniel Perry, and Saskatoon’s Caleb Morin all finishing with more than 500 yards receiving.

Both squads also ranked in the top five defensively, with the Huskies’ pass defence holding opponents to under 200 yards per game (eighth best in the nation) and the Rouge et Or ranking third in rushing yards allowed per game.

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The Huskies began their playoff run with a 37-9 victory in the Hardy Cup semifinal on Nov. 5 against the Manitoba Bisons. In snowy conditions, Saskatchewan leaned on the run game — particularly backup quarterback Ethan Watson of Calgary, who rumbled to 103 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Starting quarterback Nyhus starred in the next two games, a 23-8 win over rival UBC in the Hardy Cup on Nov. 12, followed up by a 36-19 win against St. Francis Xavier in the Uteck Bowl on Saturday.

Nyhus was deadly efficient in both contests, posting his two highest completion rates of the season, going 52-of-66 overall.

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John Stoll’s interception return for a touchdown sealed the Huskies’ 36-19 win in the Uteck Bowl at St. Francis Xavier University.

Laval’s road to the final was quite a bit more dramatic, highlighted by overcoming a 17-0 hole against the reigning champion Mustangs in the Mitchell Bowl on Saturday to win 27-20.

Quebec City’s Kalenga Muganda led the charge with 173 yards on the ground with David Dallaire of Saint-Georges, Que., punching in two third quarter touchdowns for the Rouge et Or.

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After falling behind in the first half Laval held Western to just three points in the second and secured their spot in the Vanier Cup.

Just a week prior Laval had to come from behind again to defeat the Montreal Carabins 25-24 in the Dunsmore Cup — the ninth consecutive time the two Quebec juggernauts have met up in the RSEQ final. Mital scored two lead-changing touchdowns in the second half while the Rouge et Or iced the game with a last-second rouge.

Laval’s RSEQ semifinal victory over the Concordia Stingers wasn’t quite as stress-inducing, with the Rouge et Or jumping out to a 17-point halftime lead thanks to another two Mital touchdowns before closing the game out 38-27.

Championship experience

Laval has experienced more success than Saskatchewan’s program as of late, winning the 2016 and 2018 titles and finishing as the runner-up in 2017, but it’s the Huskies’ roster that has more Vanier Cup experience, returning many players from the 2021 team that bowed out to Western.

Nyhus, this year’s Canada West (CW) Player of the Year,  was stellar in his 2021 Vanier Cup appearance, throwing for more than 300 yards in a losing effort.

Laval boasts six players with championship pedigree from their 2018 winning team. Receiver Antoine Dansereau-Leclerc, running back Joanik Masse, offensive lineman Nicolas Thibodeauand, and a trio of defensive backs in Maxym Lavallee, Hugo LaRue and Charles Antoine Beaulieu remain from the Vanier Cup-winning roster four years ago.

Where Laval has the most experience is behind the bench, with head coach Glen Constantine leading the Rouge et Or to nine of their 10 championships in program history since taking over in 2000.

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