Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
CALGARY – All the superlatives you can find between a dictionary and a thesaurus aren't necessary to do this game justice.
To convey the magnitude of the 2017 Mitchell Bowl, which will see the Calgary Dinos host the Laval Rouge et Or at McMahon Stadium on Saturday (2 p.m. MT, live broadcast on Sportsnet 360 and streaming on Sportsnet NOW) for the right to play in the Vanier Cup, one simply needs to state the facts:
Over the last decade and a half, Calgary and Laval have combined for 13 Vanier Cup appearances, including 10 since 2008. At least one of the two teams has appeared in all but four of the prior 14 Canadian university football championships and three of the previous six has seen the Dinos and Rouge et Or go head-to-head.
There hasn't been a single U SPORTS Top 10 this season without at least one of them ranked first or second, as five times either the Dinos or Laval held the No. 1 spot, and neither was ranked lower than fourth. Last Saturday's conference championship results provided the dream Mitchell Bowl matchup, as Calgary dramatically beat UBC thanks to a U SPORTS record 59-yard field goal on the final play of the game, while the Rouge et Or held off Montreal to capture the Dunsmore Cup as RSEQ champs.
And though there are plenty more mind-blowing stats testifying to the dominance of the Calgary and Laval football programs, for the sake of time, we'll skip to the hyperbole and call this what it is:
A clash of the titans.
"It's a tribute to the players that we bring into our programs and the coaches that work with those athletes to develop them and challenge them to reach this type of potential, be consistent and focus on the right things that it takes to be successful," Dinos coach Wayne Harris said.
From the moment the 2017 season kicked off, fans have anticipated the potential for a Vanier Cup rematch in the national semifinals.
"I've been a part of Canada West for many years and it's always been a tough conference to get out of, and if you have success here, you should be able to have success anywhere," Harris said.
This will be Calgary's sixth playoff meeting with Laval in 10 years, and while they've yet to win, the Dinos have proven an increasingly tougher opponent for their RSEQ rivals; at last year's Vanier Cup, Calgary held a fourth quarter lead before coming up just short, 31-26, in a title bout befitting its heavyweight participants.
"Our last two games have been extremely close compared to our first couple of games against them and we're just working hard to come up with that formula where we can come out with the victory," Harris said.
A quick glance at the numbers reveal an intriguing contest of teams that both posted 7-1 records during the regular season, but went about it in different ways. Calgary scored 42.5 points per game during the regular season, second in U SPORTS behind only OUA champion Western, while the Rouge et Or boasted the nation's top defence, averaging just 9.6 points against. Including the post-season, the Dinos and their opponents combined to average 71.2 points scored, nearly four converted touchdowns more than the 43.5 in an average Laval affair.
"Being able to match the physical play of Laval and the intensity they bring to each game is really critical to us being successful," Harris explained.
The Dinos are riding the momentum of their 44-43 victory over UBC in what many are calling the greatest Hardy Cup in its storied history. The final quarter featured four lead changes and saw 38 points scored, culminating with a Canadian university record 59-yard field goal by Niko DiFonte on the game's final play to lift Calgary to victory and send the McMahon crowd into a frenzy.
"That fourth quarter was something else," marveled Harris.
The Calgary-Laval victor will take on the winner of the Uteck Bowl, which sees the AUS champ Acadia Axemen host the OUA champion Western Mustangs on Saturday. The 53rd Vanier Cup at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton is slated for November 25. The Dinos are pursuing a fifth national title, and Laval is seeking its 10th.
But before that comes a Mitchell Bowl matchup that needs no exaggeration.
"There's no easy road, so we look forward to a hard fought game this Saturday," Harris said.