The road to the Vanier Cup once again goes through Quebec City as the Acadia Axemen visit the Laval Rouge et Or in the Uteck Bowl.
You can see the game on TSN and TSN Mobile TV today beginning at 1pm et/10am pt.
Reigning two-time AUS champion Acadia (8-1) returns to Quebec City for the second time this season. The Axemen lost 31-7 to Laval (10-1) in interlock action on Sept. 15, dropping their all-time record against the Rouge et Or to 0-6 since their first head-to-head meeting in 2002.
One of those defeats was a 57-10 decision at TELUS-UL Stadium in the 2006 Uteck Bowl, the only previous duel between the two programs in the national semi-finals.
"When we played here in September, it was our second game of the season and I think the third for Laval. We now know what we have as a team. We have a lot more experience now and we have played a full season so we know what to expect from ourselves," said Acadia head coach Jeff Cummins, whose troops played in front of 15,797 raucous Laval fans two months ago. "When we played here last time, we were trying to figure out who we were, as evident by our running back. We didn't know he (Thomas Troop) was going to be that good. We have played out the season and now we have a guy who we can give the ball to 20-25 times."
After AUS all-star Zack Skibin suffered a season-ending injury in training camp, freshman Thomas Troop took over as the Axemen's number one back midway through the schedule and impressed so much in only four starts he was voted rookie of the year in the Atlantic. The 18-year-old was also named MVP of last Saturday's Loney Bowl conference final following a 181-yard tally in a 17-9 win over Saint Mary's.
"When we played the Rouge et Or in 2006 we were very young, and we played like a young team," added Cummins. "This time around we're led by a fifth-year quarterback, and a very good one."
"We want to come out and play our game and play the best we can. The experience we had in front of their crowd the last time we played Laval will help us out this time," said senior pivot Kyle Graves, who is the AUS nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy for the second straight year. "There is no doubt that playing in front of 2,500 fans at home doesn't compare to 15,000 here, but I think the experience we had in September will help, along with having some fourth and fifth-year players on our team. There is no doubt that this will be a good game. Laval has a great program and we hope to just play our best on Saturday. We'll need to play our best to beat them."
The Rouge et Or, who got off to a slow start this fall, seem to be peaking at the right time and claimed their CIS-record 10th consecutive conference title thanks to a 40-17 victory against Sherbrooke in the RSEQ's Dunsmore Cup final.
Laval also extended its all-time CIS mark with a 57th straight win on home turf, dating back to 2004.
"We're happy with the way we're playing right now. But we know it's going be a great game on Saturday. Acadia is a very good team, a solid program, and they are very well coached," said Laval bench boss Glen Constantin.
"One big difference this week is the game is not as emotional as some of our provincial battles in Quebec, when all the players know one another, they all come from the same province, they've all played with or against each other. I think it allows our players to focus on the game a little more this week."
Defensive end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon talked about the role of Laval's veteran players leading up to the Uteck Bowl.
"Our veterans have done a great job this week at showing the way for the younger guys, keeping everyone focused on Acadia. Sometimes when you get to this point, it's easy to start thinking about the big game (Vanier Cup). But there's no chance of that happening with this group," said the two-time CIS most outstanding down lineman. "We're thrilled to be in the national semi-finals once again and to have this chance to return to the Vanier Cup. That's what you play for all season long."