Friday night's Vanier Cup game between the McMaster Marauders and the Laval Rouge et Or will feature the best team over the last two years in McMaster and the best team in the last ten years in Laval.
It could be one heck of a match-up but it will be hard to surpass last year's overtime thriller between these teams. I guess expecting another overtime game is expecting too much.
I believe it's nice that the two top-rated teams in Canada meet in the CIS final. McMaster went undefeated this year and now has a CIS record streak of 22 straight wins. Laval lost only one game last year (Vanier Cup) and had only one this season to Montreal. It is very rare when Laval loses more than a single game a year. They haven't lost at home since 2004 and have won an incredulous 57 games on home turf. Now that's home-field advantage.
What kind of game will we have?
While both teams have star players on defence, including several CFL draft choices, both squads have prolific offences with Hec Crighton winner Kyle Quinlan leading the Marauders and Laval getting here with a great balanced attack.
Laval has great offence, defence and special teams just like they have had for most of their 15-year dominance of the Quebec Conference and their six Vanier Cups in seven tries. That's having your way in football.
"I am so glad that the best college player in Canada is playing for me and he touches the ball on every offensive play," said McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek. "He is calm under fire and the bigger the game, it seems the better he performs."
For his part, Laval's head coach Glen Constantin has this observation of Quinlan.
"Big players make big plays in big games and that's what he does," Constantin said.
Based on the national semi-finals, the top two teams are in the final. Laval led from the beginning in the Uteck Bowl, shutting down Acadia and winning 42-7. McMaster handled a Calgary team that was expected to perform better by winning 45-6 in the Mitchell Bowl.
The biggest difference in both teams, at least visibly, is at the quarterback position. McMaster has a fifth year quarterback while Laval's QB Tristan Guenon is in his third year with the program but first as a starter.
After last year's overtime loss, is Laval viewing this as a 'revenge game'? Constantin hopes not.
"It's business this week. We have to spend our time focusing on the task at hand and not worry about the past" said Constantin.
There is no doubt that the Vanier Cup is being played by two college powerhouse football programs. These schools take this sport seriously.
While McMaster made it to the Vanier Cup and won it last year, four times they took the Yates Cup in the early 2000's and four times they were second best and never made it to the final game.
Under Greg Marshall, McMaster won four Yates Cups from 2000-2003. In 2001, they lost to Manitoba, who went on to the Vanier Cup with an undefeated season. In 2002, they faced Saint Mary's, who won their second straight Vanier Cup. In 2003, they lost a heartbreaker to Laval, 36-32.
Things seemed to have changed. They're winning the Yates Cup now and the national semi-final.
As for Laval, from their first appearance in the final, they've amassed an amazing record with six wins in seven tries. Some of those wins were by a few points, so they've demonstrated they can win the close games as well as the big scores.
The Laval football year starts in January with a training camp in Florida and goes through late November. The Vanier Cup is always on their minds and most times they are battling for it. Jacques Chapdelaine's team won the 1999 Vanier, a 14-10 win against Saint Mary's and Constantin has won the other five.
By the way, Constantin doesn't wear his rings, ever.
"I keep them in a box at home and I'll look at them when I'm finished coaching," Constantin said last year.
Both Constantin and Ptaszek are among the top paid coaches in the CIS and one can add Blake Nill of Calgary and Blake Marshall to that mix.
This year's Vanier Cup will set an attendance record and at least 33,000 tickets have been bought. Also, holding the game during the same weekend as the Grey Cup has turned out to be a good move.
I'm looking forward to watching this Vanier Cup. They seem so close in talent and ability. We'll see Friday night on TSN.
For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling
Alex J. can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org