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Carabins, Bisons clash in Uteck Bowl after upset wins in conference finals

11/21/2014 04:58 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Few expected either the University of Montreal Carabins or the Manitoba Bisons to make it to the Uteck Bowl.

But those are the teams that will meet Saturday at the Carabins' 5,100-seat CEPSUM stadium in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport football semifinal, with each coming off an emotional win over a top-ranked opponent.

The Carabins knocked off the top-ranked Laval Rouge et Or 12-9 in overtime in the Quebec conference final last weekend while Manitoba upset the No. 4-ranked Calgary Dinos 27-15 to claim the Canada West title.

Carabins (9-1), playing at home in what will likely be a sold-out stadium, will be the favourites, but the Bisons (6-4) already have two big post-season road wins under their belts. They rallied to beat the Saskatchewan Huskies 47-39 in the Canada West semifinals.

"I don't think it was a surprise," Manitoba coach Brian Dobie said Friday. "It was the goal.

"We went into this season confident we could win Canada West. We knew there was a monster at the University of Calgary that we had to displace. That was part of our mission and we accomplished it."

Montreal head coach Danny Maciocia, the former Edmonton Eskimos head coach/GM now in his fourth year with the Carabins, felt much the same. His team defeated Laval in the final game of the regular season at home, then beat the Rouge et Or again in Quebec City in the playoffs.

"There probably weren't a lot of people who thought we'd best them twice in a span of three weeks," said Maciocia. "We weren't shocked or surprised.

"We had a group that believes in one another. And they have a mental toughness they bring every day."

The winner advances to the Vanier Cup game, which will be played next weekend Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal.

Manitoba, the last Canada West team to win Vanier Cup in 2007, ended Calgary's six-year reign as conference champions. Montreal stopped two-time defending Vanier Cup champion Laval's run of conference titles at 11 and ended its 70-game home win streak.

But while the Carabins have been knocking on the door to a conference title in recent years, the Bisons took many by surprise. They went 4-4 in the regular season and now hope to be a rare team that goes 4-0, all on the road, in the post-season.

"Most of all, we want to use the confidence we gained last week to our advantage," said Bisons quarterback Jordan Yantz. "We proved last week what we're capable of doing.

"But it's not only confidence, it's excitement. The opportunity we have here in the Uteck Bowl is something not many people get. It's something we'll embrace."

The Dinos had the better statistics against Manitoba, but the Bisons forced 10 turnovers, including six interceptions.

That's the number that stood out for Carabins quarterback Gabriel Cousineau.

"Obviously, we're going to have to protect the ball," he said. "We don't give up a lot of turnovers, but when you face a team that's this good, you have to protect the ball."

A fumble with 1:20 left in regulation time nearly cost Montreal the game at Laval. The Rouge et Or tied it on a late field goal, but the Carabins dominated the extra time.

"We have to come down from our cloud," Cousineau said of the win. "We were floating out there.

"We were really happy after our win but it was back to business Monday. We know the job's not finished."

The Bisons are proud of their road record. Dobie said western teams are more "battle-hardened" on the road because their trips are longer and tougher than in central Canada or the east.

Playing in Montreal may be a special challenge, however.

"This is the first time I've seen our guys wowed a bit, with a bit of the deer in the headlights coming into Montreal," he said. "They say 'Wow, everything's in French.'

"Almost none of our guys have been east before. They're almost all western kids. Montreal has an amazing reputation as a city."

It will be up the coaches to prevent distractions, but Dobie said his players are "an easy buy-in now."

And if they beat the Carabins, the Bisons will stay in town for another week to play the Vanier Cup game.

On the field, the Bisons are expected to bring a big, physical team with an offence led by running back Kienan LaFrance, who rushed for 155 yards against Calgary.

The Carabins counter with a smothering defence highlighted by versatile linebacker Byron Archambault. They have a nice mix of running and passing on offence as well.

The weather forecast Saturday is calling for a high of 2C. There's a 67 per cent chance of rain with 24 kilometre-an-hour winds expected.

"I would love to embrace Manitoba as the underdog but I'm not claiming it," said Dobie. "That's being dishonest and disrespectful to my own team.

"We went into the season with high expectations that if we worked hard, we felt we could accomplish some things. Just like Montreal, we're in this to win it."

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