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Carabins have home field, but Marauders bring experience to Vanier Cup game

11/26/2014 05:56 EST | Updated 01/26/2015 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Playing in their home city will be a boost to the University of Montreal Carabins, but experience will be on the McMaster Marauders' side in the Vanier Cup game.

More than 20,000 tickets had been sold by the time the teams' coaches ad a few players from each side gathered for a news conference on Wednesday ahead of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship football game.

A sellout of 23,500, most of the wearing Carabins blue and white, is expected for Saturday afternoon's game at Percival Molson Stadium, the Montreal Alouettes' home field on the McGill University campus downtown.

"We're playing on a bigger stage, for sure, but we're not feeling any more pressure," said Carabins quarterback Gabriel Cousineau, whose team downed the Manitoba Bisons in the Uteck Bowl at their 5,100-seat CEPSUM Stadium last Saturday. "It's an opportunity to play in our city in front of our fans and we hope we'll give them a good show."

The Carabins are in their first Vanier Cup after finally downing the powerhouse Laval Rouge et Or, who had won 11 straight conference titles.

The Marauders will be in their third Vanier Cup in four years. They beat Laval in 2011 in Vancouver and lost to the Rouge et Or in 2012 in Toronto.

Now they are headed onto their opponent's turf to try for a second title.

"We're excited to be on the national stage and play our best football in front of what know will be an exciting environment and a very blue crowd," said Marauders quarterback Marshall Ferguson, who will be playing his last CIS game. "The crowd noise plays into making it more difficult to achieve that goal.

"Playing far away from home, it should make a difference, but once the ball's kicked off, aside from the noise, it's all just football. We need to look at the micro and not the macro. Make sure we eliminate errors, turnovers and things like that because that's what wins football games."

Coach Stefan Ptaszek said Vanier Cup experience will come in handy. There are 12 players left from their last trips to the final, and the victory in 2011 was perhaps their biggest moment.

"We were naive," said Ptaszek. "We hadn't been to the game in 44 years and that ignorance was bliss.

"We just let it all hang out and played. Now, being more educated on how good the (Quebec conference) can be and how they can be beastly and overwhelming at times, that knowledge isn't a bad thing. This team doesn't sneak up on us. We're very aware of what we're getting into. We can't be overly freaked out by the great film we're seeing of Montreal."

Some consider Laval and Montreal as the two best teams in the country, but the Carabins needed to lean on their defence to beat Manitoba. The Bisons marched to the Montreal 12 on their final drive, but a fumble recovery by star linebacker Byron Archambault ended the threat.

After the game, coach Danny Maciocia stressed the need for better preparation for the Vanier Cup game. Last week, a snowstorm forced his team to abandon its normal practice routine and move to an indoor facility.

Maciocia, the former Edmonton Eskimos coach and general manager, called it a learning experience for a group not used to playing this far into the season.

"I don't think we were as organized as we should have been," said Maciocia. "We were able to pull it off and win, so we met again and we're much better prepared the second time around.

"We had a very good practice (Tuesday), which we didn't do last week. But there are a lot of firsts here, for me too. It's not a Grey Cup week. It's student athletes. There are academics. But the fact that we experienced it last week will help this week."

A priority will be limiting distractions as Canadian university football gets more attention in one week than it gets all season.

"We don't have a template of what a Vanier Cup should look like, they do," said Maciocia. "They've experienced it three times in four years. So this is new to us. There's a lot of work for us to do on that end of it. If we can manage it, we'll be OK on Saturday."

Ptaszek said many of his players were excited because they have never been to Montreal before, but the coaching staff and the veterans will try to keep them focused on the game.

"I have 12 student athletes who have been through this," he said. "This hype and hoopla and celebration of football is fantastic.

"A beast of a football team is going to try to kill you on Saturday afternoon. I have 12 young men that know that the toughest game they'll ever play awaits them. So all this stuff is great, enjoy it, but not at the expense of being prepared to play your best game."

The Marauders downed Mount Allison 24-12 in the Mitchell Bowl last Saturday led by running back Wayne Moore, who replaced the injured Chris Pezzetta early on and put up 146 rushing yards. Moore is to start in the Vanier Cup.

They know they're in for a tougher test against Montreal's aggressive defence, while the Carabins are aware of McMaster's solid defence as well. Manitoba had nine interceptions in three playoff games heading into the Uteck Bowl. The Marauders have picked off seven in three playoff games so far.

"The way the Montreal team plays is very similar," said Ptaszek. "They held Laval to no touchdowns in eight quarters of football, and if they need to open it up on offence, they can. They seem to have a similar philosophy to us on game management."

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