MONTREAL - The highlights of Danny Maciocia's first year as coach of the University of Montreal Carabins were handing the defending champion Laval Rouge et Or their first regular season loss in two years and upsetting Sherbrooke in the opening round of the playoffs.
Now the former Edmonton Eskimos coach and general manager has the toughest task of all — beating the mighty Rouge et Or on their home turf in the CIS Quebec conference championship game and claiming the Dunsmore Cup.
"It's not going to be easy," Maciocia said this week. "We'll be playing in a hostile environment where they've had a lot of success.
"The key ingredient is going to be along the line of scrimmage. Can we hold off their front four and can we manage to create some havoc in their backfield? If we can, then we stand a chance, but a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen."
No. 1-ranked Laval faces No. 7 Montreal on Saturday in Quebec City. Other CIS conference finals have No. 6 UBC at No. 2 Calgary, No. 4 McMaster at No. 3 Western and unranked St. Mary's at No. 9 Acadia.
Defending Vanier Cup champion Laval was 8-1 this season, with the only loss a 17-12 decision at Montreal (6-3) on Oct. 8.
The Carabins recorded eight sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception in that game, but still needed a last-minute touchdown by tailback Rotrand Sene to win.
"If you're a true champion you want to avenge your losses and we have the opportunity for that," said Laval coach Glen Constantin. "It happened before in 2009. It seems every second year we stumble when we play in Montreal. We'll prepare properly and hope we have a good showing at home."
Last fall, Maciocia took over a Montreal team that was in revolt over the firing of former coach Marc Santerre. Some players had vowed to quit the team. But the veteran former CFL coach managed to get nearly all the players back and put together a strong season.
They were underdogs in the semifinals at Sherbrooke, who had beaten them twice this year, but pulled out a victory.
Constanin knows Maciocia's team will show up ready to try for another upset.
"No doubt, any time you go against a very good football coach that's a very strategic, methodical guy who pays a lot of attention to detail, it's a good challenge," said Constantin. "We're amateurs compared to him, but we've held our own against the Greg Marshalls and Blake Nills of this world, so we have no complexes.
"Preparation is one of our traits also. But it's always a great challenge and a rewarding one when things go your way."
Two seasons ago, the Carabins also beat the Rouge et Or at home in the regular season but then were defeated 31-7 in the conference final at Laval.
The Carabins feature a big pass rush and a strong running game of their own with Sene and quarterback Alexandre Nadeau-Piuze, while Laval quarterback Bruno Prud'homme is a threat throwing the ball and handing it off to the top running back in the conference, Sebastien Levesque
"They're very physical on defence and they don't allow you much," Constanin added. "Offensively, we need to stop their running back.
"Their running game is outstanding with Sene and what's developed over the last couple of weeks is their quarterbacks' scrambling ability. He buys time in the pocket and can take off. If we stop them, we'll have a good chance to have success."