Gaels prepare to host Laval Rouge-et-Or

Yates Cup win over Western sets the football team up for a date with Quebec champions Laval for the Mitchell Bowl

Running back Marty Gordon stiff-arms away the challenge of Western corner Jamie Symianick during Saturday’s Yates Cup win over the Mustangs. Gordon picked up 81 rushing yards on the day, playing in tandem with running back Jimmy Therrien.
Running back Marty Gordon stiff-arms away the challenge of Western corner Jamie Symianick during Saturday’s Yates Cup win over the Mustangs. Gordon picked up 81 rushing yards on the day, playing in tandem with running back Jimmy Therrien.
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Running back Marty Gordon comes face-to-face with a Mustang defender during Saturday’s Yates Cup win.
Running back Marty Gordon comes face-to-face with a Mustang defender during Saturday’s Yates Cup win.
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Kick returner Jimmy Allin returns a punt during Saturday’s 43-39 win over Western at Richardson Stadium.
Kick returner Jimmy Allin returns a punt during Saturday’s 43-39 win over Western at Richardson Stadium.
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Receiver Scott Valberg protects the ball while three Mustang defenders pull him to the ground.
Receiver Scott Valberg protects the ball while three Mustang defenders pull him to the ground.
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Celebrations surrounding the Gaels’ Yates Cup victory over the Western Mustangs last weekend have died down as their playoff campaign continues tomorrow afternoon.

L’Université Laval Rouge-et-Or are heading westward from Quebec City to Richardson Stadium for a Mitchell Bowl meeting with the football team. The winner earns a trip to next weekend’s Vanier Cup at Laval.

The Quebec giants bring some significant baggage that won’t be packed in their bus. They’ve won four Vanier Cup titles in six years and were ranked first nationally this year by the CIS almost every week, with the one exception following their only loss of the season to L’Université du Québec à Montréal Carabins in October.

The Gaels haven’t seen the Rouge-et-Or since they were part of the Quebec University Football League (QUFL). They joined the OUA in 2001. The regular-season game in 2000 at Laval saw the Gaels lose a 33-14 decision.

Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan said it’s difficult to prepare for a team his players haven’t seen before.

“Let’s face it, when you play Western, probably everyone on our team has a buddy there. There’s no problem knowing your opponent when you play Western, Laurier or McMaster,” he said.

In their 15 years of existence, the Rouge-et-Or have played in the Vanier Cup five times and haven’t lost. In 127 years, the Gaels have won three.

The Laval football program runs a budget of about $2 million a year, largely thanks to private financing. Their home crowds usually count at least 10,000-strong.

Sheahan said the Laval program should be used as a model for all Canadian university sport programs.

“They’ve definitely raised the bar. I think that level of professionalism is where all CIS teams should be at,” he said. “While a lot of universities are talking about making improvements, these people are doing it. Anything they need, they get. They take good care of their players and anyone who’s played there has loved it.”

If this year’s performance is any indicator, Laval definitely has the ability to attract quality personnel. The Rouge-et-Or defence was ranked first in the CIS, while their offence was second. Sheahan said the Gaels know the challenge they face.

“Our players are certainly aware of their rise to prominence,” he said. “Laval’s going to be the best team we’ve played all season.”

Laval’s fifth-year quarterback Benoit Groulx, the reigning Hec Creighton Trophy winner, will pose a different challenge to the Gaels defense than Western quarterback Michael Faulds did last week.

“[Grouxl] may not have the arm strength that Danny Brannagan has but he’s very accurate in short to intermediate range,” Sheahan said. “When you’ve got a few good receivers that you have to give a bit of space so you don’t get burned deep.”

Tomorrow’s game marks the furthest the Gaels have been in the post-season since 1992. Sheahan said the long season can erode players.

“At this point in the year every team is using a few more rolls of tape,” he said. “Last week’s game against Western was a tough game. It was physical.”

Tomorrow’s game will decide whether or not the Gaels need hotel rooms booked for next weekend’s Vanier Cup in Quebec City. A Laval win would put them in front of a home crowd for a third-straight appearance in the Canadian championship.

Sheahan said the hardware his team hoisted last weekend will provide the necessary ego-boost.

“Our guys are confident,” he said. “Let’s face it, they’re the league champions. They’re the best our province has to offer.”

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