Elite U Sports football teams set to play for Vanier Cup berths

Western takes on StFX and Montreal plays Saskatchewan in the U Sports national football semifinals on Saturday, vying for the chance to play in the first Vanier Cup in two years. 

Western Mustangs-StFX X-Men meet in Mitchell Bowl; Montreal takes on Saskatchewan in Uteck Bowl

The University of Saskatchewan Huskies celebrate a touchdown against the University of Manitoba Bisons during the third quarter of the Canada West Hardy Cup in Saskatoon, Sask., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. The Huskies defeat the Bisons 45-17. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

Teams will take to the U Sports national football semifinals on Saturday for the chance to book their tickets to the first Vanier Cup in two years. 

OUA champions Western Mustangs will take on AUS title-holders StFX X-Men in the 2021 Mitchell Bowl, while the Uteck Bowl will feature RSEQ winners Montreal Carabins and Canada West victors Saskatchewan Huskies. 

Both games will be streamed on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. 

Coverage of the Mitchell Bowl starts at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, streaming live from Western Alumni Stadium in London, Ont. The Uteck Bowl begins at 3 p.m. ET at CEPSUM in Montreal, Que. 

The 56th Vanier Cup championship returns to Université Laval in Québec City for the seventh time on Saturday, Dec. 4 at TELUS-Université Laval Stadium.

CBC Sports' Signa Butler spoke with Justin Dunk —  former Guelph Gryphon quarterback, Canadian football insider and colour commentator for upcoming Mitchell Bowl and Vanier Cup — on how the teams stack up:

Mitchell Bowl

The X-Men head to London on a high after capturing the Loney Bowl against Bishop's University, putting an exclamation point on their dream, undefeated season. 

They'll look to improve their luck against the University of Western Mustangs, who suffered only a single loss during the season and cruised past Queen's to Yates Cup victory. 

The only Vanier Cup title in StFX history came 55 years ago in 1966. 

St. Francis Xavier University X-Men's captain Ben Von Muehldorfer holds the Jewett Trophy after defeating the Bishop's University Gaiters 25-17 to win the Atlantic University Sports Loney Bowl in Antigonish, N.S., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Western more recently earned the championship title in 2017 against Laval, who prevented the Mustangs from becoming back-to-back champions by defeating them in a rematch final in 2018. 

The run game is where Dunk says sees the game being won or lost. 

"If StFX can slow it down, because you're never really going to stop it, but grind that ground game to a little bit of a halt, then they'll have a good chance to win," he said. 

Dunk notes the Mustangs enter with the top rusher in the nation Keon Edwards, who led in rushing yards per game and rushing touchdowns, and a stout offensive line led by Zack Fry, who is a CFL prospect for the 2022 draft. 

The Western Mustangs defeated Queen's University 29-0 to secure the 113th Yates Cup and move on to the 2021 Mitchell Bowl. (@WesternMustangs/Twitter)

Meanwhile, StFX counters with middle linebacker Ben Von Muehldorfer, who has already played in three national semifinals. 

The east-coast school also boasts Dunk's players to watch: the StFX Fagnan brothers. The star of the show could be the family connection between receiver Isaac and quarterback Silas — the AUS MVP and nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy. 

Uteck Bowl 

When it comes to the Uteck Bowl, ""it's going to be ultra-physical," Dunk said. 

It's an elite match-up, but also unprecedented: it's a first-time battle between the Huskies and Carabins. 

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The University of Saskatchewan Huskies earned its 20th Hardy Cup in the West by taking out the Manitoba Bisons. 

Out of the four teams vying for the championship berth, Montreal — who repeated as conference champion by defeating Laval Rouge — is the university that most recently played for the Vanier Cup. 

Its seeking redemption for a 2019 loss to the Calgary Dinos, who aren't in the picture. The 2020 Vanier Cup iteration was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Carabins last edged McMaster University for the win in 2014. 

The Huskies had a string of Vanier Cup losses from 2004 to 2006. They made an appearance at the 2018 Mitchell Bowl, but lost the honour of advancing to Western. Their last Vanier Cup came in 1998. 

The question, Dunk said, is whether the Huskies' front seven, led by Nick Wiebe, can slow down Montreal's offence, led by quarterback Jonathan Sénécal. 

"To me, those are the two keys: can they pressure Sénécal and can they somehow shut down that run game that the Caribins are known for," he said. 

But it's the Huskies that boast Dunk's player to watch, noting the strong ability of Sam Baker, the Toronto Argonauts draft pick, to get in the end zone and the trusting relationship he has with quarterback Mason Nyhus. 

"I think Baker 'the touchdown maker' can be an absolute X-factor for Saskatchewan," he said. 

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