Just 12 yards stood between the Manitoba Bisons, and a trip to their first Vanier Cup since 2007 on Saturday afternoon, however fate would not play into the visitors’ hands, as they fell 29-26 against a stingy Montreal Carabins defence.
Trailing by five points with 1:32 remaining, Bison quarterback Jordan Yantz led his team 82 yards, all the way into the Montreal red zone, before a sack, and forced fumble by Anthony Coady would end any chance of a Manitoba comeback, as the Carabins recovered the ball with just 30 seconds left to play.
It was a gutsy performance from a Bison team that was forced to play comeback football all day long.
Montreal wasted very little time taking the lead, as Carabin QB Gabriel Cousineau found receiver Mik Davidson from 89 yards out, on just the second play from scrimmage, to pull ahead.
After a Felix Ménard-Brière rouge made the score 8-0, the Bisons answered back. Yantz drove the Manitoba offence 75 yards, and found long-time teammate Matt Sawyer from eight yards out, for the first of two touchdown connections on the day.
Cousineau would continue his hot start for Montreal immediately afterwards, to keep the momentum with the home team. Davidson hauled in his second TD on the ensuing drive for Montreal, followed by a field goal, and safety, to give the Carabins a commanding 20-7 lead after one quarter.
The Bisons answered quickly in second frame, scoring on their first drive. Yantz found Sawyer from 30 yards out to give the Herd some confidence, on a series that took just three plays.
Manitoba would carry the momentum for the majority of the second quarter, as both defences stiffened up after a 27-point first frame.
The Carabins refused to let the Bisons get too comfortable, though, as Cousineau scampered in on a six-yard QB keeper with 2:48 remaining, replenishing the 13-point lead. The score was aided by a missed field goal by Bison kicker Ryan Jones on the previous Manitoba drive.
Getting the ball back with 2:42 left in the first half, Manitoba stayed focused, with Yantz calling his own number, diving in from 10 yards out, to make the score 27-21 heading into the break. The Bison signal caller completed four of five passes on the drive, for 59 yards, before using his legs to get the major.
A combined total of just seven points were scored in the entirety of the second half. Montreal recorded two safeties, while the Bisons got a 40-yard field goal from Jones, but it wasn’t enough to topple the second-ranked Carabins.
Both teams turned the ball over on their first drives of the third quarter, setting the stage for what turned into a defensive slugfest.
Manitoba got the ball to start the third, and was the first to cough up the pigskin. Stud linebacker Byron Archambault—the 2014 RSEQ defensive player of the year—punched the ball out of Kienan LaFrance’s hands, and Coady dove on it.
The Bison defence—which had given up just 10 total points in the second half during the playoffs heading into the Uteck Bowl—answered with a big play of their own immediately after the Carabin offence retook the field.
Linebacker Jonathan Jones displayed his athletic abilities, stealing the ball out of the hands of Davidson, to give possession back to Manitoba.
The third and final turnover of the second half ended up sealing the win for Montreal, with the duo of Coady and Archambault ending Manitoba’s season, right when it looked like the Bisons were about to finish off an impressive comeback in the final minute.
Applauding the effort
Sawyer, who finished the day with five receptions for 80 yards, and the two majors, commended Montreal for their coaching on the final Bison drive.
“They chose a good play call, and sent more guys than we could block,” Sawyer said. “Kudos to Montreal.”
Despite the loss, Sawyer remained positive about the way Manitoba performed in the post-season.
“It was an awesome run. We played a great team, and were just one play away.”
The two squads combined for six sacks on defence, with four coming from Manitoba, but the Carabins were able to control the time of possession, holding the ball for 32:28, compared to 27:32 for the Bisons.
Mitchell Harrison had his best game of the season for Manitoba, recording a team-high seven tackles, along with an interception and pass break-up, while Archambault and Coady both put up big numbers for the Carabins.
Archambault finished with seven and a half tackles, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery, while Coady had four and a half tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Cousineau had an impressive 421 passing yards for Montreal, while Yantz finished the day 22-of-35, for 320 yards and two scores against the nation’s best pass defence. When it counted, however, the Carabins stood their ground, advancing to the National title in their own backyard next Saturday.
Montreal will now face the McMaster Marauders of the OUA in the Vanier Cup. The Mitchell Bowl champs defeated the Mount AllisonMounties in the other CIS semi-final.