Assistant Sports Editor
No. 9 Acadia Axemen (8-1)
Flying under the radar until late in the season, the Acadia Axemen have quietly put together one of the most successful overall teams in the CIS this season.
The Axemen will bring twelve conference all-stars to the Uteck Bowl including the AUS Most Valuable Players on both offence and defence with quarterback Kyle Graves and linebacker Tom Labenski taking home earning those honors.
In addition, Acadia’s coach Jeff Cummins, in his ninth season in that role, was named AUS Coach of the Year.
On offense the Axemen average 423.2 yards per game, ranking second in their conference and tenth in the CIS in that category.
Led by Graves, who threw for 1856 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, Acadia’s attack is based on a consistent passing game that had Graves targeting five different receivers more than ten times in eight regular season games.
On the ground three running backs carried the majority of the load for the Axemen with sophomore players Zack Skibin and Zack Clarke complementing senior Brett Haenni for an average of 175.5 yards per game. This run-by-committee style helped Acadia be the premier rushing team in the AUS.
The Axemen’s defence is one of the best in the country. Ranked third in the CIS, the unit averaged an AUS-low of 307.2 yards per game. Undeniably the greatest strength of this team, that group has been dubbed “The Wolfville Wall”, a reference to the university’s location in Wolfville, NS.
One of the Axemen’s five defensive all stars, defensive tackle Jake Thomas is a big reason why the unit allowed less than 100 yards rushing each game. Recording nine sacks and leading the country with 16 tackles for a loss, Thomas is an exciting player to watch.
In order for Acadia to be successful, the defence must be stout against the run and continue to generate the big plays that have held opposing offences to an average of 13.5 points per game.
A loss to perennial powerhouse St. Mary’s on Oct. 1 was the only blemish in an otherwise dominant season for the Axemen. The Huskies won that game by a score of 8-3, handing Acadia its first and only loss.
Redemption was in the offing as the two faced off in the Loney Bowl on Nov. 12. St. Mary’s was the heavy favourite entering play, as they had captured the title for four consecutive seasons from 2007- 2010.
However, it seems to be a season of destiny for the Axemen, who ended the Huskies’ regional reign by the decisive score of 39-20. The AUS championship is the 12th in program history, earning the Axemen their third Uteck Bowl appearance.
The Axemen, who lost both of those previous games to Laval and Laurier respectively, are looking to make it to the Vanier Cup for the fifth time, and the first in 30 years.
No. 4 McMaster Marauders (9-1)
This 2011 season has been one of the most remarkable in recent memory for the McMaster Marauders.
Despite missing key players for a majority of the regular season, the team suffered only one loss and captured the Yates Cup without much playoff resistance.
McMaster has 11 conference All-Stars scattered across both their offence and defence. Receiver Michael Dicroce, who led the CIS with over 900 receiving yards, and linebacker Ryan Chmielewski, who led the Marauders in tackles, were named conference Most Valuable Players on offence and defence, respectively.
Led by star quarterback Kyle Quinlan, the Marauders had the most potent offence in the country this season, leading the CIS with an average of 530.5 yards per game. Despite missing three games, Quinlan put together a season worthy of a First Team OUA All-Star.
However, while the passing game remains the Marauders’ focus, there is a bright spot emerging in McMaster’s backfield. Rookie running back Chris Pezzetta led the team with 468 rushing yards this season, and largely supplanted senior Joey Nemet as the team’s feature back.
In the Marauders’ Yates Cup victory on Nov. 12, Pezzetta rushed the ball 19 times for 151 yards and a touchdown, an impressive contribution from such a young player.
Look for the ground game to have a big impact on the outcome of the Uteck Bowl, as most observers focus on the more high profile passing game led by Quinlan and Dicroce.
Not to be outdone, the Marauders defence has been one of, if not the most exciting to watch in the OUA. In nine games prior to the Yates Cup, McMaster intercepted opposing quarterbacks 25 times.
Although ranked tenth in the CIS and allowing an average of 357.9 yards per game, the Marauders defence has been much more dominant in the playoffs, holding both Queen’s and Western to under 20 points.
Capturing the first Yates Cup since 2003, the Marauders have earned the opportunity to make the program’s first Vanier Cup appearance. With a mix of veteran leadership and young talent, there is no denying the Marauders’ capability to put points on the board.