KINGSTON, Ont. — Marco Iadeluca isn't buying that the Montreal Carabins are Vanier Cup favourites.
After all, Iadeluca said Montreal was the underdog in its previous two playoff games against Laval and Western, the 2022 and '21 Vanier Cup winners, respectively. On Saturday, the Carabins will meet the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds to decide the Canadian university football championship.
"For me, favourites and underdogs, that's for journalists and fans," Iadeluca said following Montreal's final walk-through Friday at Richardson Stadium. "What I've told the guys is I've been at the University of Montreal since in 2011 and we're 1-3 versus teams in the West, so we definitely don't see ourselves as favourites.
"We know we're playing a great football team. I think turnovers will be key, dominating the line of scrimmage will be key and whoever is able to do that will come out on top."
These two teams met in the '15 Vanier Cup, which UBC won 26-23 in Quebec City. The Thunderbirds are making a seventh appearance overall (having won four times) while Montreal is in the title game for a fourth occasion (winning in 2014).
Montreal has earned the favourite moniker largely based upon a dominant defence. It has allowed no touchdowns and just four field goals over three post-season contests this fall.
Last weekend, Montreal registered eight turnovers and five sacks en route to a 29-3 Uteck Bowl win over the top-ranked Mustangs. It marked the first time since 2019 that Western had been held without a touchdown.
The previous week, Montreal earned a tough 12-6 Dunsmore Cup victory over Laval. The Carabins intercepted Rouge et Or quarterback Arnaud Desjardins three times in that contest.
On Thursday, Montreal linebacker Harold Miessan captured the President's Trophy as Canadian university football's top defensive player. He was also one of five Carabins named to the All-Canadian first-team defence, along with defensive tackle Christopher Fontenard, defensive end Jeremiah Ojo, defensive back Bruno Lagace and cornerback Kaylyn St- Cyr.
UBC is back in the Vanier Cup for the first time since '15 thanks to a 47-17 Mitchell Bowl win over the St. Francis Xavier X-Men. Quarterback Garrett Rooker was a stellar 22-of-26 passing for 303 yards passing with four TDs and no interceptions.
Receiver Sam Davenport had eight catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns while Isaiah Knight ran for 115 yards on 17 carries.
UBC's offensive line is anchored by hulking tackle Theo Benedet, who captured the J.P. Metras Trophy as the top down lineman for a second straight year. The six-foot-seven 305-pound native of North Vancouver, B.C., became the first offensive lineman to achieve that feat and just the third overall.
UBC's Blake Nill will chase a fourth Vanier Cup title as a head coach. He won with the Thunderbirds in 2015 and Saint Mary's Huskies (2001-'02).
"Teams coming out of Quebec are always fundamentally sound," Nill said. "They (Carabins) are strong everywhere and we'll have to adjust our compete level and understand this is a different type of opponent for us."
Nill wants his players to embrace this opportunity and take full advantage of it.
"You want to do everything you can with it," he said. "You never want to leave thinking you could've done more."
Montreal boasts more than just a stout defence. On Thursday night, quarterback Jonathan Senecal became the first Carabin ever to capture the Hec Crighton Trophy as Canadian university football's top player.
The six-foot 200-pound Senecal led the RSEQ in passing, completing 160-of-230 passes (69.6 per cent) for 2,215 yards with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
The 24-year-old native of Mirabel, Que., also finished fourth in rushing with a school-record 394 yards on 34 carries (11.6-yard average) and six touchdowns.
Senecal, guard Alassane Diouf and rush-cover man Charles-Elliot Boulianne were the other Carabins named to the first All-Canadian squad.
"We expect a really big game," Senecal said. "They have many great athletes on defence and I know our defence will have to play a very good game because they have a great quarterback.
"On defence, they're able to play man-to-man and cover receivers. It's going to be a very tough matchup, I'm not going to lie. But we're ready for it."
Senecal completed 21-of-28 passes for 228 yards against Western with a TD and two interceptions. He also ran for a team-high 38 yards on six carries.
Both teams practised in -2 C conditions Friday with 17 kilometre-an-hour winds that gusted up to 33 km/h. Saturday's forecast calls for a temperature of around 4 C at kickoff with similar winds.
Iadeluca doesn't expect weather to dramatically impact the game.
"If it's like (Friday) I think we're fine," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press