The Laval Rouge et Or football machine keeps rumbling along like an unstoppable tank.
Pascal Lochard led a running game that piled up 449 net rushing yards as the Rouge et Or wore down the young Calgary Dinos for a 25-14 victory in the Vanier Cup game on Saturday afternoon.
It was Laval’s second Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship in a row, their third in four years and their record eighth overall in only 17 years since its well-financed football program started.
“It’s incredible to go back to back and win it here in front of our fans,” said Laval quarterback Alex Skinner, who got nowhere trying to throw the ball against a tough Calgary defensive secondary and just ran it on nearly every play in the second half.
Among Laval’s trio of running backs, the 2012 Vanier Cup MVP Maxime Boutin got 190 yards, Lochard had 198 and Guillaume Bourassa had 30, while graduating receiver Guillaume Rioux had a 31-yard run.
The team set Vanier Cup records for rushing yards — breaking their own mark of 373 set last year — and rushing first downs with 26.
Lochard had Laval’s only touchdown in the fourth quarter. Boris Bede, despite struggling with his kicking all afternoon, managed to tie a Vanier Cup record with five field goals.
The win on a chilly, windy day in front of a raucous, overflow crowd of 18,543 at 12,000-seat Telus Stadium kept Laval undefeated at 12-0 this season. Calgary fell to 11-1.
Jake Harty and Chris Dopko scored touchdowns for the Dinos, who were looking to avenge a 29-2 loss at Laval in the 2010 Vanier Cup game.
Calgary has not won a Vanier Cup since 1995 and was not expected to reach the title game this year after losing 19 starters, including 11 on defence, from last year’s squad.
But they found a way to stay in the game and took over momentum in the third quarter when quarterback Andrew Buckley got the passing game going for a pair of TDs and a brief 14-12 lead. But Laval’s running game took over the rest of the way, eating up the clock with long drives.
“For a while, things were going good, but there was no way we were able to compete on the line of scrimmage,” said Dinos coach Blake Nill. “To be honest, we made two big plays.
“We had a screen play to (Mercer) Timmis and a long pass to (Rashaun) Simonise, and we were able to put the ball in the end zone twice. But at the end, we just couldn’t stop the run. We tried putting bigger people in and to make adjustments, but we just flat out couldn’t stop them.”
Buckley went 19-for-29 for 247 yards and also rushed for 82 yards, but there was little else to the Calgary attack besides Harty’s nine catches for 112 yards. Laval’s top-ranked rush defence held Timmis to 33 yards on 12 carries.
The Rouge et Or dominated territorially, but ran into a bend-but-don’t-break Calgary defence that kept the visitors in the game until the final quarter. Skinner was 8-for-21 for only 93 yards.
The Dinos got through the first half down only 6-0 thanks partly to some bad Laval penalties and place kicking. A 42-yard TD run by Maxime Boutin and an 80-yard punt return by Guillaume Rioux were called back for holding.
“We let them in the game,” said Laval coach Glen Constantin, who got a seventh Vanier Cup title to go with one loss — an overtime setback to McMaster in 2011 in Vancouver. “We had our opportunities in the first quarter.
“There were 14 points called back and we knew that if those guys kept close we’d be in difficulty. But our kids showed a lot of grit. They just took over. They’re proud guys.”
The Rouge et Or moved to the Calgary 23 on the opening drive, but Bede missed right on a 30-yard field goal attempt and settled for a single. A 37-yard attempt with the wind to open the second quarter hit an upright and fell for no points.
Bede finally made one from 40 yards midway through the second quarter, but Constantin took the points off the board due to a roughing the kicker call. Three plays later, Bede was good again from 19 yards.
The Dinos conceded a safety with 2:18 left in the half.
Lochard, the game MVP, carried on seven consecutive plays to the Calgary three to open the second half and Bede was good from 10 yards.
The Dinos bounced back, as Buckley hit Simonise with a 42-yard pass to help set up Harty’s six-yard TD run around the right side at 7:59 to cut Laval’s lead to two points.
Laval blocked a punt to set up a 16-yard Bede boot, but the Dinos marched back on a 39-yard screen pass to Timmis to set up Buckley’s six-yard TD toss to Dopko. Laval answered with Bede’s fourth field goal of the day.
Skinner kept the ball on the ground all the way as Laval marched 89 yards on seven plays for Lochard’s eight-yard TD run at 9:12.
Constantin did not look pleased as his players doused him in Gatorade with time still on the clock, but another drive that ended with Bede’s fifth field goal of the game from 12 yards clinched it in the final minute.
Despite the loss, Nill saw the Vanier Cup as prime experience for a young team.
“That’s the nature of the beast — we’re not mature enough yet to compete here when it counts,” he sad. “This will be a huge experience for them.
“But like I told the kids: that’s the fifth time I’ve ended up No. 2 and I can’t deal with that. If you want to be No. 1, you’ve got to beat these guys (Laval). We were doing it on their home turf and I thought our guys did very well.”