AUS Semifinal Preview
AUS Playoff Semifinal Previews
The 2021 AUS Football schedule features a weird accidental quirk that nobody could have foreseen: both of the matchups from the final week of the regular season will be completely repeated in the semi-finals. And semi-finals being plural is a quirk in itself for the AUS, which has never (at least to my knowledge) had two semi-final playoff games.
Here is a preview of each playoff matchup as four teams compete for two spots in the Loney Bowl championship game next weekend. Both semi-finals kick off at 2pm Atlantic Time (1pm ET), and are free to stream on aus.yaretv.com.
(3) Bishop’s Gaiters at (2) Mount Allison Mounties
This will be a very interesting matchup in Sackville. On the one hand, you have the worst defence entering the playoffs going up against the worst offence in the playoffs, and on the other hand you have the second best offence against the best defence by a landslide.
Bishop’s offence relied heavily on running back Louis-Philippe Gregoire, who finished second in conference rushing yards with 591 yards in six games. Aside from Gregoire, it’s tough to really find a bright spot in the Bishop’s offence. Between three quarterbacks, the Gaiters combined for five TD passes and 10 interceptions, and did not have a 100-yard receiver all season; in fact, their leading receiver only had 273 all year, an average of less than 50 per game.
The unfortunate thing for Gregoire: his two worst games were against Mount Allison. In his season debut he ran 19 times for 96 yards – not a bad performance – but after eclipsing 100 yards in each of the next four, the season finale at the Mounties he was held to 51 yards on 12 carries. If Bishop’s is going to rely on Gregoire for their offence, they will need to actually establish him first.
Defensively, Mount Allison had a phenomenal season. 10.2 points against per game (second in the country), 174.5 passing yards against per game (fifth in the country), 125.7 rushing yards against per game (eighth in the country), 10 interceptions (fifth in the country), and 14 sacks (10th in the country and second in the conference). Those are fairly daunting numbers especially against an offence that is as one-dimensional as Bishop’s is.
The scary part is it’s not one player who is shutting things down on defence. It seems as though each defensive starter has had their game to shine, some with multiple. Daniel Bell is well on his way to an All-Canadian season at halfback (37 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 INT, 6 pass breakups), while Reece Martin led the conference in sacks, finished second in tackles for loss AND pass breakups… from the DEFENSIVE TACKLE position. Not to mention some very strong play from Graeme Stevens, Lucas Cormier, Oumar Diallo, and potential rookie of the year Owen O’Neal among others.
Now let’s flip the script; Bishop’s struggled defensively. Slightly ahead of Saint Mary’s (who missed the playoffs and couldn’t seem to do anything right on offence or defence this season), the Gaiters finished fourth-best in nearly every defensive statistic. The good news for them? Mount Allison struggled offensively. With a conference-worst 766 passing yards and 247.3 total yards per game, Bishop’s is going to have to do what Mount Allison did all season and create some offence with their defence.
Mount A will win if: Their offence can put points on the board. They showed signs of life in the fourth quarter on Saturday, especially from a passing perspective, so if they can continue to be productive with shots down the field to Cody Barton and Adam Shambemiradam, they will move on to next Saturday.
Bishop’s will win if: They can wear down the Mountie defence by pounding Gregoire up the middle continuously. If he can average north of five yards per carry, there’s no reason they couldn’t string together some drives ending in touchdowns. And let’s hope it doesn’t come down to field goals; Bishop’s went 0-for-9 on field goal attempts this season.
X-Factor: The Sackville wind. The long range forecast for Saturday says it could be blustery, and this could favour the home Mounties, who are used to practicing and playing in it.
(4) Acadia Axemen at (1) St Francis Xavier X-Men
Saturday’s upcoming semi-final will only be the second meeting between these two squads this season. In the primer last weekend, St FX prevailed 13-7 in a weird game which saw the X-Men play many backups, and Acadia stick with many starters late into the second half.
St FX comes in with an unblemished 6-0 record, but despite being far from perfect went through the regular season looking like the most complete team in the conference. A dynamic offence, a defence which was top-five in most major statistics nationally, and a special teams unit which no doubt has some tricks up their sleeves courtesy of veteran CFL coach and coordinator Jim Daley.
Silas Fagnan will no doubt be named AUS MVP despite sitting out the regular season finale. Passing for 1297 yards and 10 TDs in his five starts, Fagnan also added three touchdowns on the ground (tied for the conference lead) and showcased his mobility throughout the season. His best performance was week five against Bishop’s, in which he went 25-of-26 passing for 321 yards and 4 TDs, and ran in another score (sidenote: I want to see the Marshall Ferguson passing chart of this game).
Not to be outdone in the MVP conversation is Malcolm Bussey, who with 215 yards in the final game of the season became the conference’s leading rusher with 666 yards in 6 games. The X-Men also feature the top two receivers in the conference, with Benoit Cormier and Isaac Fagnan (yes, the QB’s brother) finishing first and second, respectively, with 30 and 27 receptions for 408 and 393 yards, and tied with 4 touchdowns apiece. And let’s not forget Zakariya Karim, fifth in receiving yards with 269.
St FX’s defence is a multi-headed monster as well; Ethan Mastin and Nathan Cayouette each led the secondary with three interceptions, while middle linebacker Ben Von Muehldorfer had a pair of interceptions, both returned over 50 yards for touchdowns. Alex Fedchun anchors a strong defensive line which led the AUS in both rushing yards allowed and sacks.
Acadia is a puzzling team because of some of the elite playmaking talent on their offence, who failed to produce at the level many expected them to produce this season. Quarterback Duncan Patterson showed he can certainly throw a nice deep ball, but his yards-per-completion is only barely above 10 on the season (10.1 to be exact).
Matthew Gledhill is a dynamic receiver; he is tall, fast, shifty and has good hands, so it’s no surprise he led the team with 18 receptions for 284 yards. However, outside of Gledhill (who was held to 6 catches for only 41 yards in the final two games combined), Acadia didn’t have a single receiver over 150 yards for the season.
Cole Estabrooks might be the single most talented running back in the conference, but you wouldn’t know from looking at his 424 yards and 4.6 yards per carry average. Even more shocking is the fact that he only had three runs of longer than 20 yards all season; and they all came in the same game! If he can rediscover his expected form, Acadia could be in great shape – however, St FX’s defence is going to be tough to run the ball against, as outlined above.
Acadia will win if: They can get St FX’s offence off the field. Establishing Estabrooks on the ground, forcing turnovers and maybe a special teams trick or two (which head coach Jeff Cummins always has in the playoffs), and holding Fagnan and the X-Men to a limited time of possession will go a long way to Acadia advancing.
St FX will win if: They stay the course. A heavy dose of Bussey on the ground will open things up for their top three incredibly talented receivers, and just let Silas Fagnan be Silas Fagnan. Defensively, change nothing and let the playmakers make the plays.
X-factor: Ben George, Acadia’s punter/kicker. With a solid 40.1 yard punt average in the regular season, George could be very important to Acadia’s success if the offence can’t move the ball. And because he’s so athletic I wouldn’t be shocked if he was part of one or two of those special teams tricks I mentioned above.
Wray Perkin is a former staff member with the Mount Allison Mounties and Ottawa Redblacks, now Offensive Coordinator for the Tantramar High School Titans based in Sackville, NB.