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It wasn’t pretty, but Dunsmore Cup decided on ‘gimmick’ play by Rouge et Or



hey practiced the play one final time Thursday afternoon — and it worked like a charm, until quarterback Hugo Richard dropped the pass on the PEPS field at l’Université Laval. It marked the first time in three weeks that had occurred.

“It wasn’t a worry. That was the first one I dropped all season,” Richard said. “But the play always worked against our defence. It’s a great play. There was no doubt in my mind, if that ball was coming to me, I was going to catch it.”

On Saturday afternoon, in the dying seconds of the Dunsmore Cup final — emblamatic of university football supremacy in Quebec — the Laval Rouge et Or, trailing by four points against Université de Montréal, gambled on third down from the Carabins’ three-yard line.

With the wind howling going into the open end of the field and the sun having set, the direct snap went to tailback Sébastien Serré. He flipped the ball to rookie slotback Jonathan Breton-Robert, who calmly sent a short pass to Richard in the end zone.

The touchdown at 14:39 carried the Rouge et Or to a 20-17 victory before a capacity crowd of 5,100 at CEPSUM. It was Laval’s first conference title since 2013, the Rouge et Or now preparing to host the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks on Saturday afternoon in the national semifinal. Wilfrid Laurier outlasted Western 43-40 earlier Saturday in London, Ont.

The winner of Saturday’s match advances to the Vanier Cup on Nov. 26 in Hamilton against either Calgary or St. Francis-Xavier.

“I was really optimistic in the huddle,” said Richard, in his third season at Laval. “For a play like that to work, you need a lot of pieces to fall into place. You never know how it’s going to be played, how the other team’s going to see it or how it’s going to work. You have to play like you know it’s going to work.

“Catch it and get into the end zone. That’s all that was running through my mind,” added Richard, who played at Vanier College. “Secure the ball and get in the end zone.”

These teams traditionally have been the class of the RSEQ, and 2016 was no different. Both teams completed the regular season with 7-1 records. The Carabins opened the season with a three-point victory at Quebec City. The Rouge et Or, who haven’t lost since, returned the favour last month on the road, defeating Montréal by three.

Laval Rouge et Or's Clement Lebreux raises the Dunsmore Cup while celebrating with teammate Anthony Dufour, right, following victory over the Carabins de Université de Montréal in the Quebec university football championship game in Montreal on Saturday, Nov, 12, 2016.
Laval Rouge et Or’s Clement Lebreux raises the Dunsmore Cup while celebrating with teammate Anthony Dufour, right, following victory over the Carabins de Université de Montréal in the Quebec university football championship game in Montreal on Saturday, Nov, 12, 2016. (John Mahoney/Montreal Gazette) John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

The Carabins outscored their opponents by a whopping 296-72. For Laval, it was 289-78. These teams are evenly matched. It’s no surprise the game was decided at the end. Heading into the season, Rouge et Or head coach Glen Constantin conveniently predicted Montréal was the team to beat. Considering the Carabins won the Vanier Cup in 2014, and lost the national championship last year, he was probably correct.

“It’s so typical of these games. It’s been so unbelievable the last three years,” said Carabins head coach Danny Maciocia. “They made some circus catches down there that kept a drive alive. That was a little bit of a gimmick play. They were able to execute it and score. Give them credit.

“It’s a gutsy call, absolutely. Like all calls, you have to execute — and they did. Laval made some big plays at the end. They’re deserving.”

Laval began the final drive from its 40 with roughly 90 seconds remaining. Following a sack by Junior Luke — his second of the game — Richard passed 47 yards to Breton-Robert, moving the ball to the Carabins’ 10. Following an incompletion on first down, Richard passed seven yards to Breton-Robert, setting the stage for the dramatic epilogue, a play called by offensive co-ordinator Justin Ethier.

“We’ve been working this play for a while. It’s part of our short-yardage package. We never used it, but now was the time,” Constantin said. “We didn’t know how they were going to respond. It was all on execution. It wasn’t the prettiest of plays, but it did the job for us.

“We didn’t have much time; it was third down. They’re a very stout defence. If you had one shot from the three (anything else) probably wouldn’t have worked.”

Carabins quarterback Samuel Caron, named the RSEQ’s outstanding player last week, was knocked out of the game with a stinger early in the second half, hit hard from the blind side by defensive-back Adam Auclair. Caron, who fumbled on the play, was replaced by Pierre-Luc Varhegyi, a mobile pivot who changed the game’s tempo.

Varhegyi also passed 56 yards to Guillaume Parent for a third-quarter touchdown, throwing into double coverage on the play, for the Carabins’ only major. Montréal added three field goals and a single.

Laval capped a five-play, 61-yard drive with a short touchdown pass from Richard to Breton-Robert in the second quarter. The visitors might have won more easily except Dominic Lévesque somehow managed to miss five of six field goal attempts, connecting only from 17 yards. Three of the shanks resulted in single points.

And now, we wait to see what becomes of Maciocia, still expected to replace Jim Popp as Alouettes general manager. But there has been no contract offer and, on Sunday morning, Maciocia already was visiting a potential recruit. Business as usual, in other words.

“My state of mind right now is still here in this game, with these players — especially the 13 who are graduating,” Maciocia said Saturday night. “That’s where all my thoughts are.”

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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