The 2023 Canada Life Vanier Cup will be held on Saturday November 25, taking place in Kingston, Ont., with Richardson Memorial Stadium at Queen’s University playing host to the 58th edition of one of the biggest sporting events in Canada. In a rematch of the 2015 national championships, the UBC Thunderbirds, this year’s Mitchell Bowl champs, will take on the Montréal Carabins, winners of the Uteck Bowl.
Both finalists easily won their semifinal matchups, with a strong defence shutting down their opponents and an efficient offence led by their starting quarterbacks, Garrett Rooker for UBC and Jonathan Sénécal for Montréal. Both players won the offensive MVP for their respective Bowl games, making for an exciting championship duel between the two signal callers.
The last time these two teams met at the Vanier Cup, the game went right down to the wire. In a dramatic finish to the 2015 championship game, UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor got sacked on the third down with the game tied at 23, giving Montréal what appeared to be the final drive of the game and a chance to take the lead for good. Instead, an interception by the Thunderbirds gave possession back to UBC, with 1:19 left on the clock to try and win the game. That crucial turnover by the Carabins ended in a 20-yard field goal and a Vanier Cup for UBC, while Montréal was left with the bitter taste of a failed title defence, having just won their first national championship the year prior.
This will be UBC’s sixth appearance at the Vanier Cup, and the first since that thrilling win over Montréal in 2015. They have won the Cup four times, with the other three in 1982, 1986 and 1997. Head coach Blake Nill will be looking for his second title with the Thunderbirds, after winning the first in 2015 in his first year leading the team.
In the semifinals, UBC defeated the STFX X-Men 47-17 for the Mitchell Bowl. Rooker controlled the offence for the Thunderbirds, throwing 22 completions on 26 attempts for 303 yards and four of UBC’s five touchdowns in the game. Sam Davenport was Rooker’s main receiver, connecting on eight passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Isaiah Knight had 17 rushes for 115 yards, leading to five first downs for the team. Jaxon Ciraolo-Brown, the defensive player of the game, made 5.5 tackles and had one sack. The Thunderbirds defence made 42 tackles and had four sacks and three interceptions in the game.
The Carabins will play in the Vanier Cup for the fourth time, with their lone win in 2014. Their most recent appearance was in 2019, where they lost 27-13 to the Calgary Dinos. Marco Iadeluca, who returned to Montréal as the head coach in 2020, won the Cup with the Carabins in 2014 as an assistant head coach, and will look to avenge their 2015 loss to UBC with the program’s second national title.
Montréal put their impressive defence on display in the Uteck Bowl, defeating Western 29-3 and holding the Mustangs’ offence, which averaged 42.6 points per game, to just a single field goal. Defensive back Louis-Philippe Gauthier led the way with five solo tackles and an interception. The Carabins finished with 47 tackles, along with five sacks and three interceptions. Sénécal ran the offence for Montréal with 21 completions on 31 attempts, for 228 yards and a touchdown. He also led the team with 38 yards on six rushes, twice running the ball himself to get the first down. Kicker Philippe Boyer accounted for the majority of points scored for Montréal, with four field goals and the conversions on both of the team’s touchdowns, as well as a single on a kickoff in the second quarter.
CBC will have the English coverage for the 2023 Vanier Cup, while TVA Sports will cover the French broadcast for the event. Kickoff will be at 1 p.m. Eastern.