PREVIEW: 2023 AUS Men’s Football Loney Bowl – Presented by Bell

PREVIEW: 2023 AUS Men’s Football Loney Bowl – Presented by Bell

STFX shooting for third consecutive AUS banner

By Corey LeBlanc

For the second time in three seasons, the STFX X-Men and Bishop's Gaiters will play for the Loney Bowl, which is awarded to the champions of Atlantic University Sport (AUS) football.

The White and Blue will host the 2023 AUS Football Championship, presented by Bell, on Saturday, Nov. 11, at STFX Stadium on the Antigonish campus. Kick-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. AST.

In their magical run over the past three campaigns, the X-Men have not lost to an AUS opponent. This season, STFX finished first – at 8-0 – while Bishop's fashioned a 6-2 mark; their only setbacks coming versus the defending champions.

Last weekend, in the conference semi-finals, the X-Men defeated the Saint Mary's Huskies 36-20, while the Gaiters bested the Mount Allison Mounties 34-15.

"It is two good teams who have played some close games this season," Gary Waterman, the 2023 AUS Coach of the Year, said. "We expect it to be hard fought."

Bishop's head coach Cherif Nicolas agreed.

"We are looking forward to a great match-up," he offered. "Obviously, STFX has had a great season, and it is going to be a great challenge for us."

In their first match-up of the AUS regular season, on Aug. 26, the X-Men scored a 22-8 home victory over the Gaiters. In the return contest, on Sept. 29, the teams battled in a triple-overtime thriller, with the X-Men coming away with a 34-31 victory.

Nicolas said that the Gaiters are going to have to play "complementary football," getting strong performances in all three phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams).

"We will have to take care of the ball," he added, while stressing the key role turnovers will play in the contest.

Considering it is their third straight Loney Bowl appearance, Waterman noted the benefit of experience in the lead up to and during the game.

"They are a scrappy and physical team, and they are not going to concede anything," Waterman said. "Bishop's is well-coached and we respect them a lot."


Dynamic offenses


The 2023 Loney Bowl will feature the top two offenses in the conference.

Led by quarterback Silas Fagnan (Bonnyville, AB), who won his second AUS Most Outstanding Player award in three seasons, the X-Men scored a conference-best 307 points – an average of 38.4 per game. The AUS all-star finished tops in the conference in completions (138), touchdowns (13), passing yards (2,075) and passing yards per game (259.4).

In the backfield, Malcolm Bussey (Hammonds Plains, NS) broke the 1,000-yard barrier in rushing with a league-best 1,038, with all-star guard Will Chapman (Bedford, NS) leading the O-line that opened holes for the rusher.

Pass catchers Zachary Houde (Thetford Mines, QC) and Ben Harrington (Dartmouth, NS) – both conference all-star selections – finished first and second in receiving yards with 662 and 557, respectively.

As for the Gaiters, they were second in scoring with 238 points, with quarterback Justin Quirion (Saint-Georges, QC) placing second to Fagnan in passing yards (1,190) and passing yards per game (238).

David Chaloux (Joliette, QC), with 574 yards, and Marco A. Briones (Monterrey, Mexico) – an AUS all-star, who added 290 yards of his own, form a formidable one-two punch in the Bishop's backfield.

Led by AUS Rookie of the Year and all-star offensive lineman Mikaël Pattin (Mandeville, QC), the Gaiters ground attack topped the loop with 186 rushing yards per game. His mates in the trenches – Olivier Fournier (Frampton, QC) and Mitchell Martel (Pointe-Claire, QC) – were also named to the all-conference squad.

Leading receiver Oliver Burnett (Fredericton, NB), who finished third in the conference, amassed 487 yards, while earning an all-star nod.


Stingy defenses


The championship game will also feature the top two defenses in the conference, with STFX surrendering a league-low 100 points, with Bishop's not far behind at 110.

Defensive tackle Alex Fedchun (Calgary, AB), the conference's Outstanding Lineman for a second time, garnered an AUS-best 6.5 sacks, which placed him third in U SPORTS. The 2023 all-star will finish his five-year career with 23.5 sacks, which puts him first in the X-Men record book and third in AUS history.

Linebacker Josh Connors (Toronto, ON) and halfback Brandyn Martin (Melfort, SK) also earned all-star status for the White and Blue.

AUS all-stars defensive end Samuel Robichaud (Quebec, QC), linebacker Gabriel Royer (Lawrenceville, QC) and safety Yani Gouadfel (Mitry-Mory, France) make up the foundation of a stout Bishop's defense.

The X-Men led then conference in sacks, with 23, while the Gaiters placed second with 20.

Both teams topped the loop with 10 interceptions apiece.


Special teams


The X-Men continued their run of special teams' excellence with punter Max Capriotti (Mount Hope, ON), placekicker Ben Hadley (Halifax, NS) and kick returner Ben Harrington (Dartmouth, NS) sweeping the 2023 conference all-star spots.

"Critical," Waterman said, when asked about the importance of this facet of the game.

He noted the role they played in the regular season triple-overtime thriller between the sides during the regular season.

"They have a lot of playmakers," Nicolas said, before explaining that the Gaiters will have to "limit their [StFX's] returns."


Home cooking


When it comes to hosting the title game, Waterman talked about the benefit of not having to travel; not to mention his players being able to "sleep in their own beds," and follow a regular routine.

"And, of course, it is always great to play in front of our home fans," he added.

Regardless of where the game is being played, Nicolas said his Gaiters will be ready to compete for their first AUS banner.

"We have great respect for the X-Men, but we know that we are a really good team, too," Nicolas said.

The winner of the Loney Bowl will move on to a U SPORTS semi-final and kick-off against the Canada West champions in the Mitchell Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 18 for a spot in the 58th Vanier Cup, which is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 25, at Richardson Memorial Stadium in Kingston, Ontario.






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