The Battle of Toronto comes to Varsity Stadium

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Two titans of football will clash this Saturday when the University of Toronto Varsity Blues host the York Lions for the 41st annual Red & Blue Bowl.

Alright, perhaps “titans” isn’t the right term to describe two football programs that have struggled mightily in recent years. But for this one game, with the Argos Cup on the line, there’s a different mentality going in for the players than just another typical regular season match.

“You try and approach every game the same way, but it does have some significance for sure,” said Toronto head coach Greg DeLaval, over the phone. “I think the players on both sides get a little more fired up to play this game.

“And I know when U. of T. was struggling there for a number of years, they always had their best game against York.”

Those struggles include Toronto’s infamous seven-year, 49-game losing streak. The string of futility was finally cut in DeLaval’s first game as head coach in 2008, but the road to regain legitimacy as a football program has been a slow process.

Since snapping the losing streak two years ago, the Varsity Blues have won just twice in 20 games, including dropping three so far this season.

Winning has been an even bigger challenge for York. The Lions have failed to win a game since 2007, including the past two Red & Blue Bowls.

Prior to that, it was York that owned the city rivalry, taking 13-straight Argos Cups.

The Lions treat the game the same way as U. of T. students.

“It’s always exciting to play your cross-town rival,” said York head coach Warren Craney. “We have a natural rivalry, steeped in tradition. It’s not hard to get the players up.”

Craney was hired just four months ago, but the thrill of the annual event is not lost on the former Concordia coach.

“It’s just been a fantastic week so far and I’m so excited for Saturday.”

Given the difference in quality of play so far this season, Craney and his Lions squad will be in tough to turn that excitement into success this Saturday.

Including its exhibition game against Laval, York has failed to score a touchdown in three contests and have been outscored 147-5 over that span.

Craney prefers to not look at the scores so long as he sees improvement with his club every week. Like DeLaval at U. of T., Craney is trying to bring York football out of the ashes and bring in some respectability.

However, he acknowledges that this will be a long process and that this season’s slow start is a result of the coaching staff being brought on just this past summer.

“It was a little bit of a late start, we had a very limited recruiting class,” said Craney. “I wasn’t into the office until June first; our assistant coaches weren’t hired until July first.

“So we set a goal that we were committed to getting the kids we have better. We owe that to them.”

Whether the Lions improve again this week will depend largely on how they handle the Blues’ defence.

DeLaval credits his senior defensive players as the major reason why his team has been competitive so far this season. But like their cross-town rivals, the Blues’ offence needs the most work.

“We’ve struggled to move the ball a little bit,” DeLaval said. “We’ve been decimated with injuries, so it’s really affected the way we move the football.

“Hopefully the offence can generate some more points and better field position this week.”

According to DeLaval, part of the reason for the Blues’ problems with gaining yards is the play of their offensive line.

The Toronto coach centred out this group as the area that needs to be addressed the most for this Saturday and beyond.

Whether the Blues capture their third-straight Argos Cup, or the red-clad Lions begin a new streak of their own, DeLaval knows the outcome is more than just a point in the win column for his players.

“A lot of the kids know each other, the York guys know the U of T guys and vice-versa. You can view this as the battle of Toronto within the teams.”

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