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QB Hunter Guenard guides Axemen into Loney Bowl

Acadia fourth-year quarterback Hunter Guenard led the Atlantic conference in yards, completions, touchdowns and efficiency. He leads the Axemen into this Saturday's Loney Bowl against the Bishop's Gaiters. ACADIA ATHLETICS
Acadia fourth-year quarterback Hunter Guenard led the Atlantic conference in yards, completions, touchdowns and efficiency. He leads the Axemen into this Saturday's Loney Bowl against the Bishop's Gaiters. ACADIA ATHLETICS - Contributed

Hunter Guenard is the favourite to win the Atlantic conference football MVP.

For a second straight season, the Acadia fourth-year quarterback has led the league in yards, completions, efficiency and touchdowns. He carried the U Sports No. 4 Axemen to an 8-0 campaign and a home date in this Saturday's Loney Bowl at Raymond Field against the Bishop's Gaiters. 

And yet, to him, it was an off year statistically. 

"Believe it or not, from a numbers standpoint, I felt like I underachieved based on the goals I set for myself this season," said Guenard, who accumulated 2,287 yards (an average of 285.9 per game), 145 completions, 16 touchdowns and a 155.7 passer rating. 

"But the ultimate goal was to go 8-0 and host a Loney Bowl on our field. 

"I didn't reach all of the goals that I wanted to but I guess I did have an OK season."

No quarterback is an island and no quarterback has the options like Guenard.

He spreads the offence around, utilizing a strong supporting cast and offensive depth.

He has receiving targets like Cordell Hastings and Glodin Mulali - second and third respectively in the league in yards - or Matthew Gledhill, who tied for the conference lead in TD receptions.

In the backfield, Dale Wright was the league's top rusher. Cole Estabrooks was fifth.  

"Honestly, when you have Dale Wright, the MVP from a couple seasons ago, Hastings and Mulali on the outside and then inside guys like Gledhill, (Jacob) Fenchak, (Caleb) Ryder, (Ethan) Kimura, those boys making lots of plays, it makes it pretty easy for me," said the six-foot-one, 220-pound pivot from Calgary.

"If they want to shade the two mostly-targeted guys in Mulali and Hastings, we have shown those interior guys can make plays too. I'm in a situation where I feel like with all five receivers, if we have a one-on-one, we are winning that route.

"It's a pretty nice luxury to have," he added. "We have a really old group now who have played together for a long time. It's nice that you don't have to focus in on just one player."

Wright and Hastings, like Guenard, are in their fourth year of eligibility. The Axemen are a veteran group with defensive stalwarts like Bailey Feltmate, Rory Kelly and Thomas Grant also in their senior year. 

For some, this could be their last hurrah.

"As you get older you start realizing that your days of playing at Raymond Field are numbered," said Guenard, who's unsure what the future holds for him after this season. "We have grown up together. We showed up here at 18 years old and now we're 22, 23.

"But the older players and younger ones are all pretty hungry with high expectations for ourselves.  

"We are in the situation if we win, we get to host a national semifinal on our field. We're all going to be pretty hungry to get that opportunity to keep on playing at home in front of our fans."

Guenard's lofty expectations stem from appearing in the U Sports East-West Bowl in Ottawa last May.

The annual top prospects game featured the top Canadian university players and serves as the first step to identifying future CFL talent.

The Acadia contingent at the East-West Bowl also included Wright, Hastings, Kelly, Feltmate and defensive back Jadin White-Frayne.

"After playing at that national-calibre level with the top four guys (at quarterback), I've had that expectation for myself for quite awhile," Guenard said. 

"But not only for me, it was a pretty big confidence-builder for us a team. Acadia sent six guys to the East-West Bowl. All of sudden you're at practice and you look around and, dang, realize that Dale is the best running back out here and Cordell is the best receiver and Bailey's the best linebacker. For a confidence perspective, that had a really big impact on us."

The Axemen are seeking their second AUS banner in three years.

The Gaiters, who joined the AUFC in 2017, will make their first appearance in a conference final since a 14-7 victory over McGill in the 1994 Quebec Intercollegiate Football Conference championship. 

Bishop's, which endured through an 0-8 season in 2018, punched its ticket to the Loney Bowl by virtue of a 28-18 victory over the Mount Allison Mounties in last weekend's AUS semifinal. The Gaiters took a  commanding 19-0 lead into halftime and never looked back.

With the likes of Charles Aubry under centre (21-for-28, 213 yards and two touchdowns versus Mount A), linebacker Louve Moussenguet (tied for the AUS lead with 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for losses 8.5) and receiver/returner Nathan Walker (257 all-purpose yards in the semifinal win), Guenard acknowledges that Acadia will have its hands full on Saturday.

Aubry, Moussenguet and Walker were each named AUS football players of the week on Tuesday.

"They have improved a lot this year, obviously, going from the struggles of the past two seasons to now finishing .500 and hosting a home playoff game," Guenard said. "They should be a good opponent for us."

In their regular-season meetings, the Axemen manhandled the Gaiters 53-13 in the season opener in Wolfville on Aug. 24. It was a closer matchup a month later in Lennoxville, but Acadia still prevailed 24-12 on Sept. 28.

"The second time they played us they put up a pretty good fight," Guenard recalled. "Their linebackers like to put up a lot of pressure, especially inside. We need to pick up their blitzes and I need to be able to find the soft spots on the field they leave open when they send those blitzes. 

"I'll have to stay disciplined with my reads and find the open receiver out there. I'm looking forward to the challenge of playing these guys."

The stage is set for all four Canadian university conference championships this Saturday.

In Quebec City, the defending Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or (8-1) will face the Montreal Carabins (6-2) in the Dunsmore Cup final for the seventh consecutive season. Laval has won the past three championships. 

The winner will travel to either Wolfville or Lennoxville for the Uteck Bowl national semifinal on Nov. 16.

Elsewhere, the U Sports No. 1 Western Mustangs (8-0) will seek their third straight Yates Cup championship when they host the No. 3 McMaster Marauders (6-2) in London, Ont. McMaster is making its first OUA final appearance since 2014.

The Western-McMaster winner will travel west to face the Canada West champion in the Nov. 16 Mitchell Bowl national semifinal. 

The Calgary Dinos (6-2), looking for their ninth Canada West title in 12 years, will host the Saskatchewan Huskies (5-3) this Saturday in a rematch of the 2018 Hardy Cup. Saskatchewan upended Calgary 43-18 in last year's final.

The 55th Vanier Cup will be held Nov. 23 in Quebec City.

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