Over 80 of the nation’s top prospects for the 2019 CFL Draft took centre stage this week for the 16th annual running of the U SPORTS football showcase game, the Valero East West Bowl. For the third consecutive season, it was Team West that reigned supreme in a tight 15-14 contest that saw just two combined touchdowns, one defensively and one offensively. Below are four quick thoughts from 2018’s matchup.
Betts continues to shine
There’s no doubt that entering the week’s worth of events, Laval defensive end Mathieu Betts had the most eyes on him. The two-time defending outstanding down lineman in U SPORTS has all the makings to be a first overall selection in the CFL draft, and will surely garner plenty of attention down south as well.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t disappoint when it came to game action, registering Team East’s only touchdown of the game after stealing the ball out of UBC quarterback Michael O’Connor’s hands and taking it 45 yards to the house. Betts’s burst off of the edge was apparent all game long, as he registered three tackles and he was rewarded as Team East’s player of the game.
🏈 Here’s your 2018 @ValeroEnergy @USPORTSca #EastWestBowl MVP’s: @yorkulions Colton Hunchak for the West and @rougeetor Mathieu Betts for the East! // Voici les joueurs du match du #DéfiEstOuest Valero: Colton Hunchak de York pour l’Ouest et Mathieu Betts du RetO pour l’Est! pic.twitter.com/s9dVT21Gu0
— U SPORTS Football (@USPORTS_FB)
Explosive return game
With so many playmakers on the field in a showcase game, it can be hard to distinguish yourself amongst the pack. But that’s exactly what Team West’s Trivel Pinto, Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Jamel Lyles and Team East’s Kalem Beaver did via the return game.
Pinto of UBC demonstrated his one cut vision, with an average of 17.3 yards on three kickoff returns — his longest being 27. Gittens Jr. of Laurier and Lyles of Manitoba primarily handled punt return duties for the West and were a terror to bring down all game.
Gittens Jr. had four returns for 45 yards, while Lyles did a tremendous job reading where the ball was, forcing two critical no yards penalties on Team East — one of which was for 15. His biggest gain was unfortunately called back to due to penalty, but had it not, he’d likely have had close to 100 all-purpose yards overall.
Ottawa’s Beaver had the biggest punt return of the day, utilizing his speed and deceptiveness to gain 51 yards, while putting his team in field-goal range.
Lyles puts on a show
It’s no surprise that running back Jamel Lyles has high expectations for himself every time he’s on the football field. It’s evidenced, just in part, by his 2015 Canada West Rookie of the Year selection, as well as his record-setting rushing display during the 2016 Canadian Junior Football League season. He continued to up his stock during the Valero East West Bowl, scoring the game’s only offensive touchdown — an 18 yard scamper that also happened to be the game winner late in the fourth quarter.
Lyle’s has consistently proven to be a multi-faceted threat and today was no different.
— U SPORTS Football (@USPORTS_FB)
Lee leads an impressive crop of defensive backs
It’s hard to miss UBC defensive back Malcolm Lee. At 6’3″ and 205 pounds, he’s a physical force in the secondary. The former NCAA Division 1 commit, who switched to the defensive side of the ball upon coming to UBC, received rave reviews all week long and showed up big yet again on Saturday afternoon for Team West. He demonstrated lock-down coverage on multiple occasions, including a few plays against dynamic Queen’s standout Chris Osei-Kusi.
Not to be outdone was his compadre in the Team West secondary, Payton Hall. The Saskatchewan Huskies defender has accrued 55 tackles, a sack and six interceptions – four of which came last year – during his time with the Green Dogs. His playmaking ability was on full display yet again on Saturday, as he intercepted an overthrown pass from reigning Vanier Cup champion Chris Merchant which set up the game-winning Lyles touchdown.
Despite the loss, the Team East defensive backs also strutted their stuff. Two Ottawa cover-men in Jamie Harry and Cody Cranston stood out due to their 6’2″ frames, and ability to disrupt any receiver coming their way. Harry had four tackles during the contest and was a First Team All-Canadian this past year, while Cranston was named to the 2015-16 OUA All Rookie-Team. Cranston’s older brother Ty, also a defensive back with tremendous size, currently plays in the CFL for Montreal.