Bailey Feltmate is grateful he doesn't have to line up against Dale Wright.
"Dale is a hard hitter so having him on my side is definitely a plus," Feltmate, the Acadia fourth-year linebacker and AUS defensive player of the year, said about his teammate, a three-time conference all-star running back.
"He works so hard and exemplifies that in practice and throughout a game. I couldn't be happier for him."
The five-foot-eight Wright might be small in stature but, at a shade under 200 pounds, he's strong and athletic enough to elude most tacklers.
The Bishop's Gaiters can attest to that. Wright scored all three touchdowns in last Saturday's 31-1 Acadia victory over Bishop's in the Loney Bowl at Raymond Field. Wright was named the AUS championship most valuable player.
The win guaranteed Acadia a hosting berth in the Uteck Bowl for the second time in three years.
The Axemen will face the Quebec conference champion Montreal Carabins, who make their third national semifinal appearance in six years, on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) in Wolfville.
When Acadia last hosted a national semifinal, the team had only three full days to prepare for the 2017 Uteck Bowl.
The '17 Loney Bowl between Acadia and Saint Mary's is now part of local football lore.
It was nearly decided by forfeit in the midst of an eligibility dispute surrounding a Huskies player. The issue went before the courts and resulted in the cancellation of the Atlantic conference championship. But it was hastily reinstated. When the dust settled, a Tuesday afternoon matchup was scheduled to decide the league title.
The Axemen prevailed 45-38 in a playoff shootout but left Acadia little preparation to face the powerful Western Mustangs.
Western scored on its first eight possessions, led by 57 at the half and cruised to an 81-3 record-breaking dismantling of Acadia en route to a Vanier Cup national championship.
Wright and the Axemen have learned from the past but aren't dwelling on it. They're an experienced, more mature group than two years ago. A team that led the country in points (38.6) and total yards (482.5) per game during the regular season. And they have ample time to get ready for their next opponent.
"It's definitely different than last time," said the 23-year-old Wright, who was raised in Markham, Ont.
"We now have more opportunity to watch our opponent and get to know Montreal. We'll walk in, watch film, see what we're playing up against. It's tough when you don't play against teams from another conference. We don't get to play them twice, three times a season like we do in the AUS. But this time around we have more time to prepare."
Wright rode the ebbs and flows that season. He was selected as the conference's outstanding player of the year in 2017 when he became just the second Acadia player to rush for more than 1,000 yards. He finished with 1,030, 92 yards short of Brian Walling's team record.
But against SMU in the Loney Bowl, Wright injured his Achilles' tendon and ankle and was sidelined for the Uteck Bowl. He could do nothing but watch his team succumb to the Western powerhouse.
He's thankful to be at full health heading into this weekend.
"It's nice to have some health on my side and help my team in different ways," said Wright, who led the conference this season in rushing with 813 yards - the only AUS rusher to average over 100 yards per game (101.6) - and tied for second in the country in rushing touchdowns with eight.
"It sucked being out two years ago and not being able to contribute. That's why it feels extra special to have this Loney Bowl under my belt."
The U Sports fourth-ranked Axemen, undefeated during the regular season, take a perfect 9-0 record into their matchup against the No. 5 Carabins, who upended the defending Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or 25-10 in the Dunsmore Cup conference final last Saturday.
Led by quarterback Hunter Guenard, the conference MVP and AUS nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy as U Sports outstanding player of the year, Acadia has outscored opponents 340-166 in nine games this season.
The Axemen dominated in the Loney Bowl, accumulating 486 total offensive yards, including 269 yards in the air, while allowing 158 to Bishop's.
With many players in their senior year - including Feltmate, Guenard, receiver Cordell Hastings and defensive stalwarts Jadin White-Frayne, Rory Kelly and Thomas Grant, among others - this could be the last hurrah for this talented group.
"The guys are committing a lot more time into football," said Wright, who rushed for 118 yards on 21 carries in the Loney Bowl. He was named the U Sports offensive player of the week on Wednesday.
"We're all coming to realize the past few games that these could be the last games for some of us. We're balling for guys like that knowing these are their last games.
"There's such a great vibe here in Wolfville," he added. "There's so much support for us and we're definitely looking forward to that from our fans next weekend. Hopefully we can get the win there."
The other national semifinal on Saturday features the U Sports No. 3 McMaster Marauders at the seventh-ranked Calgary Dinos in the Mitchell Bowl (4 p.m. AT) at McMahon Stadium.
The 55th Vanier Cup will be held Nov. 23 in Quebec City.