An injury-depleted Mustangs squad outlasted the Warriors for a 45-42 victory at home this weekend. An instant classic, the game was an offensive shootout with a walk-off ending.
Western University had regular starters, on both offence and defence, out with injuries to start the game. To make matters worse, three players left with injuries during play.
All of this combined for the perfect storm where it seemed Western may relinquish their pristine record and fall to the Warriors. It would have been their first regular season loss since Sept. 4, 2016.
In the second half, the two teams combined for 49 points. Waterloo University erased a 10-point deficit. The Warriors were winning 42-39 with just over two minutes left in regulation.
However, Marc Liegghio, Western’s kicker, stole the show on Saturday.
Entering play, Liegghio had never missed a kick all season. The fourth-year player had successfully hit 13 straight field goals and 24 point after attempts.
At the start of the fourth quarter, he missed an 18-yard attempt. It shouldn’t have been a hard kick. In fact, the kicker booted the ball so far that it sailed out of the back of the end zone, adding a single for the Mustangs.
The missed field goal opened a wild final quarter. The lead changed three times, but the Mustangs had the ball last.
Western took the ball with just over two minutes left in regulation, down by three. The team drove the field, but stalled late. Their nearly perfect kicker was given a chance to redeem himself: with 22 seconds on the clock, Liegghio had to hit a 15-yard field goal to tie the game.
The ball sailed through the uprights and both sides prepared for overtime.
All Waterloo had to do was run out the clock. Dion Pellerin had rushed for over 100 yards and three touchdowns already. He is arguably one of the best = backs in Ontario University Athletics. It should have been easy.
However, on the first play of the drive, Western’s Tony Rossi ripped the ball from Pellerin’s hands and Zach Lindley recovered it.
The Mustangs' offence was handed the ball at their opponents 36-yard line with 11 seconds remaining. A quick nine-yard rush from Trey Humes set up one final chance for Liegghio. Tying the game was one thing, but hitting his first career walk-off field goal, after a miss earlier, was a different animal.
As the clock hit quadruple zeros, the fourth-year player swung through and nailed the game winner. The crowd leapt to their feet. Teammates charged the field. Liegghio was a hero.
“I really wanted to redeem myself for that miss because I know I can make that any day of the week,” said Liegghio on his final field goal. “I know I just popped up a bit on the kick. But then the last one I'm like, 'this is the redemption moment.' Even the one to tie it, I was like, 'this is another moment to redeem it.'”
While Liegghio is the narrative, in a game with nearly 100 combined points, there were plenty of other offensive stars.
Waterloo’s quarterback, Tre Ford, rushed for two touchdowns, completed nearly 90 per cent of his passes, threw for 252 yards and ran for another 103.
Chris Merchant posted 349 yards through the air, 80 on the ground and added four touchdowns (one on the ground and three through the air).
Trey Humes racked up 109 yards on 18 attempts and added one reception for nine yards. Waterloo’s Dion Pellerin netted 141 yards and three touchdowns on 23 attempts.
And while many likely expected Tyler Ternowski, the Warriors number one receiving option, to dominate the game, it was the Mustangs’ Brett Ellerman that rose to the top. The fourth-year receiver hauled in two touchdown passes and finished with 177 yards on nine receptions.
Despite the back-and-forth nature of the game, Chris Merchant was proud of how the team battled through injuries and adversity to come out on top.
“I've said it before, it's a testament to our character at Western,” said Merchant. “Our coaches, they were very high-character guys and we develop high-character guys. Every day when we practice, when we step on the field, we put ourselves in difficult situations. We know, no matter what, whether we're up by forty or down by forty – or it's a close game – we're gonna keep the same mind set.”
The Mustangs will have a bye week over the thanksgiving weekend to rest their injuries ahead of their final game of the regular season, a homecoming contest against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.