The Mustangs football season came to an end in the Mitchell Bowl after a 27–20 comeback victory for the Rouge et Or on Saturday.
This was Western University’s first loss since Sept. 25, 2021 and their first playoff loss since 2019. This is also the second time since 2018 that the Laval University Rouge et Or ended the Mustangs chances at a second consecutive Vanier Cup — Laval defeated Western in the national championship four years ago following the Mustangs’ 2017 Vanier Cup victory.
“[I'm] proud of the way the kids kept battling,” Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall said. “We had a good run, and that was a really good football team that we played today.”
The game saw the Mustangs take an early 17–0 lead in the first quarter.
Laval’s third-year quarterback, Arnaud Desjardins, came out ready to play, throwing multiple quick passes and gaining first downs. But the Rouge et Or suffered from a wild snap that hit Desjardins in the helmet and was recovered by Mustangs’ defensive end Bruce Maas near Western’s 53-yard line.
The Mustangs took their opportunity and earned a touchdown off Laval’s mistake. Western QB Evan Hillock threw a 36-yard pass to receiver Savaughn Magnaye-Jones to draw first blood.
🏈 TOUCHDOWN MUSTANGS!!!The Hamilton connection comes through yet again as Evan Hillock throws deep to Savaughn Magnaye-Jones to open the scoring.1ST QUARTER l 6:17 remainingLAV l 0WES l 0#RunWithUs #WesternMustangs #LAVvsWES pic.twitter.com/uWLli1H1H9— Western Mustangs (@WesternMustangs) November 19, 2022
On Laval’s next drive, they suffered another wild snap, taking them all the way back to within their own 10-yard line. Unable to pick up the first down, they punted the ball away. Western’s second-year kicker Brian Garrity picked up a field goal to extend the Mustangs lead.
The Rouge et Or’s early woes didn’t end there.
Laval suffered from a third wild snap on the following drive, and Mustangs second-year linebacker Lourenz Bowers-Kane recovered the ball and took it to the endzone for a defensive touchdown.
🏈 TOUCHDOWN MUSTANGS!!!Lourenz Bowers-Kane picks up the missed snap and takes it in for 6 more.1ST QUARTER l 3:08 remainingLAV l 0WES l 17#RunWithUs #WesternMustangs #LAVvsWES pic.twitter.com/TiJLzulJmE— Western Mustangs (@WesternMustangs) November 19, 2022
Throughout the first half, the Mustangs fired running backs Keon Edwards and Keanu Yazbeck right down the middle of the field challenging Laval’s fourth-year middle linebacker Alec Poirer.
Edwards carried the ball 18 times for 108 yards in the first half to wear down Laval’s defensive line — inexperienced against a rush heavy offence like Western.
But Laval finally broke through in the second quarter.
The Rouge et Or scored a field goal early in the second — the start of 18 consecutive points scored.
Halfway through the second quarter, the Mustangs marched down the field all the way to Laval’s two-yard line — the Rouge et Or was throwing the entire kitchen sink to stop them.
Unable to break through on second down, Western took a time violation penalty to make the field goal easier for Garrity. But Laval came in quickly and blocked the kick — receiver Seth Robertson was able to kick the ball out of play before Laval could recover it.
Laval began a late first half march, taking the ball down into a redzone opportunity but suffered from another wild snap.
The Mustangs’ secondary had Rouge et Or receiver — and Quebec Student Sports Network most valuable player — Kevin Mital covered for the entirety of the first half — Mital was only able to gain 22 yards off of two receptions.
Laval sent kicker Vincent Blanchard out to make it an 11-point game, but he missed the field goal and the Rouge et Or got only a single point from the touchback.
The first half would end with Laval blocking another field goal attempt by the Mustangs — Western went into the locker room with a 13-point lead.
“Our guys [were] going down swinging,” Marshall said. “Initially, I think we were a little soft, a little bit intimidated by [Laval's] receivers and [we gave] them too much cushion because they were too afraid that they were going to get run by, so [we gave] them a lot of short stuff.”
Despite the tough score for Laval at halftime, they stuck to their guns and mounted a 23-point comeback in the second half.
Early in the third quarter, Laval sent out their kicking unit to put three on the board, but completed a successful fake play and ran the ball all the way to Western’s one-yard line – they scored on the next play and got their first touchdown of the game.
“The one play that really hurt us was the [trick play],” Marshall said. “You can kind of see it coming. It's not like we didn't expect it, we left our defence on the field, so it wasn't our field goal team, but that kid broke a tackle [and] made a great play. Sometimes, that's football. They did that a few times on us today.”
With only a six-point lead in the game, the Mustangs went out and tried to throw some deep passes with the wind on their backs. Western receiver Griffin Campbell nearly had a huge catch but dropped the ball as he hit the ground.
“[The wind] came in gusts,” Marshall said. “Some of [Hillock's] balls just kind of died. On the one [where] we had two guys wide open [in] the end zone, the ball just died at the end, so that's playing in November, that's what's gonna happen sometimes.”
Laval continued their early second-half success.
Desjardins and running back Kalenga Muganda wore down Western’s defence. Relying on the slot receivers, the Rouge et Or got down within the Mustangs five-yard line again — they scored their second touchdown of the game.
Western’s lead evaporated and Laval took a one-point lead late into the third quarter.
Muganda tore up a Mustangs defensive line that experienced multiple injuries throughout the entire game — he ran for 173 yards.
“We were pretty light on the defensive line,” Marshall said. “We were juggling it, and we got through the year okay, but for the most part, our defensive line didn't play as good as Laval's.”
Garrity finally broke through for the Mustangs in the first play of the fourth quarter and Western took a two-point lead.
But Laval would not say die.
The Rouge et Or mounted another impressive drive and earned three points off a field goal to put them ahead by one-point for the second time in the game — it was clear that this was anyone's game.
Western needed to get the ball back, and control play for as long as they could — but Laval had other plans.
With just over a minute left on the clock, the Mustangs tried to mount a comeback through the air, but the Laval secondary — experienced with QB’s — stood tall and made trouble for the Mustangs receivers. Laval would go on to get the ball back twice and score two field goals.
The Mustangs needed a miracle on the very last drive of the game, with only 30 seconds left on the clock — but it wasn’t meant to be.
The @rougeetor raise the Mitchell Bowl and collect their banner.Le @rougeetor ramassent le Coupe Mitchell et tenir leur bannière.#ChaseTheGlory | #ViserHaut pic.twitter.com/KEyFeSuiNz— U SPORTS Football (@USPORTS_FB) November 19, 2022
“Credit to our players, they played at a high level this year,” Marshall said. “They struggled a bit today, but for most of the season, they played really, really well.”
The Rouge et Or completed their comeback, and the Mustangs high-achieving season finally came to an end.
“Everything,” Mustangs free safety Daniel Valente Jr. said of what the team meant to him. “These guys are my brothers. They’ll be my family forever. I love these guys.”
Laval will play the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the Vanier Cup at Western Alumni Stadium on Nov. 26. The Huskies defeated the St. Francis Xavier X-Men 36–19 in the Uteck Bowl on Saturday afternoon to advance to their second consecutive national championship game.
Here at the Gazette, we leave you this quote from Roger Kahn’s book The Boys of Summer:
“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.”
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