It’s a common adage that nothing can last forever. The Western Mustangs certainly learned that at the 54th Vanier Cup on Saturday afternoon as their two-year long winning streak ended at 23 games. The Mustangs lost to the Laval Rouge et Or 34–20 in the national championship game at the Stade Telus-Université Laval.
The Rouge et Or opened the game with a lot of confidence, electing to receive the ball to open the game. The choice paid off as quarterback Hugo Richard found Jonathan Breton-Robert and Vincent Forbes-Mombleau on back-to-back bombs. The 47-yard connection between Richard and Forbes-Mombleau gave Laval a 7–0 lead just two plays into the game.
The Mustangs offence was not up to the early Rouge et Or challenge, though, as Chris Merchant scrambled away from pressure and unloaded an ill-advised pass that fell into the hands of a waiting Laval defender.
The Rouge et Or continued to drive on offence following the interception. However, they weren’t able to find the end zone, instead settling for a field goal to extend their lead to 10–0.
The Western offence found its groove at the end of the first quarter, creating some momentum on shorter passing plays.
The running backs were the driving factors of the Mustangs first major of the day, though, as Cedric Joseph took a reception within the Laval 20-yard line, Alex Taylor caught a pass to bring the ball within the two-yard line and Joseph put the ball on the ground in the ensuing play, pounding in Western’s first touchdown of the day with 13 minutes to play in the first half.
Despite the defence forcing the Rouge et Or into a third and inches situation, Laval was able to answer Western’s touchdown with a touchdown of their own. Richard found Benoit Gagnon-Brousseau on a 22-yard passing connection to extend their lead to 17–7 with just under eleven minutes remaining in the first half.
Western was not able to score on the ensuing drive, but they were able to add a field goal to shorten the deficit to 17–10 a few drives later.
The Mustangs defence started to turn into its former self as the first half came to a close. With just under three minutes to play in the first half, Bleska Kambamba blew up a play at the line of scrimmage, forcing and recovering a fumble. However, after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty to the cornerback, the Mustangs were driven out of possible field goal range.
The lost yardage ultimately cost the team, as they were forced to punt the ball back to Laval with under two minutes remaining in the half. The Mustangs defence, which had been the driving force of the team all year, once again came up big, forcing a Rouge et Or punt, handing the ball back to Western with thirty seconds remaining in the half.
After a few successful plays, Mustangs quarterback Chris Merchant found Francois Rocheleau on a quick pass and the receiver scampered down within the 15-yard line. The extra run after the catch almost cost his team but, luckily, he managed to leave less than a second on the clock for Marc Liegghio to chip in an 11-yard field goal. Through two quarters of play, Laval led the Mustangs 17–13.
Despite the Mustangs gaining some good momentum to end the first half, it was all Laval to open the second. The Rouge et Or offence continued to move the ball down the field and the successful drive was capped with a rushing touchdown by Hugo Richard on a quarterback draw.
The next offensive drive only brought more bad news for the Mustangs. Merchant hit a wide open Cole Majoros, but the receiver let the ball bounce off his hands. The deflected pass fell into the waiting hands of Laval’s Adam Auclair. The defensive back returned the ball to the two-yard line.
Despite the incredible field position, the Western defense held the Laval offence to a field goal. With just under nine minutes left in the third, the Mustangs were down 14, by a score of 27–13.
Majoros picked up a few big gains on the next series, but, the Mustangs were unable to capitalize. The team eventually settled for a 27-yard field goal attempt. While it seemed to be an easy kick for one of the best kickers in U Sports, Liegghio, the third-year player, kicked the ball into the ground as Brett Ellerman botched the hold.
More than a few controversial calls killed a good offensive drive for the Mustangs in their drive to cut into the deficit. In one key play, the play was blown dead despite Merchant rushing the ball down field, close to the end zone. In what could have been a 40-plus yard rush for the quarterback was completely negated by an official’s blunder.
After a big passing connection between the dynamic duo of Richard and Breton-Robert, Laval churned their way into the end zone to ice the game with 5:35 to play.
The Western Mustangs will finish their 2018 campaign with a final record of 11–1.