HAMILTON — In front of a solid crowd at Tim Hortons Field, the Western Mustangs defeated the Laval's Rouge et Or 39-17, their first Vanier Cup win since 1994.
Western opened the scoring, with quarterback Chris Merchant capping off a strong drive with a 13-yard touchdown run to put the Mustangs up 7–0 late in the first quarter. The lead quickly increased to 8–0 as Laval allowed a Western punt to bounce into their own end zone, giving up a point.
The Mustangs defence was stifling in the opening frame, as the Rouge et Or were unable to get the ball into the Western half of the field.
The first quarter ended with the Mustangs gaining 124 yards of total offence while holding Laval to only 30 yards on 12 offensive plays.
The Mustangs offensive attack continued their efficient performance in the second quarter as an 82-yard drive for the Mustangs culminated in Cedric Joseph's 11th rushing touchdown of the season to put Western up 15–0 with 5:49 remaining in the second quarter.
While the Mustangs offence was moving the chains, the defence continued to shut down Hugo Richard, Laval's quarterback, who came into the game as the catalyst of the Laval offence. Mustangs defensive end Andrew Thurston sacked Richard late in the second quarter, pumping up the Mustangs fans in Tim Horton's Field.
However, on the same drive, after multiple Mustangs penalties the Rouge et Or would get on the scoreboard for the first time all game, as Richard found Simon Gingras-Gagnon in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown pass to cut the Western lead to 15–7 with just over two minutes left in the first half.
The Mustangs weren't going anywhere though, as a 52-yard pass from Merchant to Harry McMaster put the Mustangs into Laval territory. Merchant then ran a quarterback sneak on a third down and one to keep the Mustangs drive alive. However, with seconds remaining in the half Mustangs kicker Marc Liegghio missed a field goal attempt as the Mustangs led Laval at the half 16–7.
Western had 314 yards of offence in the first half, while Laval was held to 145. However, the Mustangs committed eight penalties for 79 yards.
Coming out of the half, after Laval went two and out on their first drive and punted the ball away, the Mustangs went back on the offensive. And it was Joseph, again, for his 12th touchdown of the postseason as the Mustangs lead increased to 23–7.
The Mustangs continued their domination of Laval's now impotent offence, as Nick Vanin sacked Richard for a loss of four yards deep in Laval territory. The Rouge et Or decided to concede the safety as the Mustangs went up 25–7 with 6:11 left in the third frame.
The Rouge et Or would put together a solid drive with two minutes left in the third quarter, but a dropped pass by Laval receiver Chadrick Henry on what would have been a surefire touchdown forced Laval to kick a field goal, cutting the Western lead to 25–10.
On the following drive, however, a huge 25-yard catch by Brett Ellerman on second and long kept the Mustangs drive alive as the third quarter came to an end.
The drive ended with another Mustangs touchdown, as a 32-yard pass from Merchant to Cole Majoros put Western up 32–10 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Merchant, whose dual threat capabilities were pivotal to the Western offensive success all season, ran in his second major of the game on a 10 yard run.
With 7:08 left in the game, the Mustangs were up 39–10. It was too little too late for Laval, as their offence couldn't do enough to chip into the Mustangs lead other than a garbage time touchdown.
With the 39–17 win, the Mustangs take home their seventh Vanier Cup in program history. It's also the first national championship for Greg Marshall in his 17-year head coaching career.
For more on the Mustangs' Vanier Cup win click here.
For photos of the 53rd Vanier Cup click here.