Any championship game tends to have its superhero. The player who makes the difference that wins the game.
In the fourth quarter of the 109th Yates Cup on Saturday afternoon, the Laurier Golden Hawks came at the Western Mustangs like an entire collection of superheroes, erased a 21 point deficit and then kicked the game winning field goal with no time remaining for a 43-40 victory and a berth in the Uteck Bowl next week.
The Mustangs alternated between Clark Kent and Superman all day long, but ahead 40-19 in the fourth quarter, they could not find their way to a phone booth to pull on the cape a final time and hang on.
The first quarter even included an element of comic book creativity. There was trickery and there was disguise, courtesy of an on-side kick, a fake field goal and a fake punt, all in the first twelve minutes. Western’s onside kick worked to perfection and set up a field goal to put them ahead 10-0 before Laurier’s offense had even touched the ball. Maybe that had the coaches digging deeper into their bags of tricks. But, after the fake field goal and punt came off about as effectively as a Greatest American Hero landing, the deception died down and the game was gathered back into the hands of the men of steel.
Stevenson Bone was called down on the snap of the fake field goal when it was ruled his knee was on the ground. Laurier’s fake punt went for virtually no gain after it turned into a broken play.
Western’s 10-0 lead came courtesy of an opening drive touchdown from running back Alex Taylor and a 28-yard field goal by Mark Liegghio.
The Golden Hawks dented into the Mustang lead with the first of four field goals off the foot of Nathan Mesher, just over six minutes into the first quarter, but Western bounced right back with a 19-yarder from Liegghio and the lead was ten again.
Despite the points, the Mustangs never seemed to tilt momentum their way on the field and the Golden Hawks pounced as the second quarter rolled along. Another successful field goal was followed quickly by a long pass deep into Mustang territory and a 43-yard run by Levondre Gordon for a Laurier touchdown.
That score seemed to knocked Western temporarily out of sync. Laurier continued to get the proverbial bounces and the actual ones, too. Right before the second of two field goals to end the first half, Golden Hawks’ quarterback Chris Knevel was pushed back and fumbled the ball, only to have it nose into the turf and bounce right back into his body, taking the teams to the locker rooms with Laurier leading 19-13.
Western looked a little more the part of a caped crusader to kick off the second half as a solid defensive stop led to a punt and a quick strike on offense as George Johnson caught a pass and split through the Golden Hawks defense for 39 yards and a Western lead of 20-19, just 2:02 in.
Laurier roared down into Western territory, but Carson Ouelette coughed up the ball after making a catch, and Western’s Jordan Beaulieu channeled his inner Flash and caught it, as if were catching some sort of villainous explosive before it hit the ground. Beaulieu kind of has a knack for plays like that. He was the guy who ripped the ball out of the hands of a Guelph ball carrier in the regular season, and ran it down the field for a touchdown. Beaulieu capped off his TD that day by spiking a pilon in the end zone.
Four plays later, the turnover was in the end zone as Chris Merchant hooked up with George Johnson on a 39-yard pas play that saw Johnson slice right up the middle of the defense.
Western’s defense continued to play strong and the offense continued to move the ball.
Alex Taylor completed a drive that began on the Mustang 15 with a 13-yard run for a touchdown. The convert was blocked, but Western stretched their lead to 26-19.
Taylor then ran in his third major of the day from five yards away and Western was ahead 33-19 starting the fourth quarter.
With Stevenson Bone in at quarterback to start the fourth quarter (Chris Merchant had hit his hand off a helmet in the first half) Western increased their lead. Bone fired a 61-yard pass to Harry McMaster and the lead was 40-19.
Laurier got their first points of the second half with just eight minutes remaining, but at that point, they looked a little like Mighty Mouse going up against the Justice League.
However, Mighty Mouse was never a slouch. Another Golden Hawk touchdowns gave Laurier a chance with 2:55 left, down by just seven points.
With Western attempting to move the ball deep in their territory with just over a minute remaining, Alex Taylor took a handoff on 2nd and 7, only to have Isaiah Guzylak-Messam pop the ball loose and recover down on the Western three yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Laurier QB Michael Knevel found Kurleigh Gittens Jr. in the right corner of the end zone and the comeback was complete.
Western got the ball back, but was forced to punt and could not hold the Golden Hawks as they moved to within field goal range and Mesher put his fifth field goal through the uprights from 26 yards out and Laurier celebrated their first Yates Cup victory since 2005, the same year they won their last Vanier Cup.
Laurier will now head to Quebec to play Laval for the Uteck Bowl on Saturday, November 19th.
Attendance at the game was 4134.