The Western Mustangs put an exclamation point on their absolute dominance of Ontario university football with a 63-14 beat down of the Guelph Gryphons in the 111th Yates Cups Saturday at TD Stadium.
The defending Vanier Cup champions, who extended their winning streak to 22 games and won their second consecutive Ontario championship with Saturday’s victory, left little doubt from the opening kickoff, quieting a small but boisterous contingent of Guelph fans who made the short trek down the 401.
Mustangs quarterback Chris Merchant was the championship game MVP, going 19-for-22, passing for 324 yards and five touchdowns — four of them on the run.
Merchant said he just tried to keep it simple and deflected any praise for the win to his teammates and coaches.
“I’m probably the worst athlete on the field out there, so credit to those guys,” Merchant said. “They made some great catches and some great runs and the o-line was putting their nose downhill and knocking guys off the ball, so I can’t take credit for the guys that are around me. They did a great job.
“And our defence played amazing today. . . . Our team is coming together and it’s the right time of the year and we are really excited for what’s to come.”
The Mustangs defence, led by linebacker Fraser Sopik with seven tackles and three assists, shut down Guelph’s attack, except for two touchdown drives — one that ended the first half and Guelph’s first possession after the break.
“I think we are going to walk on the field tomorrow and not be as happy as we should be because (Guelph) got some points on the board that were just bad errors,” Sopik said. “But I think that’s a good thing because we are always trying to get better.
“We did a good job for the most part today, but we know we let that big run go (when Guelph running back J.P. Cimankinda broke free for a 57-yard TD early in the third quarter).”
Head coach Greg Marshall said the Mustangs practised long and hard and studied lots of film last week and the preparation paid off.
“It was a great effort by our team and a great effort by our coaches because, as you could see out there, our players were prepared.”
Marshall said the turning point in the game was Western’s second touchdown when corner back Mackenzie Ferguson ran back an interception 36 yards for a touchdown with about five minutes left in the first quarter, giving Western an early 14-0 lead.
“They had the wind and to be able to put up a couple scores like we did against the wind gave us a lot of confidence and it kind of allowed us to play the way we wanted to play.”
The Mustangs marched down the field on their opening drive and looked set to score an early major, but Alex Taylor fumbled into the end zone. Cedric Joseph would put the Mustangs up 7-0 on their next possession on a 21-yard TD run.
Merchant made it 21-0, running in a 24-yard TD on a broken play at 13:36 in the second quarter.
Harry McMaster made an incredible over-the-shoulder catch for 39 yards, which set up Joseph’s second touchdown on a 21-yard run at 6:57 in the second quarter.
The Gryphons scored a touchdown on the final play of the first half when Theo Landers connected with Kian Schaffer-Baker on a four-yard pass to trail the Mustangs 39-7.
The Mustangs will play host to the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Mitchell Bowl at TD Stadium at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17. The Huskies beat the Calgary Dinos 42-18 in Saturday’s Canada West championship game.
The St. Francis Xavier X-Men beat the Saint Mary’s Huskies 33-9 in the Atlantic championship and the Laval Rouge et Or beat the Montreal Carabins 14-1 in the Quebec final. The X-Men play Laval in the Uteck Bowl in Quebec City next Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Mitchell Bowl winner will play the Uteck Bowl winner in the Vanier Cup on Saturday, Nov. 24 in Quebec City.
Mustangs 63, Gryphons 14
Western: Chris Merchant 19-22, 324 yards, TD, 4 rushing TDs, interception; Cedric Joseph, 122 yards rushing, 2 TDs, Mackenzie Ferguson TD, Griffin Campbell TD; Marc Liegghio 9-yard field goal; 2 safeties
Guelph: Theo Landers 12-27, 69 yards, TD, interception; Kian Schaffer-Baker, TD, J.P. Cimankinda TD
Mitchell Bowl: Saskatchewn Huskies at Western Mustangs, Saturday, 4 p.m., at TD Stadium
Uteck Bowl: St. Francis Xavier X-Men at Laval Rouge et Or, 1 p.m.
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