A last-second field goal from Nathan Mesher capped off a furious fourth-quarter comeback from the Laurier Golden Hawks, lifting them to a 43-40 win over the Western Mustangs in the 109th Yates Cup at TD Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“It is disappointing for the senior players on our team,” said Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall. “They have given so much. We have a lot of fifth-year guys who have just played their last football game. That is not easy.
“We made some plays. We took some chances. Unfortunately we could not stop them when we needed too.”
After the Mustangs took control of the scoreboard in the third quarter, the Golden Hawks stormed back to score 24 unanswered points in the final eight minutes of the game to win the eighth Yates Cup in program history and first since 2005.
Michael Knevel won the Dalt White Trophy as the Yates Cup MVP, throwing for 309 yards on 22-36 passing with three touchdowns, with all three coming in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
Chris Merchant countered for the Mustangs, ending the day 15 for 21 with 281 yards and two touchdowns, while also adding 48 yards on the ground as well.
“It tough to lose a game like that,” Merchant said. “We did score enough points and they played a great game. They poured it all in at the end and put it all on the line.”
Marshall of the emotion following the loss, “It is going to hurt for a long time. Nothing I can say is going to make it feel better. We are all going to need to heal. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”
Merchant echoed his coaches’ sentiment saying that “we win as a team and we lose as a team. We have to keep our heads up.”
Alex Taylor led the Mustangs ground game on Saturday, recording three majors and racking up 103 yards on only 19 carries. Levondre Gordon led all players on the ground, with 164 yards rushing on 18 attempts, with one touchdown.
Mesher not only took the top spot on the highlight reel, but went a perfect 5-5 on field goals on Saturday, while also adding four extra points to total 19 points in the win.
The Mustangs came out strong as Mackenzie Ferguson took the opening kick 69 yards to immediately put the Mustangs in scoring position. Four plays later, Merchant handed it off to Taylor who sliced through the middle and forced his way over the goal line to give the Mustangs a 7-0 lead just over two minutes into the contest.
But Western was not done there, as on the ensuing kickoff the Mustangs recovered an onside kick to retain possession. The Mustangs were unable to capitalize with a touchdown, but Marc Liegghio made a 28-yard field goal to extend the Mustang lead to 10-0 without Laurier even having touched the football.
Mesher put the Golden Hawks on the board three minutes later as he punched through a 22-yard field goal to make the score 10-3, where it would stay until the end of the quarter.
The two teams traded a couple field goals to open the second frame before Gordon busted a 43-yard run to the end zone to tie the game. Mesher added two more field goals before the half to give the Golden Hawks a 19-13 lead.
George Johnson snatched a touchdown pass from Merchant on the first drive of the second half to give the Mustangs back the lead. Taylor then added two more rushing touchdowns to give the Mustangs a 33-19 lead heading into the fourth.
Western added another score early in the fourth, with Merchant connecting with Harry McMaster on a 61-yard pass to extend Western’s lead to 40-19. After that things began to turn in the Golden Hawks favour, starting with a 29-yard pass to Brentyn Hall who made a great catch in the end zone to begin their comeback with eight minutes remaining.
Carson Ouellette narrowed the Mustangs lead to only seven points on the Golden Hawks next drive, catching a 23-yard touchdown pass from Knevel to make it a one-score game with 2:55 remaining.
After recovering a fumble deep in Mustangs territory on the ensuing drive, Knevel connected with Kurleigh Gittens Jr. on a three-yard pass to tie the game at 40-40.
That set the stage for Mesher’s last second heroics on the Golden Hawks next possession, connecting on a 26-yard field goal to give Laurier a 43-40 win.
“At the end of the day – give Laurier credit,” Marshall said, “they were the ones who moved the ball at the end of the game and put points on the board.”