BURLINGTON, Ont. - The 110th Yates Cup featured the rematch everyone had hoped for, as two nationally ranked teams squared off to determine who would be crowned 2017 OUA champions. The Laurier Golden Hawks visited the Western Mustangs at TD Stadium with the hopes reliving the 2016 victory that had fans across the OUA on the edge of their seats, but alas, it was the home team that proved to be too much for the reigning champs.
The game started fast and furious, as both teams were firing on all cylinders to break the offensive floodgates wide open. The Mustangs were the first to get on the board, as Marc Liegghio converted a field goal just a few minutes into the game. Cedric Joseph would add to Western’s early tally, powering into the end zone to put the Mustangs ahead 10-0 early on.
The Golden Hawks were quick to respond, however, and were able to find the scoreboard themselves in the first quarter. After Western conceded a safety, it was Laurier QB Michael Knevel 0 who was sidelined for the past two games – connecting with Brentyn Hall to narrow the Western lead to just one point.
Unfortunately for the Golden Hawks, Michael Sananes wasted no time to reestablish the Mustangs’ cushion, as on the ensuing kickoff, the returner found a gap on the right side and pushed his way to the end zone to give the Mustangs a 17-9 lead. The back and forth affair continued, however, as the Golden Hawks would secure another touchdown backed by the gifted arm of Knevel. The Brantford native found Brendan McCracken through a tight coverage to narrow the lead again and send the game into the second quarter with a 17-16 score.
After the brief intermission, the Western mustangs would increase their lead with another Liegghio field goal; something he did with great frequency and consistency during the regular season. Moving forward, the tides began swaying heavily in the Mustangs’ favour, thanks in large part to their OUA-leading offence.
Starting a strong set of drives was third year player Harry McMaster, who pulled in a tough catch in the end zone to put the Mustangs up 27-16. Following a Golden Hawks safety, Joseph would find another scoring opportunity, putting his dangerous strength and speed combo on display to maneuver passed the imposing Laurier defence. The Mustangs wouldn’t stop there though, as they would add another major before the halftime whistle to push their lead to 27 at the break.
The second half continued very much on the same page, as Joseph added his third touchdown of the contest to start the quarter. With the score sitting at 54-16, the Golden Hawks would add a tally of their own, as Mario Villamizar would complete a perfectly thrown pass from Knevel to narrow the gap 54-24 and once again bring questions of a second consecutive late-game comeback.
Unfortunately for the reigning champs, however, the Mustangs would not take their foot off the pedal in this one. Western QB Chris Merchant would punch in a 1-yard touchdown of his own, which was followed by an additional pair of rushing touchdowns from Yannick Harou. Despite a final push from the Golden Hawks in the form of a Stu Smith major, it was too little, too late, as the Mustangs closed the door with a convincing 75-32 victory.
In a game of such high stakes, both teams put up some impressive numbers. For the Golden Hawks, Knevel showed no signs of being slowed down after his recent injury, as he threw for 432 yards and 3 touchdown passes. A pair of Laurier receivers eclipsed the 100-yard plateau, including OUA MVP Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (119 yards) and the game’s leading receiver – Brendan McCracken (152 yards). Western, meanwhile, as they did all season long, showed that their running game is an ever-dangerous and consistent threat. The champs were able to score six touchdowns on the ground, including a trio from Cedric Joseph, en route to scoring a Yates Cup record 75 points.
Joseph would cover 250 yards on the ground on 21 attempts – one of three Mustangs to eclipse the 50-yard rushing mark – to go along with his three scores, and for his efforts, he was awarded the Dalt White Trophy and named the Porter Player of the Game.
With the win, the Western Mustangs will head out east for a date with Acadia in the Uteck Bowl on November 18th as their quest for the Vanier Cup continues.