Merchant, Joseph help Western run their way to second straight Yates Cup title

Photo by Michael P. Hall
Photo by Michael P. Hall

London, Ont. – So nice, they did it twice. The Western Mustangs clearly liked the taste of victory from their 2017 Yates Cup triumph; so much so that they repeated the feat in 2018 with a convincing 63-14 decision over the Guelph Gryphons in the 111th edition of the conference’s championship clash.

The Mustangs were all business from the get-go, and even after an early hiccup on their opening drive ended their lengthy run, they put the pedal to the metal from there out. In fact, they galloped their way to two majors in the opening quarter to put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat against their Yates Cup combatants, with both sides of the ball flexing their top-ranked muscle.

The scoring started with a Cedric Joseph (Montreal, Que.) major, something the conference’s leading rusher was no stranger to throughout the year. Liking what they saw, the Mustangs defence then got themselves in on the action as well, as Mackenzie Ferguson (London, Ont.) continued his impressive postseason play – a stretch that also included a two-interception game in the semifinals – with a 35-yard pick-six to double the purple ponies’ cushion.

The relentless offence continued their running ways to open the second frame, meanwhile, with Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) calling his own number for the Mustangs’ third touchdown of the day. A pair of safeties bumped Western’s edge to 25-0, but they weren’t done there, as the game’s first scorer turned a 21-yard run into his second touchdown of the day. Merchant then flipped the script to the passing game to close out Western’s opening half onslaught, connecting with Griffen Campbell (London, Ont.) from 24 yards out.

Finding their stride to close the half, however, the Gryphons finally managed to break through in the dying seconds. A lengthy drive was capped off by a 4-yard connection between Theo Landers (Maple Ridge, B.C.) and Kian Schaffer-Baker (Mississauga, Ont.) to bring Guelph into the half with some momentum on their side; a feeling they translated into their opening attempt in the second half as well.

Just like he’s done for the last several weeks, Jean-Paul Cimankinda (Ottawa, Ont.) was a backfield beast for the Gryphons, and he capped off his productive day – wherein he totaled 148 yards on 20 carries – with a monstrous 57-yard run for Guelph. With scoring plays on back-to-back drives, things seemed to be clicking for the visitors, but with the ball back in Western’s possession, the purple and white went right back to work.

The Mustangs’ pivot proved once again that he can affect the game in multiple ways, going back to the ground to add to his team’s total. A 13-yard run was the immediate response from the reigning champions, but it wasn’t the only retort. Merchant hopped the pile at the goal line to punch in his third rushing touchdown of the day, before Joseph, the 2017 Dalt White winner added a third touchdown to his total as well.

While his touchdown trifecta capped off another impressive championship performance, which he rounded out with 122 yards on 13 carries, it was his teammate under centre who took home this year’s game MVP honours. In addition to his four total touchdowns (three on the ground and one in the air), Merchant connected on 19-of-22 in the air for 324 yards along with 66 rushing yards.

With the win, the Mustangs were able to exorcise their past demons for the second straight year. After Guelph took home the win against Western in their meeting three seasons ago, the Mustangs returned the favour this time around, going from vanquished to victors for their now back-to-back championships. The win marks the 32nd time in program history that they’ve brought home the Yates Cup, a total that started with their first ever championship in 1931.  

Western will now advance to the Mitchell Bowl, where they will welcome the Canada West champions - Saskatchewan Huskies - to TD Stadium in London for a shot to play for a second consecutive Vanier Cup.

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