Stade TELUS, Laval University, Quebec City. The site of the 56th Vanier Cup, the biggest game in Canadian U Sports football. While the hometown Laval fans would’ve loved to have seen their beloved team make this stage, they and the rest of Canada were treated to a close run thing between Canada’s finest; The Uteck Bowl-winning Saskatchewan Huskies vs The Mitchell Bowl winners, the Western Mustangs.
Western got the ball to start the game and showed their intent on the very first play with Keon Edwards running the ball 25 yards to immediately get the ball into Saskatchewan territory. From there, the Mustangs offence made no mistake as running back Trey Humes ran the ball home from Saskatchewan’s 25-yard line to make it 7-0 Western with only two minutes and 47 seconds having been played.
The Mustangs would rush for over 200 yards on the day and with the success enjoyed in their opening drive, it was easy to see why they would adopt a run-heavy approach. The Huskies couldn’t immediately respond but after a series of punts, and a Mason Nyhus 26 yard pass to Colton Klassen, the Huskies were in field goal range and promptly reduced the deficit to 7-3.
There was one more scoring opportunity in the quarter, but Mustangs’ kicker Brian Garrity’s 36-yard field goal effort was unsuccessful. The Huskies would quickly take advantage, after pass interference on a second and long extended their drive, Nyhus connected with receiver Daniel Perry for a 22-yard touchdown, an unsuccessful extra point conversion would make the 9-7 in the Huskies favour.
They would be made to rue that miss soon. Western went on a long clock controlling drive that included two third-down conversions, they would take six and a half minutes off the clock on their way to a 23-yard field goal to retake the lead 10-9. The teams again exchanged punts before Saskatchewan got the ball back with less than 50 seconds left in the half. Nyhus put together a great clock beating drive, connecting on all of his passes to drive Saskatchewan 55 yards down the field setting up a 24-yard attempt for kicker David Solie to give the Huskies a slender 12-10 halftime lead in Quebec City.
Receiving the kickoff, Saskatchewan looked to have great momentum to add to their lead when Josh Ewanchyna ran the kick upfield for 44 yards, giving the Huskies a starting field position from the Western 51-yard line. On third and one from the Mustangs 42, Westerns defence held firm to force a turnover on downs, immediately flipping the momentum.
Western’s offence would capitalise quickly when quarterback Evan Hillock found Griffin Campbell at the Huskies 30, and the receiver would take it from there all the way to the endzone for Western’s second touchdown of the day to retake the lead 17-12.
Saskatchewan, who in the space of five plays went from the chance to extend the lead to now being five points behind, gave themselves a chance from the 40 to cut the lead, but David Solie missed for the second time on the day. The Huskies would get the conciliation of forcing a safety to make it 17-14 and have the next possession. They couldn’t take advantage however and it would be Western who would indeed strike next.
On the last play of the third Quarter, Hillock once again found Campbell to score on a 17-yard touchdown pass, opening the gap up to 24-14 Western with just one quarter left. A two and out was the last thing Saskatchewan needed to open the fourth quarter, but it was all they could conjure up and Western made their task even more difficult adding another field goal to make it 27-14 with just under 10 minutes left.
Soon the situation was becoming desperate for the Huskies, facing third and nine from Westerns 29 with less than three minutes left, head coach Scott Flory opted to go for it but once again, the Mustangs forced a turnover on downs when Nyhus failed to connect with Perry. Western where nearly there, but not without one last scare. Saskatchewan got the ball back with two minutes left and running back Josh Ewanchyna ran the ball in from the one to make it 21-27 Western.
The problem for the Huskies was that the drive lasted for 90 seconds, leaving just 34 seconds on the clock. Forced to go for an onside kick, Western’s Keon Edwards recovered the ball, effectively confirming the win for Western, who would run out the rest of the clock.
For the eighth time in school history, thanks to a Ted Morris Memorial Trophy performance from Evan Hillock, a equally strong rushing attack and stout defence, the Western Mustangs are Vanier Cup champions for the first time since 2017. It was a valiant effort for the Saskatchewan Huskies, who where in the big game for the first time since 2006 but their 23 year Vanier Cup drought will have to extend into next years U Sports season.