The Western Mustang touchdown horses were resting under a shade tent catching a little refreshment as the game clock ran out Saturday at Western Alumni Stadium in London.
The pair of horses were tasked with making the trot around the track that circles the newly named Haylor-Semotiuk field after the home team scores each major.
That responsibility kept those ponies busy, as the defending Vanier Cup champions, who will host the 2022 University Sports National Football Championship, outpaced the Guelph Gryphons 34-11 in the season opener.
A well-balanced offensive assault that combined a pounding dual-threat run game with a successful aerial attack wore down the visitors.
Not to be outdone, the Western defence was able to prevent Guelph from posting a major as the visitors had to settle for three field goals and a conceded safety.
Anchoring the Mustangs’ defensive success were 4 interceptions that stifled Gryphon drives and set up opportunities for the host squad’s offence.
The purple-clad faithful filed in for the well-attended summer tilt played on a sun-drenched summer afternoon.
Also in attendance was a noisy and sizable contingent supporting the visitors.
It appeared the Guelph fans had been awarded for their presence when the Gryphons seemingly grabbed an early lead on a long touchdown pass from Shawn Lal to Vyshonne Janusas, but the home crowd breathed a sigh of relief when the play was voided by a call of offensive pass interference, after which some backward movement by the Guelph offence left the visitors out of field goal range.
The slow-paced first session ended scoreless, but early in the second quarter, Western quarterback Evan Hillock completed a pass before the Mustang drive stalled.
Guelph got the ball near the nine-minute mark and put together a decent drive resulting in the game’s first score, a 50-yard field goal from Eric Stranz.
The Mustangs answered with a major by running back Keon Edwards, giving the defending champs a lead they would not relinquish.
Edwards’ short run capped a 75-yard drive after Hillock threw 4 straight completions, two to Edwards, that finally got the Mustangs’ offence into high gear.
At the 3-minute warning, it seemed that the upcoming 2nd and 10 play would be important. With Guelph having had one rushing first down during the drive, the ensuing pass resulted in an interception by Daniel Valente, Jr — the first of three that he pulled down on the day.
“I think that was my first time getting three interceptions in a game at any level,” Valente said, “so it was pretty cool.”
The turnover resulted in a 24-yard Mustang field goal by Brian Garrity late in the half.
Guelph changed pivots for the next possession, with Tommy Yanchuck behind centre leading the Gryphons’ drive as they ended the half with a 3-pointer of their own. A 56-yard attempt as time expired fell just short but a penalty on Western gave Stranz another try, from 42 yards, and he drilled it.
The teams went to the locker room with Western up 10-6. Garrity and Stranz also traded field goals in the third stanza.
Then, Hillock threw to the end zone for a 27-yard major with just over five minutes left in the quarter, and a brilliant one-handed grab by Griffin Campbell drew roars from the home crowd.
Sharing backfield work with Edwards, Edouard Wanadi led the Mustangs with 55 receiving yards. He added 107 rushing yards.
After the switch of quarters, Western surrendered a safety to pull the Gryphons back to a single-digit deficit at 20-11. With 12:40 left Hillock’s 9-yard toss to Savaughn Magnaye-Jones stretched the lead to 27-11 with Garrity’s convert.
But the champs were not finished. Edwards later carried the ball across the goal line for his second major of the game and Garrity’s convert kick closed the scoring. In addition to scoring two touchdowns, Edwards carried for a game-high 118 yards on the ground.
Mustang Head Coach Greg Marshall remained laser-like regarding the process of improvement “we have to focus on what we do, and get better each week.”
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