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Laval Rouge et Or win Vanier Cup with 30-24 victory over Saskatchewan Huskies

LONDON, Ont. — Cigar in one hand and a bottle of Prosecco in the other, Laval receiver Kevin Mital strutted into the interview room at Western Alumni Stadium and rhymed off the post-season goals his team accomplished this year.
Jordin Rusnack of the Saskatchewan Huskies is tackled by Laval’s Francis Bouchard(1) and Charles Alexandre Jacques (43) during the U Sports Vanier Cup in London, Ont., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins

LONDON, Ont. — Cigar in one hand and a bottle of Prosecco in the other, Laval receiver Kevin Mital strutted into the interview room at Western Alumni Stadium and rhymed off the post-season goals his team accomplished this year.   

The Dunsmore Cup, Mitchell Bowl and now the Vanier Cup, he listed in French, slapping the table for extra emphasis as he went.

"It's a sweep," he said, before leaning back in his chair and enjoying a deep haul from the stogie. 

Mital led all players with 142 receiving yards and even threw a touchdown pass to lead Laval to a 30-24 victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies on Saturday afternoon. 

Kalenga Muganda and David Dallaire scored touchdowns and Vincent Blanchard tied a Vanier Cup record with five field goals to help the Rouge et Or win the Canadian university football championship for a record 11th time.

Arnaud Desjardins completed 27-of-36 passes for 396 yards and helped Laval raise its game in the second half. Both offences were in form — Laval had 506 total yards to 469 for Saskatchewan — but the Rouge et Or delivered in the big moments.

"We trailed, we weathered the storm and we showed resiliency," said Laval coach Glen Constantin. "We believed in ourselves and the kids performed well."

Mital regularly flummoxed the Huskies' defence and shone in a drive that carried over to the start of the fourth quarter.  

The Hec Crighton Trophy winner took a shovel pass for a 27-yard gain and later drew a pass interference call in the end zone. Mital then took a direct snap at the one-yard line, faked a run and tossed the ball over the pack to a wide-open Dallaire.

The converted TD gave Laval a 10-point cushion. Daniel Wiebe caught a three-yard TD pass for the Huskies moments later but Blanchard provided insurance with a 25-yard field goal.

Saskatchewan head coach Scott Flory said his squad competed at a high level. "Unfortunately we came up six points short," he added.

Mason Nyhus completed 34-of-43 passes for 344 yards for the Huskies. 

His one interception — the game's lone turnover — came in the fourth quarter. Caleb Morin couldn't squeeze a high throw from the Laval six-yard line and Felix Petit came down with it. 

Everett Iverson and Rhett Vavra scored touchdowns for Saskatchewan and David Solie had a field goal. The Huskies, who fell to Western in last year's title game, were looking for their first Vanier Cup win since 1998.

"I think we played a hard game and they did too," Vavra said. "They just made one more play than us."

Vavra, Nyhus and Flory sat stone-faced in the interview room afterward, the music and celebration audible from the Rouge et Or locker room one floor below.

Mital, meanwhile, entered the room on his own about a half-hour later, sporting a stylish black jacket over his shirtless frame. A championship ball cap completed the look. 

"Hey, look at me. I feel good," he said with a laugh. "I just want to go back home and celebrate with everyone from Quebec. I feel good for my city now. It's a good day to be a Rouge et Or fan."

Laval improved its all-time record in the championship game to 11-2. It was the Rouge et Or's first title since 2018.

Mital was named game MVP.

"He brings the best out of our players but also our coaches to perform," said Constantin. "He's a special guy. He's a generational talent for us and he's probably the best receiver we've ever had." 

The Huskies got the ball back deep in their own end in the final minute but the Rouge et Or took over on downs and ran out the clock.

With strong winds playing a factor at times on a sunny autumn afternoon, both quarterbacks leaned on the running game in the early going and kept the passing primarily to short routes.

Solie put Saskatchewan on the board midway through the first quarter with a 20-yard field goal. Blanchard later answered with a 15-yard chip shot.

Nyhus guided the Huskies on a seven-play, 75-yard drive that led to the game's first touchdown early in the second quarter. 

Flory decided to go for it on third-and-goal from the three-yard line and Nyhus found Iverson in the end zone. Solie hit the convert to make it 10-3.

Mital caught a 30-yard pass as Laval answered with a six-play, 76-yard drive capped by a three-yard TD run by Muganda on a direct snap. 

Blanchard made the convert and added a rouge on the ensuing kickoff that gave Laval an 11-10 lead.

A 53-yard run up the middle by Saskatchewan's Ted Kubongo put a charge into the pro-Huskies section of the north-end stands. Nyhus threw a three-yard TD pass to Vavra and Solie made the conversion.

Blanchard booted a 28-yard field goal with 6:15 left in the second quarter to trim Saskatchewan's lead. He added a season-best 49-yard field goal at the end of the half to tie the game.

There were pockets of vocal Laval fans in the venue's south stands. Announced attendance was a sellout at 8,420 although several sections had rows of empty seats. 

Saskatchewan's defence delivered in the third quarter when the Rouge et Or threatened at the six-yard line. A pass knock-down by Charlie Ringland was followed by a touchdown-saving tackle from Seth Hundeby.

Constantin played it safe on third-and-goal from the three. Blanchard booted a 10-yard field goal at 3:25 that gave the Rouge et Or a 20-17 lead.

Both teams earned road victories a week earlier to qualify for the 57th edition of the Vanier Cup. Laval beat the 2021 champion Western Mustangs and Saskatchewan topped the St. Francis Xavier X-Men.

Laval won both previous meetings against Saskatchewan in the title game, topping the Huskies in 2004 at Hamilton and again in 2006 at Saskatoon. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press