London, ON – When he stepped up the mic, just around 45 minutes after a 30-24 victory over Saskatchewan gave him his 10th Vanier Cup, Laval Rouge et Or head coach Glen Constantin knew he needed to talk about Kevin Mital.
“When he [Mital] came back from Syracuse, he told me two things, I want number eight, and I want to win the championship,” Constantin said.
The 2022 Hec Crighton Trophy winner as the top player in U SPORTS, Mital turned heads with his confidence before the Mitchell Bowl when he said the Rouge et Or “had packed for ten days.”
Yet, after a 27-20 win over the Western Mustangs, Laval found themselves in the Vanier Cup with a chance at their first U SPORTS title since 2018.
Fittingly It was Mital who stepped up, with 142 yards on the game and a fourth-quarter passing touchdown to deliver the Rouge et Or their eleventh Vanier Cup title.
When Mital himself stepped up to the media zone ten minutes after his coach, a bottle of champagne in his hand and a cigar in his mouth, this time, he summed his feeling up pretty simply,
“It’s a good day to be a Rouge et Or fan.”
With a gorgeous end-of-November sky and temperatures reaching an unseasonably warm eleven degrees, over eight thousand fans filled the seats of Alumni Stadium, with the bright red of Laval taking much of the east grandstand and the bright green of Saskatchewan covering the majority of the west.
The champions of Canada West, the Saskatchewan Huskies, had reached the 2022 Vanier Cup via a 36-19 win over the StFX X-Men in the 2022 Uteck Bowl. While on the other side, the Laval Rouge et Or took down the Western Mustangs 27-20 in the Mitchell Bowl to earn their spot and deny them the opportunity to host as defending champions.
Despite missing out on playing in the tournament, a healthy amount of Mustangs gear was still visible in the crowd as the military flyover brought the game to kickoff just after 1:00 pm in London.
Early on, the two sides showed their defensive chops as both offences went two-and-out on their first drive,
Halfway through the first quarter, after Saskatchewan fifth-year quarterback Mason Nyhus looked to find Caleb Morin in the end zone, but Morin could not handle the pass., the Huskies found themselves stopped at the Laval 22, forcing a Davide Solie field goal to make it 3-0.
In their final drive of the first, Arnaud Desjardins worked the Rouge et Or downfield to set up a 15-yard field goal from Vincent Blanchard to tie the game at 3-3, where it held after the first.
Into the second, rather than the defence forcing the teams to trade field goals, both offences finally kicked into gear and began to trade touchdowns.
Continuing their end of the first-quarter drive, Mason Nyhus found Everett Iverson for a three-yard pass to make it 10-3 for Saskatchewan 75 seconds into the second quarter.
Barely two minutes later, though, the next Laval drive saw Kalenga Muganda take a three-yard run of his own in for the touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. Muganda was named the offensive player of the game in Laval’s win over Western in the Mitchell Bowl after picking up 189 total yards of offence for the Rouge et Or.
Three minutes after that, the Huskies bounced back. After Laval picked up a rouge, it was Nyhus again, this time finding Rhett Vavra for a three-yard pass to make it 17-11 for the Huskies.
A sophomore, Vavra and Nyhus found an instant chemistry in their second season together as Vavra finished tied for their Canada West lead with seven touchdown catches on the season.
“Me and Mason grew in chemistry not only on the field but off the field,” Vavra said. “They’re all my brothers. I love them all.”
Laval struggled to find the end zone the rest of the quarter, but Arnaud Desjardins kept working them downfield enough that, at minimum, they were in field goal range.
Thanks to that, Laval added a pair of field goals from Vincent Blanchard. One with 6:15 to go to cut it to 17-14 and one as the clock expired in the first half that sent the game into the break tied at 17-17.
Ultimately, Desjardins had one of the most successful and unsuccessful Vanier Cup performances of all time. The sophomore went 27-36 throwing for a near Vanier Record 397 yards, but the only touchdown pass thrown for the Laval on the day did not come from him.
For his coach, though, it was how Desjardins handled the pressure of his first Vanier Cup that stood out the most.
“He’s a cool customer, and he showed it again,” Constantin said. “It’s kinda scary how calm this guy is.”
As Delaney Jane took the stage at halftime, Glenn Constantin went into the locker room of the Kirkley Centre on the north end of Alumni Stadium and delivered a simple message.
“I told them that they were moving the ball very well on offence and defensively, we needed to have more stops,” Constantin said. “In the game, there are usually around 14 drives in a half, so the second half, we knew there’d be seven drives; we need to make one more stop than these guys.”
A week ago, down 17-4 entering the second half, the Laval defence shutdown Evan Hillock and held Western to just three points in the final thirty minutes.
On Saturday, things looked to be turning in a similar fashion. After their first drive of the second half became a two-and-out, the Huskies found themselves first-and-ten at the Laval 48-yard line. Ryker Frank got stuffed on the rush, though, and Mason Nyhus’ pass to Daniel Perry fell incomplete, forcing another Huskies punt.
“We have a saying on our team, give me a place to stand, and I will move the world,” Constantin said. With the defence holding the second-best offence in the country at bay, Laval went to work.
First, it was Vicent Blanchard putting his fourth of the game through the uprights to make it 20-17, where it ended after three quarters. Into the fourth quarter, with the ball on the Saskatchewan one-yard line, the Rouge et Or faked out everyone and handed the ball to Kevin Mital, who found David Dallaire with a touchdown pass to get the lead up to 27-17.
On the next drive, the Huskies stormed downfield as Mason Nyhus looked to bring his side closer but on first and goal, a Nyhus pass to the corner of the end zone got picked off by Felix Petit for his first interception of the day and one of the only turnovers of the game.
For Saskatchewan head coach Scott Flory, those two plays probably are what made the difference.
“These games, they always come down to a handful of plays, they usually do, and I think that credit to Laval they can make those plays,” Flory said.
Saskatchewan continued to fight, and with five minutes to play, Mason Nyhus found Daniel Wiebe for a three-yard pass for his third touchdown of the game to cut the lead to 27-24.
The saying “left it all on the field” is cliche but Nyhus, in his final U SPORTS game, did just that. The fifth-year ended the afternoon with three touchdown passes, on 34-43 for 341 yards, as he desperately tried to will his team over the line in a way he couldn’t a year ago.
With two minutes to go though, Vincent Blanchard stepped up and nailed his fifth field goal of the game, and stuck on second and four on the Husky 26-yard line, Jean-William Rouleau sacked Nyhus and sealed the 30-24 Vanier Cup victory for Laval.
It’s a hard result to swallow for the Huskies, who fell to the Western Mustangs in Laval a season ago, and now see their winless streak in the Vanier Cup move to 0-5 in the twenty-first century with the last time they lifted the trophy in 1998.
Yet in a championship, though it often feels simplistic to say, sometimes it comes down to the reality of it being one game and one team “needing” to win rather than one team deserving to lose.
“That’s the beauty of sport, is that there’s a finality to it and the fact that there’s somebody that wins and somebody that loses and unfortunately, we were on the other end of it,” Flory said.
“We deserved it as much as they did; they had a reason to be here; we had a reason to be here,” Vavra said. “We made lots of plays, and so did they; they just happened to make one more.”
It’s hard for the Huskies, who fell to the Western Mustangs in Laval a season ago and now see their winless streak in the Vanier Cup move to 0-5 in the twenty-first century with the last time they lifted the trophy in 1998.
For Laval, perhaps the way he’s done for the last two weeks, it’s best to let Kevin Mital surmise what getting to lift the Vanier Cup means.
Before he bolted back downstairs from the media room to the Laval dressing room below, Mital put it all quite simply,
“Look at me; I feel good; I just want to go back home and celebrate with everyone from Quebec; I feel good for my city now.”