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Western Mustangs win their 33rd Yates Cup

Steve Kopp

Western’s football team had to wait almost two full years to get back to the gridiron.  But the wait turned out to be worth it as the Mustangs won the 2021 Yates Cup with a convincing 29-0 win over the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday at Richardson Memorial Stadium in Kingston.  It was Western’s 33rd Yates Cup victory, the most of any team.

The star of the game for Western was running back Keon Edwards.  The second-year player won the Dalt White trophy as the game’s most valuable player as he rushed for 158 yards and scored 3 touchdowns.  He also caught one pass for 32 yards.  

“We worked for this moment,” Edwards, a native of Toronto, said after the game. “We had guys come back and spend their time helping us win this thing.  And I love them for it. The (offensive line), they block for me. They do everything for me. I have to give it to them.”

After stopping the Mustangs on their opening drive, the Gaels took over in their own territory.  But defensive end Nicholas Theriault stripped the ball from Queen’s quarterback James Keenan and J.P. Metras trophy winner Deionte Knight recovered the fumble.  Western capitalized on that turnover with the game’s first touchdown, a 5-yard run by Edwards.

On the Gaels next drive, they drove into Mustang’s territory, but a completed pass from Keenan to Ajang Chol ended up with Chol fumbling the ball.  It was recovered by safety first team OUA all start Daniel Valente Jr.  The Mustangs then drove the ball down field and capped off the drive with a 24-yard run by Edwards for a 14-0 lead.  

The Gaels did have a couple opportunities to turn the tide late the first quarter as they intercepted Mustang quarterback Evan Hillock, the OUA rookie of the year, twice.  But Queen’s could not convert either one of these turnovers into any points.

Early in the second quarter, Queen’s conceded a safety.  With just over 4 minutes left in the second quarter, Edwards scored his third touchdown of the game, scampering untouched for 36 yards and a 23-0 lead.  Rookie kicker Brian Garrity capped off a dominating first half for Western with a 37-yard field goal and the Mustangs headed to the locker room with a commanding 26-0 lead, holding the unbeaten Queen’s Gaels to a paltry 106 yards of total offense.

“It’s what I expected,” Mustang head coach Greg Marshall said. “We knew they had good defence, but they weren’t ranked any better than Guelph, Waterloo or Laurier. We played good defences and I don’t think they played a defence like ours.

“We’re getting better each week.  There are still some things to clean up, but we still have a couple of weeks left to improve it.”

The Gaels had their work cut out for them in the second half.  Western had only given up three touchdowns all season in the second half of their games and in their two playoff games had given up only one field goal in the second half.  Queen’s was able to move the ball in the second half, getting into the red zone (inside the 20 yard line of Western) on four separate occasions. But after going a perfect 20 for 20 in the red zone during the regular season, the Gaels went 0 for 4 in the Yates Cup.  Their best opportunity to break the goose egg was a field goal, but kicker Nick Libertore hit the upright on a 20-yard attempt.  It was that kind of day for Queen’s.  

Turnovers, untimely penalties and some dropped passes by Queen’s, all combined to lead to their first loss of the season.  They had come into the game a perfect 8-0.  But the Western defence also had a lot to do with it, stopping the vaunted Queen’s running game, limiting first team all star running back Rasheed Tucker to only 60 yards rushing and holding the entire Queen’s running game to only 116 yards (keep in mind that Queen’s rushed for 387 yards in their playoff win over Carleton).  This led to the first shutout in a Yates Cup since 1971 when Western beat Ottawa 13-0.  Stars on defence included Riley MacLeod, Austin Fordham-Miller and Zach Lindley who combined to make 20 tackles.  Kojo Odoom contributed an interception.  Third year defensive back Robert Panabaker, who missed the 2019 Yates Cup game (a loss to McMaster) with a knee injury, had 2 tackles.

Western spent most of the second half trying to control the ball on offence, keeping the Queen’s offence off the field.  The Mustangs capped off the scoring with a 14 yard field goal by Garrity.

“Great game, great win,” said Mustang rookie quarterback Even Hillock. “The o-line played unreal and so did the defence. They held a great offence to zero points. We’re looking forward to next week.”

Next up for Western is the national semi-final game.  They host the Atlantic conference champions St. Francis Xavier X-men in the Mitchell Bowl at Western Alumni Stadium.  Game time is 1:00 pm on Saturday, November 27 and all the action can be heard live on Radio Western.  On the line is a berth in the Vanier Cup which is set for December 4 in Quebec City.

Field Notes

St. Francis Xavier beat the Bishop Gaiters 25-17 in the Loney Bowl.  The X-men are 8-0 on the season;  

The other national semi-final will see the Saskatchewan Huskies host the Montreal Carabins.  The Huskies beat the Manitoba Bisons 45-17 in the Hardy Cup, while the Carabins beat the Laval Rouge-et-Or in the Dunsmore Cup the previous weekend;

Recent Western vs Queen’s in the Yates Cup: 2013 (Western won at home 51-20); 2009 (Queen’s with a thrilling 43-39 victory in Kingston); 1979 (Western won at home 32-14)

Evan Hillock finished the game completing 14 of 20 passes for 193 yards; Savaughn Magnaye-Jones led Western with 4 catches for 45 yards; While Edwards led the team with 158 yards rushing, Trey Humes tacked on 76 yards and Edouard Wanadi added 18 yards;

Western had more than double the offence as Queen’s: 448 yards for Western compared to 203 yards for Queen’s;

The most points Queen’s gave up in one game all season was 15 last week in their playoff win over Ottawa;

This was the 6th straight season Western was in the Yates Cup game, but their first on the road.  They went 2-3 in the previous 5 games, all at Western;

If you think that is a lot of Yates Cup appearances in a row, it is not a record. Western appeared in 8 straight championship games from 1988 to 1994 (they went 5-3); But that is nothing compared to Laval.  Their 28-19 loss to Montreal last weekend in the Dunsmore Cup final was their 18th straight appearance in the RESQ championship game;

For receiver Brett Ellerman (3 receptions) and fullback Antonio Valvano, they have played 5 years for the Mustangs and now have 5 appearances in the Yates Cup and 3 wins;

While that is impressive, that is nothing compared to head coach Greg Marshall.  The win was his 21st Yates Cup victory – 3 as a player (79, 80, 81), 7 as an assistant coach of Western (85, 86, 88, 89, 90, 94, 95), 4 as head coach of McMaster (00, 01, 02, 03) and 7 as head coach of Western (07, 08, 10, 13, 17, 18, 21);