Golden Hawks stun Mustangs with comeback win in Yates Cup

Photo: Dave Chidley, The Canadian Press

Christine Rivet
Waterloo Region Record

LONDON, ON — The Chicago Cubs and The Donald have nothing on the Laurier Golden Hawks.

The longest shots of all, those Laurier Golden Hawks, snapped their 13-game losing streak against the Western Mustangs, capturing the 109th Yates Cup with a heart-attack inducing 43-40 decision.

It’s not so much that the No. 5 Hawks did it, but how they did it that will be remembered for decades.

Laurier’s place-kicker Nathan Mesher nailed a 25-yard field goal with no time on the clock to steal the victory on Saturday, delivering Laurier its first Ontario University Athletics football crown in 11 long years.

The upstarts erased a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to notch the wild win over the No. 3 Mustangs as 4,134 fans stared in disbelief at TD Stadium.

Laurier’s level-headed quarterback and player of the game Michael Knevel, making just his seventh career start, spearheaded the rally. He tossed three touchdown passes in the game’s final eight minutes, two of them on third-and-long gambles, to tie the game.

To do that against any opponent would be amazing. To do it against mighty Western was nothing short of miraculous.

“It’s unbelievable. I can’t even describe how we did it,” Knevel said moments after he completed 22 of 36 pass attempts for 309 yards and zero interceptions on the day.

Laurier held a 19-13 lead at the half and before spotting the Mustangs a 10-point advantage in the game’s first four minutes during what was hair-pulling experience for both coaches in the whipsaw battle.

“I thought we’d have to play a perfect game (to beat Western),” said Hawks boss Michael Faulds, named the OUA’s coach of the year last week. “We didn’t even clearly come close to playing a perfect game.

“So, it’s unbelievable.”

Now, it’s unbelievable. But even lagging behind with Western steaming toward the finish line, the Hawks said they didn’t doubt for a second they could deliver the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in Yates history.

“Down three touchdowns, we weren’t sulking. We just kept on going, kept on going,” said Hawks marvellous defensive end Kwaku Boateng after the teams combined for plus-1,000 yards in total offence.

“I don’t know how to explain it. We just believed in ourselves and we did it. It’s crazy.”

During that final mad dash, Knevel hit Brentyn Hall with a 29-yard TD strike. Then he found Carson Ouellette with a 23-yard TD pass on the next possession and finally, Kurleigh Gittens Jr. collected a three-yard pass for the score — all in a mind-blowing span of six and a half minutes.

Laurier’s defence then got a monumental stop, forcing Western to take a two and out, which set up Mesher’s game-winning kick.

And with the game on the line, the Sir John A. Macdonald grad trotted out to the field, marked off his spot and sent his championship kick — his fifth field goal of the day — through the uprights, straight and true.

“I knew I could make it,” a still composed Mesher said amid the on-field jubilation. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. I’m always thinking about things like this. I always hope that it comes down to this, us winning the game, me being able to do my job.”

For the Mustangs, quarterback Chris Merchant threw for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

All Merchant could do at game’s end was tip his hat to Laurier’s indomitable spirit.

“They poured it all in at the end and put it all on the line,” he said.

Western’s head coach said he took some solace knowing his side had lost to Faulds’ team, a former Mustang great at quarterback and a lifelong friend. But a collapse of that magnitude can only leave scars.

“It is going to hurt for a long time,” said Western’s Greg Marshall. “Nothing I can say is going to make it feel better. We are all going to need to heal.”

Next up for the Hawks is a trip to Quebec City to face the Laval Rouge et Or in a national semifinal, the Uteck Bowl, on Saturday.

Laval scored a comeback victory of its own, winning 20-17 over the University of Montreal in the Quebec final.

“We can have all the fun in the world (Saturday). But (Sunday) we are back in. We will be ready,” said Hawks linebacker Nakas Onyeka.

St. Francis Xavier visits the Calgary Dinos in the other national semifinal, the Mitchell Bowl.

The Vanier Cup national final goes Nov. 26 in Hamilton.

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