LONDON, Ont. – Kevin Mital turned into a dual threat on Saturday, as he made eight catches and threw for the decisive touchdown as the Laval Rouge et Or downed the Saskatchewan Huskies 30-24 in the 2022 Canada Life Vanier Cup before a sellout crowd of 8,420- at Western Alumni Stadium.
The second-year receiver, who won the Hec Crighton Trophy as the U SPORTS player of the year on Thursday night, captured the Ted Morris Trophy as the Vanier Cup MVP. He is only the second player ever to complete the Hec-Ted double in the same year, following Calgary’s Don Blair in 1995.
“There's no way to take this away from us. We are the Vanier Cup champions of 2022,” said Mital. “We've worked hard for this, and now we go down in the history books as being the best team in Canada this year. Everything that I said this year and set up in terms of goals, we did. It's a sweep. I said we are going to win the Dunsmore, the Mitchell and the Vanier Cup, and that's what we’ve done.”
Mital’s 142 receiving yards led all players, but it will be his turn as a passer that may be most remembered. With Laval holding a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, Mital took a direct snap and connected with Daniel Dallaire on a jump pass to break the game open.
“He's very proud,” said Glen Constantin, the Laval head coach. “He'll back up what he says and forces everyone on the team to do it too. He's just a really good football player and competitor. When he came back from Syracuse, he told me two things – ‘I want #8 and to win the championship.’ He breathes confidence, and it transcribes onto our team. He’s a generational talent for us, probably the best receiver we’ve ever had.”
The win is the 11th for Laval, extending their national record but their first since 2018.
“It doesn't get old for the simple reason that it's a different group, different story, different challenge and a different road,” said Constantin after the win, his 10th as head coach. “Every cup has its own stories.”
Laval kicker Vincent Blanchard played a large role in getting the Rouge et Or to that point, as he kicked for five field goals – tying the Vanier Cup record – and connected on a 49-yarder on the stroke of halftime that tied the game at 17. His 49-yard boot was the second-longest in Vanier Cup history, behind only a 50-yarder kicked in 1995. Blanchard added two conversions and an 85-yard kickoff single to finish with 18 points, the second-highest by a kicker in a Vanier Cup.
Laval quarterback Arnaud Desjardins completed 27 of his 36 pass attempts for 397 yards – the fourth-highest total in Vanier Cup history. Desjardins’ favourite targets were Mital and Antoine Dansereau-Leclerc, who had eight catches for 119 yards.
“He's a cool customer,” said Constantin of his quarterback. “He's a young quarterback, only in his second year. His future is bright. He's got this calmness, and he is a cool customer under pressure.”
For Saskatchewan, Mason Nyhus had an outstanding performance in his final U SPORTS game, completing 34 of 43 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Caleb Morin led the Huskies receivers with seven carries for 97 yards.
While the Huskies offence appeared to be rolling after a first half that saw them put up 281 total yards, they stalled in the third quarter.
“The third quarter, we didn't do enough,” said Huskies head coach Scott Flory. “We started to get traction late, and this will be a point of emphasis for sure in our post-season analysis. The third quarter wasn’t one of our best.”
The Huskies offence responded in the fourth quarter, driving 86 yards in seven plays following Mital’s touchdown pass. However, on first and goal from the Laval 6, Nyhus’ pass into the end-zone was intercepted by Félix Petit, elating the Rouge et Or bench as he handed possession back over to the Quebec side.
“[That was] huge,” said Constantin on the play. “It's better to be lucky than good. We had our fair share of luck. We had a couple of tipped balls and made great plays, so that stop in the end zone was huge. [It was] one of the critical stops we needed to make. It was huge for us.”
The Huskies were able to put a scoring drive together later in the fourth, but they could not complete the comeback.
“We marched the field, had a turnover, and then marched it again,” said Flory on his team's determination. “We competed, and it was a tough game. There's a finality [to sports], there is someone who wins and loses. Unfortunately, we are on the other end of it, and it’s not easy.”
The Huskies, who led Canada West from wire to wire and won their second straight bowl game, finish the season with an 11-2 overall record (7-1 CW).
“These games always come down to a handful of plays,” said Flory on the loss. “Credit to Laval, they made those plays. Their quarterback played a great game. They did some really good things. But you look at our side, and I think that Mason was phenomenal out there. He’s an elite-calibre player and leader, and he showed that here today. It's tough and will take time to digest. I'm really proud of our guys and the season and everything we had to overcome.”
Charles-Alexandre Jacques took home the Bruce Coulter Award as the game’s top defensive player. The second-year linebacker finished with 5.5 total tackles (one solo, nine assists.)
Everett Iverson and Daniel Wiebe had the Saskatchewan touchdowns, while Kalenga Muganda had the other Laval major.