Fresh off their first playoff victory in 20 years, UW’s football team strolled into London looking to secure a birth in the Yates Cup Final. The Warriors were the better team for the first three quarters, but the Western Mustangs took over in the fourth, ultimately squeezing out a 30-24 victory.
With the win, the two-time defending champion Mustangs advanced to the Yates Cup Final, where they will play the McMaster Marauders.
For the second time this season, the Warriors stuck with top-ranked Mustangs until the very end. While their last matchup was 45-42 offensive clash, both teams struggled to generate consistent offence, making for a defensive battle.
Western began the scoring four minutes in with a 30-yard field goal from Marc Liegghio. On the next drive, UW looked poised to deliver a counterpunch, but running back Dion Pellerin fumbled the ball on the Western 12-yard line.
Slippery hands were an issue for the Warriors, who dropped two interceptions later in the first quarter to bail out Western quarterback Chris Merchant. They would drop another opportunity in the third quarter.
The Mustangs doubled their lead early in the second frame when Liegghio converted a 33-yard field goal.
Midway through the quarter, Pellerin was forced to leave the game with a leg injury. It was a huge loss for the Warriors, who relied heavily on Pellerin to score in their last matchup against Western.
Fortunately, UW took the lead ten minutes later, when quarterback Tre Ford found wide receiver Gordon Lam to cap off an eight play, 90-yard drive. Liegghio kicked another field goal late in the second quarter to secure a 9-7 Western lead going into half time.
Waterloo began the second-half perfectly, forcing a two-and-out off the kickoff to regain possession. Then, on the ensuing drive, Ford threw a 6-yard touchdown to Rushon Dagelman to give the Warriors a 14-9 lead.
However, Western cut down the lead with a field goal on the next drive. They then pulled ahead, securing an interception and touchdown to take a 19-14 lead. Waterloo’s Jonah Zlatinszky converted a field goal late to trim the deficit to two points.
Liegghio began the fourth quarter by converting his fifth field goal of the game, but his miss from 39 yards gave Waterloo the ball down six with eight minutes remaining. Unfortunately, the Mustangs’ Kojo Odoom picked-off Ford’s first pass of the drive and returned it for a 65-yard touchdown to give Western a commanding 30-17 lead.
Dagelman answered with another touchdown, but it was too late, as the Mustangs simply ran out the clock to secure the victory.
Ford was impressive as usual, finishing the game with 226 yards, three touchdowns, and 65 per cent completion. He also led the team with 72 rushing yards, doing his best to power the Waterloo offence after Pellerin’s injury.
UW’s defence was strong again, stifling one of the nation’s best offences to only one major score. They also sacked Merchant twice.
It was a tough ending to the Warriors’ season, but the team has lots to be proud of, such as the individual success of Ford and Pellerin. It also marks a remarkable turnaround for the Warriors, who were the OUA’s perennial bottom-dwellers less than five years ago.
The Warriors will return most of the team’s core next season, leaving many optimistic for their recruiting season and the team’s chances of winning the Yates Cup next season.