This time, the late-game heroics were reserved for the visitors, as the Western Mustangs yanked the Yates Cup from the Ottawa Gee-Gees’ grasp with a last-second field goal, winning their 29th championship in team history by the slimmest of margins, 26-25 at Frank Clair Stadium on Saturday.
A late field goal gave the Gee-Gees a two-point lead with 1:14 left, but the defence couldn’t contain a potent Western attack when it mattered most.
Down 23-10 at the end of the third quarter, the Gee-Gees stormed back in the fourth, scoring 15 straight points to take their first lead since the game’s opening minutes, 25-23, on a 19-yard field goal from Matthew Falvo that brought the boisterous crowd of 7,194 to their feet.
But the lead was short-lived, as the Ottawa defence failed to halt the Mustangs charge, and Western kicker Lirim Hajrullahu booted a 34-yard, game-winning field goal with one second remaining.
“It’s something we do almost every day in practice, and we’ve been in this situation before, but not with this much on the line,” said Western RB Western’s Jeremy Hipperson, named the player of the game after a dominant performance in which he racked up 162 yards and one TD on 18 carries.
Mustangs coach Greg Marshall, making his ninth Yates Cup appearance, and fifth straight with Western, rotated between Hipperson and fellow RB Nathan Riva, who picked up 95 yards in 19 carries.
“Our offensive line was just dominant today, running backs get a lot of credit, but our receivers were blocking well and things were just opening up,” said Hipperspon.
Marshall gave credit to a hungry Ottawa team.
“I was there last year, I was sitting in the same spot they are, getting beat in the last seconds of the game (in the 2009 OUA final against Queen’s), and it hurts,” said Marshall. “It feels good on our part right now.”
After Western took a 16-10 lead into halftime, Ottawa’s defence started making some big stops, and quarterback Brad Sinopoli began to find a rhythm with his receivers. After completing only one of six attempts in the first quarter, Sinopoli finished 24-for-39 for 341 yards passing.
But some old ghosts came back to haunt the Gee-Gees, as they were called for 115 yards on 10 penalties, including several momentum-changing pass interference calls that coach J.P. Asselin labelled as “questionable.”
“We made some good adjustments to their running game, but on the last drive they were getting first downs (in the air and on the ground) and that was the difference,” said Asselin. “Our offence had some good opportunities in the first half that we didn’t take, and obviously in the fourth quarter we paid for that.”
Sinopoli, the OUA nominee for the Hec Crighton trophy as the top player in the CIS, was bitter about the loss.
“It just came down to whoever made the big plays at the end, and unfortunately we didn’t have another chance,” said Sinopoli, who had to play without all-star receiver Matthew Bolduc, who missed the game with illness. “It’s the Yates Cup, and it doesn’t matter if there’s one second left on the clock, we’re not going to quit.”