Quarterback Hugo Richard says “preparation and intensity” made the difference on Saturday as the fifth-year pivot led the Laval Rouge et Or to their record tenth title, beating the Western Mustangs 34-20 in the 54th Vanier Cup.
— IG: J12Dunk (@JDunk12) November 25, 2018
That preparation showed early as Laval scored its first of four touchdowns one minute into the game, with Richard hitting receiver Vincent Forbes-Mombleau on 46-yard throw in the end zone.
Richard said he didn’t expect to score a TD on his second throw of the game, but the Rouge et Or were ready from kickoff.
“We’ve been training hard all year and been waiting for this moment,” he said.
Richard thrilled the 12,380 hometown fans at Telus stadium in Quebec City by completing 23-of-31 pass attempts for 348 yards and two touchdowns. The fifth-year QB also ran for 60 yards and a score.
Laval extracted a measure of revenge after its 39-17 loss to the Mustangs in last year’s Vanier Cup played in Hamilton. Western is second to Laval with seven national football championships in 14 appearances. Both teams went into the match undefeated during the season. The No. 1-ranked Mustangs were riding a 23-game winning streak. Laval still holds the consecutive win record at 25 (2012-14).
Laval head coach Glen Constantin said his team was “humbled” by the Mustangs last year.
“It’s been 12 months we’ve been waiting for this. The kids made a vow we’d be back,” he said, crediting Richard and star defensive end Mathieu Betts for their leadership.
“Quarterbacks get in trouble when they try to do too much. (Richard) stayed within his scheme, he executed very well. He was sharp, he was clean. He had an outstanding game.”
Richard said his next goal is to graduate, but was coy about his future. He was named game MVP, as he was in 2016 when Laval won its last Vanier Cup.
Betts, who has been scouted by the National Football League, could be destined to play pro football next year.
The loss was a little more painful than expected for Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall. As the clock ticked down the final seconds, he took a hit to the leg when a tackled player plunged to the sidelines.
“Maybe I deserved it,” he joked. “I’m proud of my team. I’m disappointed, obviously.”
Western QB Chris Merchant also got off to good start with a 26-yard completion to Cole Majoros, but was intercepted by Laval’s Maxym Lavallee with a 31-yard return. Laval’s David Cote notched a field goal on the subsequent drive. The Rouge et Or led 10-0 after the first quarter.
Marshall cited the pick as one of the turning points in the match.
“That’s sport. It was a play here, a play there. That changes the outcome of the game. I’m just happy we get to come here and compete,” he said.
Merchant completed 26-of-46 passes for 358 yards and one touchdown, but was intercepted three times.
The second quarter started with Western encroaching on the Laval zone on a 10-yard run by Cedric Joseph. Two completions by Merchant put the Mustangs on the goal line and Joseph strolled into the end zone untouched.
Richard threw a 27-yard pass to Jonathan Breton to gain position on the next drive, then hit Benoit Gagnon-Brousseau with a 22-yard for a score to go up 17-7. Western took over deep in its own zone, gambling on third and inches to prolong the drive before kicker Marc Liegghio then nailed a 36-yard field goal.
Liegghio kicked an 18-yard field goal with one second remaining in the first half, to leave the score 17-13.
Marshall said he felt his team would be able to stage a strong comeback going into locker-room, but the Rouge et Or played stingy defence to start the third and shut out Western’s offence until 10-minute mark of the fourth.
“(They) pinned us in and we started our drive at 15 yards after the kickoff. Credit to them. They did a good job,” he said.
Merchant has one more year of eligibility and may get another shot at a second Vanier Cup. He said he was disappointed with his performance.
“I threw too many interceptions, gave the ball to them too many times. It’s a tough loss for us. We’re going to go regroup as a team and come back next year.”
Western actually gained more total yardage than Laval (503 to 471) but the Rouge et Or defence was able to snuff out threatening attacks from the visitors.
This was the third time Laval and Western have met in the Vanier Cup. The Rouge et Or won the first matchup in 2008.