Hec Crighton winner Kevin Mital lifts Laval Rouge et Or to Vanier Cup victory over Saskatchewan

Photo courtesy: Laval Rouge et Or

The Laval Rouge et Or have claimed the 2022 Vanier Cup, defeating the Saskatchewan Huskies by a score of 30-24 thanks to an incredible performance from star receiver Kevin Mital.

The Hec Crighton Trophy winner heard all the dissenting voices from the prairies when he was named Canada’s top university player over Saskatchewan quarterback Mason Nyhus earlier this week, but silenced all critics by outdueling his rival in the biggest game of the year.

Playing through injury and sporting a noticeable limp for much of the second half, Mital hauled in eight receptions for 142 yards and threw the deciding touchdown pass to push Laval to their 11th Vanier Cup title in school history.

Nyhus completed 34-of-43 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns in an attempt to avenge last year’s championship loss to the Western Mustangs but tossed a pivotal endzone interception in the fourth quarter of the one-score defeat.

It was the Huskies who got things moving first on their second series of the game, kicked off by a 44-yard run from running back Ryker Frank. That drive resulted in a 20-yard field goal from David Solie but Laval answered back with a long drive of their own, culminating in a 15-yard Vincent Blanchard chip shot.

Nyhus went to work to end the first quarter, finding receiver Daniel Perry on a couple of deep completions to put his team in scoring position. Stopped short twice to begin the second frame, the outstanding fifth-year quarterback rolled to his right on a third-and-goal gamble and delayed until the last possible moment to find Everrett Iverson for a three-yard touchdown.

Laval responded by getting their own MVP involved for the first time, as Arnaud Desjardins threw up a 30-yard prayer for Kevin Mital down the left sideline that he miraculously hauled in overtop of corner Charlie Ringland. Three plays later, running back Kalenga Muganda received the snap out of the wildcat formation and slipped into the endzone to tie the game, with Blanchard adding a go-ahead single on the ensuing kickoff.

The Huskies wouldn’t be behind for long, as backup running back Ted Kubongo took his first handoff of the game 53 yards up the gut to get in Rouge et Or territory. Nyhus finished the drive with another three-yard touchdown, this time to Rhett Vavra.

Mital answered back with another massive play, getting loose for a 48-yard gain through the heart of the Saskatchewan defence, but Laval was forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal. Both offences fell silent for the remainder of the half but the Rouge et Or turned the final meaningful possession into points when Blanchard drilled a 49-yard kick through the uprights — his longest of the year — to tie the game at 17.

The two teams traded punts after the break but Laval got moving first with an impressive 13-play, 82-yard drive, settling for a 10-yard field goal. They would finish the job on their next series, as Edouard Arsenault made a spectacular 24-yard catch from a scrambling Desjardins and Mital drew a pass interference call from Katley Joseph to set things up at the goal line. The nation’s top receiver took a direct snap on the very next play, faking run before lobbing a pass over the top for fullback David Dallaire to score a trick play touchdown.

Not to be outdone, Nyhus marched Saskatchewan back down the field. A spectacular juggling catch from Vavra kept the drive alive and the quarterback found Caleb Morin for a 35-yard strike over the middle, but his next pass was too high for the receiver and tipped into the hands of Laval defensive back Felix Petit for a critical interception.

Unfazed by the error, Vavra broke free on his next punt return to give the Huskies prime field position, then hauled in another tipped pass in spectacular fashion to give the offence a spark. Morin rumbled for 20 yards on a short checkdown to move them into the red zone, before Nyhus found Daniel Wiebe to close the gap to just one score.

Desjardins came out swinging in response, delivering a 55-yard strike downfield to Antoine Dansereau-Leclerc. However, Laval couldn’t finish with a major and a 25-yard Blanchard field goal extended the lead to just six points.

Needing a touchdown to secure victory in his final university game, Nyhus came up short on third-and-six on the next drive. He was gifted one final opportunity by Laval with 34 seconds remaining but found himself sacked by Jean-William Rouleau on second down and couldn’t connect with Daniel Perry on his final pass, suffering a second straight Vanier Cup loss.

Mital was awarded the Ted Morris Trophy as the game’s most outstanding offensive player, accepting the honour amidst chants of MVP from his teammates. Linebacker Charles-Alexandre Jacques received the Bruce Coulter Trophy as the game’s top defensive player, after leading the Rouge et Or with 10 total tackles.

Second-year quarterback Arnaud Desjardins, who surprised many by beating out Nyhus for the first-team All-Canadian spot at the position, also had a strong outing. He finished 27-of-36 for 396 yards, managing to avoid any turnovers in his first championship appearance.

With the victory, Laval extends their lead as the winningest university of the Vanier Cup era, having taken home the trophy a record 11 times in 13 appearances. Saskatchewan holds the unfortunate distinction of having lost the most championships, being defeated in eight of their 11 outings and falling in six straight.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.