Wide receivers stole the show in Laval's Vanier Cup victory over Saskatchewan
Kevin Mital highlights bevy of receiving talent on display in national championship
When the Laval Rouge et Or defeated the Saskatchewan Huskies 30-24 in the Canada Life Vanier Cup on Saturday, it lived up to the hype generated by two high-powered offences squaring off against one another.
In a game that featured the only two offences in U Sports to average more than 300 passing yards per game in the 2022 season, the two juggernauts certainly didn't disappoint.
Any notion that the 22 km/h winds at Western Alumni Stadium in London, Ont., would hinder the ability of either quarterback to put the ball in the air was squashed immediately.
Laval's Arnaud Desjardins completed 27 of 36 passes for Laval, throwing for 397 yards and taking zero sacks, while Saskatchewan's Mason Nyhus was just as good, going 34-for-43 for 344 yards and three touchdowns and just one interception, the lone turnover in the game.
The 742 combined passing yards for the two teams ranks fifth in Vanier Cup history.
"I think we played a hard game and they did too," Huskies wide receiver Rhett Vavra told The Canadian Press following the game. "They just made one more play than us."
WATCH | Mital helps Laval defeat Saskatchewan to win Vanier Cup:
It was no secret entering the game that Laval's Kevin Mital — who was awarded the Hec Crighton Trophy on Thursday as Canada's top university football player — was the star of the receiving corps on either squad after a team-record 12 touchdowns in the regular season.
"The whole time you're watching him play it's just the smoothness and his nuance with his routes, and understanding how to get to open space," Saskatchewan's assistant coach Yol Piok said. "It's absolutely incredible."
🏈À VOIR | HEAVY MITAL ! 30 verges !<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoLaval?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoLaval</a> <a href="https://t.co/kaq6SUJfPx">pic.twitter.com/kaq6SUJfPx</a>—@rougeetor
It was surprising, however, that the second-year player out of Saint-Hubert, Que., was as effective as he was, battling through an apparent injury for the majority of the game.
Mital, 23, first showed signs of discomfort after a 48-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, and got up limping after being brought down awkwardly midway through the third quarter.
The receiver ultimately would not be denied, racking up eight catches for 142 yards — his second highest total of the season — and throwing the game-deciding touchdown out of the wildcat formation in the final frame.
"He brings the best out of our players but also our coaches to perform," Laval head coach Glen Constantin said. "He's a special guy. He's a generational talent for us and he's probably the best receiver we've ever had."
Antoine Dansereau-Leclerc of Longueuil, Que., also eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the win, while Montreal's Edouard Arsenault added 65 yards for Laval's trio of receivers.
WATCH | How the 'Miracle' U of T Blues became Vanier Cup champions:
"You look at the four dogs [on Saskatchewan] and it's a bit of the same [to what Laval has with Mital]," Piok said. "They all have their own tools that make them great. When they're all together running on a smooth system, it's absolutely incredible."
The Huskies' top four receivers all showcased their abilities on Saturday, maybe none more notable than Swift Current, Sask., native Vavra, who finished with six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, along with a clutch 35-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.
"Vavra is an absolute speedster," Piok said. "He can go up and make a catch against almost anyone in the country."
GO 🆙 AND GET IT RHETT <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/VanierCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#VanierCup</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HuskiePride?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HuskiePride</a> <a href="https://t.co/hmn1IvT1Yl">pic.twitter.com/hmn1IvT1Yl</a>—@skhuskies
Calgary's Daniel Perry was the biggest reason the Huskies got off to a hot start, securing 81 of his 85 receiving yards in the first half, largely aided by stretching the Laval defence on a fade route for 41 yards, Nyhus' longest completion of the day.
"Perry is a first-team All-Canadian for a reason," Piok said. "He showed it again [in the Vanier Cup]."
The pair of All-Canadians connect on the nation's biggest stage 🇨🇦 <a href="https://t.co/Cn9qvLHJLj">https://t.co/Cn9qvLHJLj</a> <a href="https://t.co/NBqUTtJSFK">pic.twitter.com/NBqUTtJSFK</a>—@skhuskies
The Huskies' offence looked its best when Perry was at his best.
Supported by two long runs by running backs Ted Kubongo and Ryker Frank, Nyhus able to pick the Rouge et Or's defence apart through play-action and was an immaculate 17-for-21 overall in the first half before Laval's defence started to adjust, shortening Saskatchewan's drives in the third quarter and controlling more clock.
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Saskatoon's Caleb Morin was Nyhus' favourite option on Saturday with seven catches and 97 receiving yards, 55 of which came in the final quarter.
"Morin has this ability to get shifty and find space, and once you need him to be a dog and get those extra few yards, he's there for it," said Piok.
Caleb Morin gets the Huskies back inside the redzone❗️ <a href="https://t.co/h94QwEh8rb">pic.twitter.com/h94QwEh8rb</a>—@skhuskies
Daniel Wiebe of Saskatoon was fourth among Huskies' receivers in receptions and yards in both the season and in the Vanier Cup, but came up clutch with a touchdown on a slant to bring the game within one score with five minutes remaining.
"Wiebe's ability to block is magnificent," said Piok. "He's easily one of the best receiving blockers I've personally gotten the pleasure to coach and see."
Laval and Mital will go down in the record books for ultimately winning the battle against a No. 8-ranked Huskies' secondary, but the 57th Vanier Cup may best be remembered for two high-powered offences going toe-to-toe on the biggest stage.