Wide receivers stole the show in Laval’s Vanier Cup win over Saskatchewan

When the Laval Rouge et Or defeated the Saskatchewan Huskies 30-24 in the Canada Life Vanier Cup on Saturday, they lived up to the hype created by the clash of two high-profile attacks.

In a game where the only two U Sports offenses of the 2022 season averaged more than 300 passing yards per game, the two juggernauts certainly didn’t disappoint.

Any notion that the 14 mph winds at Western Alumni Stadium in London, Ontario would affect either quarterback’s ability to get the ball airborne was immediately shattered.

Laval’s Arnaud Desjardins completed 27 of 36 passes for Laval, throwing for 397 yards and catching zero sacks, while Saskatchewan’s Mason Nyhus was just as good, scoring 34-for-43 for 344 yards and three touchdowns and just one interception, the only turnover the game.

The 742 combined passing yards for the two teams ranks fifth in Vanier Cup history.

“I think we played a tough game and so did they,” Huskies wide receiver Rhett Vavra told The Canadian Press after the game. “They only played one game more than us.”

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Laval defeats Saskatchewan to win the Vanier Cup

The Rouge et Or defeated the Huskies 30-24 to win their 1st Vanier Cup since 2018 and 11th overall.

It was no secret that Laval’s Kevin Mital – who was awarded the Hec Crighton Trophy as Canada’s top varsity footballer on Thursday – was the star of the receiving corps in both sides after a team-record 12 touchdowns in the regular season.

“All the time you watch him play, it’s just the smoothness and his nuances with his routes and understanding how to get into the open space,” said Saskatchewan assistant coach Yol Piok. “It’s absolutely incredible.”

It was surprising, however, that the sophomore from Saint-Hubert, Que., was as effective as he was and struggled with an apparent injury for most of the game.

The 23-year-old Mital first showed signs of discomfort after a 48-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, standing with a limp after being awkwardly brought down midway through the third quarter.

The receiver wasn’t ultimately denied the fight, piling up eight catches for 142 yards – his second-highest total of the season – and throwing the game-winning touchdown out of Wildcat formation in the final frame.

“He brings out the best in our players but also in our coaches,” said Laval head coach Glen Constantin. “He’s a special guy. He’s a generational talent for us and he’s probably the best receiver we’ve ever had.”

Longueuil, Que.’s Antoine Dansereau-Leclerc also surpassed 100 yards in the win, while Montreal’s Edouard Arsenault added 65 yards for Laval’s trio of receivers.

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The Huskies boasted the top-passing offense at U Sports this season. Piok – who only caught passes from Nyhus in 2021 before moving to a coaching role after his fifth year – knows the Saskatchewan receiving room better than anyone.

“Look at the four dogs [on Saskatchewan] and it’s a bit the same [to what Laval has with Mital]’ said Piok. “They all have their own tools that make them great. When they all run together on a smooth system, it’s absolutely incredible.”

The Huskies’ top four receivers all showed their skills Saturday, perhaps none more notable than Swift Current’s Sask., a Vavra native, who finished with six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown and a 35-yard punt return in the fourth Quarter.

“Vavra is an absolute racer,” said Piok. “He can step up and make a catch against almost anyone in the country.”

Calgary’s Daniel Perry was the main reason the Huskies got off to a hot start. He secured 81 of his 85 receiving yards in the first half, helped largely by stretching the Laval defense on a fade route for 41 yards, Nyhus’ longest finish of the day.

“Perry is a first-team All-Canadian for a reason,” said Piok. “He showed it again [in the Vanier Cup].”

The Huskies’ offense looked at its best when Perry was at his best.

Assisted by two long runs from running backs Ted Kubongo and Ryker Frank, Nyhus was able to tear apart Rouge et Or’s defense through game action and was a flawless 17-to-21 aggregate in the first half before Laval’s defense began to adjust and shorten Saskatchewan drives in the third quarter and controls more clock.

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Saskatoon’s Caleb Morin was Nyhus’ favorite option on Saturday with seven catches and 97 receiving yards, 55 of which came in the final quarter.

“Morin has this ability to move and find space, and if you need him to be a dog and get those extra yards, he’s there for it,” Piok said.

Saskatoon’s Daniel Wiebe was fourth among the Huskies’ receivers at receptions and yards in both the season and the Vanier Cup, but got in the clutch with a touchdown on a slant to level the game with five minutes left.

“Wiebe’s blocking ability is great,” said Piok. “He’s definitely one of the best reception blockers I’ve personally trained and seen.”

Laval and Mital will go down in the record books for ultimately winning the fight against the Huskies runners-up in 8th place, but the 57th Vanier Cup will perhaps be best remembered for two high-profile offenses taking on the biggest stage.

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