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University of Western Ontario Mustangs quarterback Chris Merchant runs during the second half of the Mitchell Bowl on Saturday.Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press

Chris Merchant came back from injury to lead the defending Vanier Cup champion Western Mustangs to a rematch of last year’s title game against the Laval Rouge et Or with a 47-24 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Mitchell Bowl on Saturday.

Merchant finished 17-for-28 passing with 251 yards and three touchdowns, including one on the ground, after getting hurt on the second play from scrimmage when Western fielded the opening kickoff.

Merchant lay prone on the field for a couple of minutes, hobbling off gingerly with what appeared to be a back injury before returning for the next offensive series. Alex Taylor rushed for 141 yards on 12 carries and had two touchdowns in support of Merchant, while Harry McMaster had 152 yards receiving and a pair of TDs.

Kyle Siemens paced the Huskies with 256 yards in the air and two touchdowns, while Tyler Chow had 143 yards on the ground and a TD. Colton Klassen had 107 yards receiving and two scores, and Joey Trumpy caught nine passes for 98 yards.

“Their offence is good and their quarterback is as good as we’ve played, and we shut them down in the second half,” said Western head coach Greg Marshall, whose Mustangs only gave up a single touchdown to the Huskies after halftime.

Marshall added that while it was a good test for his players, he would have preferred to rest a few in the second half had the score not been so close.

The Mustangs will face the Rouge et Or in the national championship game on Nov. 24 in Quebec City. Earlier Saturday, Laval romped to a 63-0 victory over the St. F-X X-Men in the Uteck Bowl to set up the rematch.

In London, Ont., on Saskatchewan’s first drive, strong running by Chow and a spearing penalty by the defence laid the groundwork for a 22-yard touchdown pass from Siemens to Klassen at the 10:06 mark.

After another three-and-out for the Mustangs, the Huskies fumbled a hand-off on the Western side of the field. The Mustangs took advantage of that miscue when Merchant, looking no worse for wear, found wide receiver McMaster in the end zone at 7:49 to tie the game 7-7.

The Mustangs' offence, however, was just heating up. On their first possession of the second quarter, Merchant hit McMaster again for the go-ahead touchdown on a 31-yard bomb for a 14-7 lead.

The Huskies answered with a field goal and followed that with an eight-yard major from Siemens to Klassen for his second score of the first half at the 7:00 mark.

The Huskies defence found Merchant again after the Mustangs pivot scampered to his left and was hit hard from the back just as he released the ball. After several minutes on the turf, he was helped off the field only to return for the next series.

With time running out in the first half, Merchant carried the Mustangs into field goal position, setting up a 37-yard field goal by Marc Liegghio that tied the game at 17-17.

After fielding a Saskatchewan punt minutes into the third quarter, the Mustangs went on an 85-yard drive, capped off by a four-yard run by Merchant to give Western a 24-17 lead with 9:25 to go in the third quarter.

In the midst of that drive, stalled at third and inches at midfield, the Mustangs went for it. Stopped short initially, the Western offensive line formed a rugby scrum and manhandled the Huskies back about 10 yards.

That third-down play was not lost on Marshall.

“It was a great push and it gave us a lot of confidence,” he said. “I thought overall it was a great team victory.”

After Western pinned the Huskies inside their own five-yard line, Saskatchewan opted to take a two-point safety rather than punt from their own end zone. The move gave the Mustangs a nine-point lead with just 15 minutes to go.

The Mustangs widened the gap to 16 with 10:26 to go when Taylor took a handoff and darted up the middle for a 51-yard run.

“All year it’s been the same story,” Taylor said. “Our defence is just lights out and it took a little to get going there, but our defence just really showed up. It was just the right timing because our offensive line started to really click at that time.”

Chow responded with a 64-yard run to the end zone just 30 seconds later. Down by 10, the Huskies opted to kick the extra point instead of going for a two-point conversion, leaving it a two-score game at 33-24.

But Taylor ran for his second score in four minutes giving the Mustangs a 40-24 lead that they wouldn’t give up.

Western back Cedric Joseph scored on a four-yard run with 2:41 left on the clock to up the score to 47-24.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Laval Rouge et Or quarterback Hugo Richard is going back to the Vanier Cup one last time.

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Laval Rouge et Or players Benoit Gagnion-Brousseau, left, Hugo Richard, centre, and Samuel Thomassin celebrate their victory on Saturday.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Richard, in his fifth and final year as Laval’s QB, completed 22 of 27 passes for 327 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Rouge et Or to the rout. Richard was named the game’s MVP.

“I’m excited about the way we’ve been playing lately, and the fact we’ve been able to do it at home since the beginning of the playoffs,” said Richard. “We’re having a blast each week preparing for each game.”

The undefeated Rouge et Or’s score was the biggest total the team has piled up this season. Laval head coach Glenn Constantin thinks that the fact that the team “had a lighter day today” won’t hurt the group heading into the Vanier Cup.

“We’ve had our fair share of adversity against Montreal,” said Constantin, referring to three close wins during the season and in the league final against the Montreal Carabins, the Rouge et Or’s perennial rival.

“We understand no matter who we play next week it’ll be a very, very tough opponent.”

X-Men head coach Gary Waterman believed there were a lot of positives for the Atlantic University Sports champions even in such a resounding loss.

“Definitely not the way we wanted to go, but you look at the group and I’m proud of that group,” said Waterman. “Maybe people didn’t expect us to win our conference. For us to be able to accomplish that and play so well at the end of the year leading to this, I’ll forever be proud of this group.”

St. F-X rookie quarterback Bailey Wasdal, who completed 7-of-16 throws, was philosophical in the wake of the crushing defeat.

“I think everything about this is just an experience,” said Wasdal. “At some point we have to come back and look at the film. It’s a little too fresh right now. I know when we look back at it there’ll be some positives to draw.”

Laval will try to capture its record 10th Vanier at home, after losing last year to Western in a 39-17 game played in Hamilton.

The Rouge et Or have won a record nine Canadian championships in the program’s 23-year history. The team lost twice in the final.

St. F-X found itself in a deep hole early into the game, with Laval scoring two touchdowns within three minutes of each other in the first quarter. Richard hit rookie receiver Vincent Forbes-Mombleau with a 15-yard pass, then threw a 28-footer to second-year receiver Mathieu Robitaille, both converted by kicker David Cote.

The X-Men conceded a safety to leave the score at the end of the quarter at 16-0.

Richard struck again early in the second quarter on a 14-yard pass and run to Forbes-Mombleau. The X-Men saw some hope when linebacker Gordon Whyte picked off a pass. Laval quickly returned the favour on the X-Men’s drive when Zack Fitzpatrick stole a Wasdal pass and ran it deep into the visitor’s zone.

Richard fumbled the snap on a first and goal and the visitors recovered the ball. St. F-X conceded another safety on a punt. Laval put another touchdown on the board late in the quarter, with Richard finding Forbes-Mombleau with a 15-yard pass for the receiver’s third TD of the game.

Following a blocked X-Men kick with 48 seconds remaining in the half, Richard found Benoit Gagnon-Brousseau alone deep in the end zone for another Laval TD to boost the lead to 39-0.

The Rouge et Or onslaught continued early in the first half with running back Alexis Cote powering 12 yards into the end zone. Laval backup QB Samuel Chenard took over from Richard, and promptly set up kicker David Cote for a 10-yard run and another six-points.

Both teams geared down in the final quarter because of the lopsided score.

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