Football is a game of momentum.
Up by 21 points with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Ontario university football final, the Western Mustangs thought they had the Yates Cup all but locked up.
But the momentum began to swing, and the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks erased a 21-point deficit and defeated the Mustangs 43-40 on a last-second field goal to claim their first provincial title since 2005.
It was the largest fourth-quarter comeback in Yates Cup history. It was Laurier's first victory over the Mustangs since 2006 and their first playoff win in London since 1991.
"I am probably the only one crazy enough to think it could actually happen," said Laurier head coach Michael Faulds, who is in his fourth season as bench boss. "I told the players that and they gave me a nod. But I truly did believe. Throughout the season, there were times where we gained momentum and had the possibility. I'm so happy for our guys right now."
The Hawks move on to play the Laval Rouge et Or in the Uteck Bowl, the national semifinal, in Quebec City next weekend.
In a game that featured 1,008 yards of total offence, four lead changes and didn't have its first penalty called until the beginning of the second quarter, momentum was fluid. There was an onside kick on the second possession of the game, which Western recovered and translated into a field goal. There was a fumble off a punt return, an interception and a fumble where a Laurier player kneed the ball out of his own grip.
And just when the momentum was in motion again, Laurier recovered a fumble off a reverse play in the fourth quarter, leading to the game-tying touchdown.
"We had the momentum. I think [Laurier] got a couple of big plays there, starting with that prayer in the end-zone, which kind of turned it around," said Mustang running back Alex Taylor, who finished the day with 106 yards and three touchdowns. "Their crowd was quiet for a bit and that got them revved up and got them a little bit of hope, and they stole the momentum from us."
Laurier quarterback Michael Knevel finished with 22 catches on 36 attempts for 309 yards and three touchdowns – all three of those being on the final three touchdowns of the game. He was named the Porter Player of the Game for the second consecutive week.
His counterpart, Chris Merchant, finished 15-for-21 and one interception for 281 yards and two touchdowns, and split time with backup Stevenson Bone.
"[Michael's] just unbelievably calm," Faulds said. "That's the best attribute for Michael. Whatever we call, he's going to run in at 100 per cent and the team has so much confidence around him."
Knevel connected to Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Brentyn Hall and Carson Ouellette while Levondre Gordon found the end-zone on the ground and kicker Nathan Mesher connected on all five field goal attempts.
Merchant threw a pair of touchdown passes to George Johnson and Harry McMaster. Taylor punched in three rushing touchdowns and kicker Marc Liegghio hit two field goals.
Western University last won the Yates Cup in 2013, but lost to the University of Calgary in the semifinal 44-3.
"I am proud of our boys," said Western head coach Greg Marshall. "They played and they battled the entire game. Give credit to Laurier. They didn't quit, they came back."
Laurier heads to Quebec City for the Uteck Bowl and a berth in the Vanier Cup against the Rouge et Or on Nov. 19. In the other national semifinal, St. Francis Xavier University's X-Men will travel west to play Calgary's Dinos in the Mitchell Bowl.
The nation's final, the Vanier Cup, will be held in Hamilton, Ont., on Nov. 26.