Field goal advances Mustangs to national semi-finals

A last-minute, 34-yard field goal by placekicker Lirim Hajrullahu lifted the Western Mustangs to a 26-25 victory over the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the Ontario University Athletics Yates Cup game on Saturday (Nov. 13) at Frank Clair Stadium before a boisterous crowd of 7,194.

The Mustangs, who had led 23-10 at the end of the third quarter, struggled in the final frame, facing 15 unanswered points from the Gee-Gees. Ottawa took a brief 25-23 lead with 1:14 remaining in the game from a 14-yard field goal courtesy of Michael Falvo of Welland.

“The last few minutes standing on the sidelines were excruciating,” said Western head coach Greg Marshall. “But I am proud of these guys. This was a great team victory.”

Mustang running back Jerimy Hipperson, of St. Catharines, was the winner of the Dalt White Trophy as the Yates Cup game MVP, gaining 162 yards on 18 carries and scoring one touchdown.

“Nobody believed in us at the beginning of this season,” said a jubilant Hipperson. “But we believed in each other.”

The victory gave Western a conference-record 29th Yates Cup victory, and was the third title for the team in the past four seasons.

The Mustangs amassed 501 yards of total offence, led by London native and quarterback Donnie Marshall, who completed 14 of 25 passes for 228 yards and one passing touchdown.

Hajrullahu, a native of St. Catharines, kicked four field goals for Western.

In the losing effort, 2010 OUA MVP and Ottawa quarterback Brad Sinopoli led his Gee-Gees with 341 passing yards, connecting on 24 of 39 attempts. Receivers Steven Hughes and Cyril Adjeitey each posted 100-yard games, amassing 118 and 103 yards respectively.

The Mustangs struggled to get into an early rhythm, blocking an early Ottawa field goal but also tossing a pair of interceptions in their first two possessions. The Gee-Gees capitalized on the second pick, taking an early 3-0 advantage from a Falvo field goal.

Western took the lead on the next possession, scoring their first major of the afternoon on a 13-yard pass from Marshall to Nick Trevail. A pair of field goals by Hajrullahu augmented the Western lead to 13-3 midway through the second quarter.

Taking advantage of an intercepted pass by Western kicker Darryl Wheeler on a field goal attempt, Sinopoli and the Gee-Gees offence responded with a six-play, 90-yard drive late in the second frame, capped with a 40-yard passing major from Sinopoli to Ottawa-native Steven Hughes. The score closed the Mustangs lead to 13-10. Western secured an additional field goal in the final seconds of the half, entering the intermission with a 16-10 advantage.

A defensive stalemate dominated the third quarter, with both teams’ punters making regular appearance. With the sole sustained drive of the quarter, Western added seven points off a six-yard rushing touchdown by Hipperson.

Ottawa’s fourth-quarter resurgence was sparked by recovering a Mustang fumble in the frame’s early moments. A six-play, 65-yard Ottawa drive followed, culminating in a one-yard rushing touchdown by Brendan Gillanders, of Orleans. Western proceeded to concede a safety touch, and the Gee-Gees increased their advantage with a pair of field goals from Falvo, securing a 25-23 lead going into the final minute of play. Marshall engineered a controlled drive down the field, setting up Hajrullahu’s game-winning kick.

The Mustangs advance to the CIS semifinal Uteck Bowl against the Quebec-champion Laval Rouge et Or, Saturday, Nov. 20 at Laval.