The Varsity Blues fell 21–9 to the Western Mustangs on a dark, rainy afternoon at Varsity Stadium. Saturday’s defeat left Toronto 3–4 this season.
The Blues came into the game looking to put a stop to their three-game losing streak. They were also hoping to rebound from a 50–14 collapse in Hamilton in week six, a game in which they conceded three late-game touchdowns.
The Mustangs travelled to Toronto for the first of two road games, following a tight 33–29 victory over the Guelph Gryphons the week before. Western moved into first place in the CIS standings with their win over Guelph, after Laval suffered their first loss of the year.
In keeping with October tradition, several players, including the Blues’ Kevin Asare and Aaron Milton, sported pink accessories in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The Blues got off to a slow start; they were unable to successfully convert a first-down until their third possession, almost ten minutes into the game.
Western, on the other hand, raced to an early lead following a two-yard run by Tyler Varga which raised his total to 15 touchdowns for the year. Varga, who left the game with what appeared to be a facial injury in the second quarter, is in his first year out of Kitchener and has now scored a touchdown in each game this season.
The Blues responded to the Mustangs’ early score with 9 unanswered points of their own — all by the foot of Andrew Lomasney — to close out the half. The final three points came on the Blues’ final possession of the half. Helped by a Mustangs pass-interference penalty that advanced the ball across mid-field and a 43-yard completion to Paul de Pass, Toronto marched down the field from their own 39-yard line. The drive ended with a Lomasney 20-yarder which gave the Blues the lead for the first and only time. Toronto native Lomasney also came good on attempts of 27 and 10 yards.
The Mustangs arrived in Toronto as the number-one ranked offense in Ontario, averaging close to 550 yards a game. The Blues’ defense — second in the league, allowing just 340 yards a game — were a suitable match, and held Western to only a single touchdown in the first half.
The Blues defense hunted the ball with great efficiency throughout the game. Before the half, Toronto was able to secure two takeaways: an Ian Noble fumble recovered by the Blues’ Christopher Johnson and a Nathan Riva loose ball that was pounced on by Jaiden McBride of the Blues in front of the Western team bench. Unfortunately, the offense was unable to capitalize on their teammates’ exceptional ball awareness, and both possessions ended in punts.
The Blues defense continued their first-half efforts after the break as Willie Sharpe intercepted a Mustang pass deep in Blues’ territory early in the third quarter.
With that interception, one Blues player made history.
Fifth-year quarterback Andrew Gillis entered the game only 173 yards from surpassing 4000 total career passing yards. Toronto-native Gillis achieved the milestone on a 7-yard completion to senior receiver Michael Prempeh, making him the sixth Toronto quarterback to beat that mark. Gillis finished the afternoon 16 for 36 for 260 yards, including a 43-yard long throw to Ajax-born Paul de Pass. It wasn’t all smooth-sailing though; the quarterback was also picked off by both Horrace Finnikin and Mike Spence.
Western’s offense, led by both dressed quarterbacks Ben Rossong and Ian Noble, quickly ended the home crowd’s celebration. The Mustangs came back with a one-yard Nathan Riva touchdown. It was to be the first of two second-half Western majors, the second coming when Thibaudeau caught a Rossong pass for 20 yards and the touchdown.
Toronto’s special teams were impressive on the day, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and totaling 139 yards on punt and kickoff returns. But trailing in the second half and facing a third down, the Blues elected to take their chances on a punt fake. Western anticipated the play and Western player-of-the-game Ricky Osei-Kusi broke into the backfield to tackle Willie Sharpe. The Toronto defense once again adhered to the ageless “bend but don’t break” philosophy and managed to force the Mustangs to attempt a field goal which drifted wide, resulting in a safety.
Toronto’s offensive woes sealed the team’s fate; they were unable to put up any points in the second half or score a single touchdown. Appropriately, the final Blues possession of the game ended when a Gillis pass was intercepted near mid-field. The Mustangs’ offense, held to only 371 yards, returned to the field to take a knee and end the afternoon’s play in Toronto.
The Blues play their final home game of the regular season next Saturday against the University of Waterloo with kick-off scheduled for 1 pm.