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Slow start, championship finish for undefeated Mustangs

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With the third quarter winding down, the perfect season for the St. Vital Mustangs Bantam Black team was in question.

The team that had been dominant through most of the Manitoba Minor Football Association season was trailing 11-8 to the Valour Patriots, a club that had only been in existence for four years and was playing in its first provincial final.

But then the Mustangs’ offence came out of its slumber, the defence tightened the screws and St. Vital’s special teams exploded for a punt return TD.

When all was said and done, the Mustangs were provincial champions, 40-11 winners at Canad Inns Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

"I’m so happy for our kids," said head coach Ken Kyliuk. "They played their hearts out today and it was a wonderful experience."

For most of the players, including defensive end Josh Jamieson, it was their first provincial title.

"The feeling is just ridiculous," said the St. Vital resident after the trophy presentation. "Everyone is so excited to win this game. I don’t have words to describe it."

Despite what may have looked like a lopsided score, Jamieson said the Patriots were worthy opponents.

"This was the toughest game we’ve had," he said. "We just went into the locker room and coach gave us a really good talk, and we just came out and gave it a roll."

Kyliuk was coaching his two sons, quarterback Colby (the game’s MVP) and linebacker Connor, for the final time.

"In that regard this is a really special time," he said, moments before being drenched by a bucket of ice-cold water.

After some quick toweling off in hopes of staving off hypothermia, Kyliuk continued to sing his team’s praises. If you had asked him at the start of the year, there’s no way he would have predicted an undefeated run to a championship for the Mustangs.

"You can ask my coaches," he said. "There’s no way we could have thought that. But hats off to our coaching staff. These are tremendous guys. They work with the kids so well, and the kids picked it up, soaked it in."

Jamieson, who had been sporting bright red hair for the past three weeks in lieu of a playoff beard, had a hard time putting his finger on what made this year’s team so successful compared to past squads.

"I’ve been playing together a long time with some of these guys," he said. "I think it’s just people’s will to win. People’s want for this, right here."

As the team exited the stadium, long after the final whistle and the trophy presentation, Kyliuk was still being congratulated with every few steps he took.

"It’s just a wonderful array of people coming together for one common goal," he said. "Football does that."

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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