The Western Mustangs are heading to their fourth straight Yates Cup after defeating the McMaster Marauders 34-28 Saturday evening at TD Waterhouse Stadium in front of 3,640 fans.
No. 7 McMaster dominated the time of possession over the No. 2 nationally ranked Mustangs in the Ontario University Athletics football semi-final, but 21 unanswered points by Western gave them a big enough cushion to survive seven turnovers to hold on for the victory.
The Marauders got off to a quick start on offense marching down the field on their first two possessions getting a 19-yard field goal from Andrew Waugh and a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kyle Quinlan who ran for 50 yards on the day.
The Mustangs responded on the ensuing kickoff. Andrew Thibaudeau returned the kick 104 yards for a touchdown. Lirim Hajrullahu tied the game up at 10 just before the end of the first quarter on a 31-yard field goal.
The Marauders took the lead again early in the second quarter as Quinlan hooked up with Kevin D’Hollander for a one-handed, 21-yard touchdown catch to make it 17-10 for McMaster.
But Donnie Marshall responded, rolling out of the pocket and hitting Thibaudeau for a 52-yard run and catch to tie it at 17-17. Western completed its three minute drill before halftime, capping off the drive with a five-yard Jerimy Hipperson rushing touchdown. The drive was kept alive by a pass interference call against McMaster on a third-down Mustangs’ gamble. The Mustangs led 24-17 going into half.
After surviving two Marshall interceptions in the third quarter, the Mustangs scored on Riva’s eight-yard rushing touchdown. With 21 unanswered points the Mustangs led 31-17 halfway through the third quarter.
But the veteran-laden Marauders responded as they ran the ball directly through the heart of the Mustangs’ defence with Jordan Kozina closing the lead to 31-24 on a two-yard touchdown run. Kozina finished with a game-high 106 yards and one major on 16 attempts.
Waugh booted his second field goal of the game, from 17 yards out, to make it a four-point game at 31-27 for Western.
Hajrullahu kicked a 43-yard field goal of his own into the wind, putting the Mustangs ahead 34-27 with 7:48 remaining. Quinlan then punted the ball through the end zone for single point to cut the Western lead to 34-28 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, but the Mustangs defence took over.
They bent, but did not break on the final drive and kept the Marauders off the board for the remainder of the game.
Quinlan finished 23 of 36 for 242, a touchdown and no interceptions passing. Bryan Dowd was the top receiver catching five balls for 63 yards. Mike DiCroce added three catches for 63 yards and Matt Perissini was Quinlan’s favourite target hauling in seven catches for 43 yards.
Ryan Chmielewski led the McMaster defense with ten tackles, eight solo and two assisted.
Freshman Thibaudeau was the catalyst for the Mustangs on offence, with four receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown, and another touchdown on a spectacular 104-yard kickoff return which tied a Western school record and changed the game’s momentum.
The two-headed rushing monster of Jerimy Hipperson and Nathan Riva combined for 190 yards. Hipperson scored his 12th touchdown of the season netting 97 yards on 11 carries scored as well for the Mustangs getting 17 carries for 93 yards.
Marshall was 12 of 18 passing for 217 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Defensive captain and middle linebacker John Surla of Niagara Falls led the Mustangs defence with eight total tackles including one for a loss.
McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek was happy with the season as a whole.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” said Ptaszek. “(With) all the injuries we endured, it was a great season. They are a championship-calibre team and we played a championship calibre-team.
“We wanted to make less mistakes,” he said. “When we aren’t killing ourselves, we are very competitive. We gave up some big plays and can’t do that against a good football team. We played well in spurts and not all four quarters.”
Western will travel to Ottawa next weekend to face the Gee-Gees in the 103rd Yates Cup at 1 p.m. Ottawa survived a scare from Laurier, winning 32-31 on Saturday.
Ottawa handed Western its only regular season loss, a 20-19 decision on Sept. 6 at Frank Clair Stadium in the nation’s capital, winning on a late fourth-quarter drive.