Western out to wrestle throne from McMaster


It’s the reigning regular season champs taking on the reigning Yates Cup champs.

The No. 1 Western Mustangs set all sorts of scoring records in 2013, but heading into their semi-final matchup against the No. 8 McMaster Marauders, they are looking to set the record straight: Ousted by McMaster in each of the last two post-seasons, Western wants to extract revenge and turn the tables on their recent rivals and they’ll have that chance Saturday (Nov. 2) at TD Stadium at 4:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Sportsnet 360.

(Photo: Robin Leworthy Wilson/Aerial Promotions)

(Photo: Robin Leworthy Wilson/Aerial Promotions)

The Mustangs absolutely dominated Ontario University Athletics football this season, scoring 50 or more points in seven of eight games en route to a single season scoring record (458 points). Second-year quarterback Will Finch (Burlington) threw for an OUA record 3,047 yards and kicker Lirim Hajrullahu (St. Catharines) became the Canadian Interuniversity Sport all-time scoring leader with 422 points.

“Will has been so poised,” McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek said in praise of his opponent. “He has such a presence you would think you’re looking at a senior as opposed to a second-year student-athlete. We knew that he would be big, fast, and strong and throw the ball a mile but couldn’t have anticipated how quickly he would mature. He is one of the best players in the country right now.”

Everything has come up aces for the Mustangs, but the purple reign can’t officially begin until the maroon one ends and McMaster has no intention of going quietly.

After losing three first-team all-Canadians to graduation, McMaster knew they were entering a transition year in 2013. Graduation was tough, but the injuries were tougher, further depleting the lineup. All-Canadians Matt Sewell (Milton), Mike Daly (Kitchener) and Joey Cupido (Hamilton) were all on the sidelines as Western stomped McMaster 58-15 in week three.

The symbolic importance of the return of this trio isn’t lost on Western head coach Greg Marshall.

“Players like Cupido and Sewell, sometimes getting these players back from injury has a bigger impact on the overall confidence of a team than just the player’s presence and ability on the field itself.”

Despite falling to 2-3 after losses to Western, Queen’s and Guelph, the Marauders did not make excuses and did not allow themselves to be written off. Slowly they got healthy and began to resemble the McMaster of old. Rattling off three wins by a combined 139-11 score, they earned home field in the quarter-finals and disposed of the Ottawa Gee-Gees 41-7. Since losing to Guelph, McMaster has not allowed a touchdown and that was four games ago.

“This season we’ve ironed out some bugs and we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly,” said Ptaszek. “But after the victory against Ottawa, there’s a real enthusiasm in the locker room with everyone being back and where we could possibly go from here.”

Granted, Ottawa, Carleton, Laurier and Waterloo don’t present the quality of opponent that Western brings on Saturday, but the Marauders present themselves as a better opponent as well.

Finch deservedly garnered a lot of attention this season for his play under centre, but McMaster QB Marshall Ferguson quietly put together a very solid season. Tasked with filling the shoes of Kyle Quinlan and leading a pass-first offence, the Kingston native threw 199 completions on 314 attempts. Both were the most in the league this season and he was only a few snaps shy of setting new records in each category. Ferguson’s 21 touchdowns equaled Finch and his 63% completion rate was third in the league behind Finch (69.7) and Aaron Colbon (65).

While Finch was an integral piece of the potent Western offence, the Mustangs ground game was second to none. Despite losing Garret Sanvido (Vancouver) to a season ending ankle injury in week six, Western rushed for a league high 1806 total yards, averaging 226 per game. Sanvido’s 498 yards were still a team high and eighth in OUA, but Yannick Harou (Gatineau, Que.) finished the season with 475 yards and eight touchdowns.

Despite the loss of Sanvido, Marshall was confident about the health of his team heading into Saturday’s tilt.

“We’re healthy. We’re as healthy as we’ve been in a long time. Matt Uren missed the majority of the season, and Brian Marshall was hurt the last half of the season. We missed Matt, he’s a dynamic player and he’s a big part of our offence. Getting them both back and healthy is important to our team’s success.”

The McMaster offence was not built around the running game, nor do they have a game breaking running back. Kasean Davis-Reynolds (Mississauga) led all Marauders with 399 yards on 76 carries, good for 13th in league standings, but Wayne Moore (Etobicoke) ran the rock for McMaster against Ottawa last week. Moore ran for an impressive 140 yards, but no touchdowns. Primary running back Jimmy Hill (Hamilton) returned from injury for two carries against Ottawa, but was limited to six yards.

Both teams boast a strong receiving corps, but Western’s George Johnson was spectacular this season, leading the league with 982 yards. The London native was one of only two receivers to break 900 yards and his 122.75 yards per game were also tops in the OUA. Not to be overlooked was Brian Marshall (London), the league’s third best receiver, who caught 34 passes for 753 yards. Marshall’s nine touchdowns tied him for the most in the OUA with Toronto’s Alex Pierzchalski, but Marshall caught 17 fewer passes and racked up over 300 more yards.

McMaster counters with rookie Daniel Vandervoort (Barrie), who caught 31 passes for 594 yards and eight touchdowns. Vandervoort was a revelation for Marauders, who also saw the return of all-star Michael DiCroce (Hamilton) this season. DiCroce, a top-end talent, racked up 486 yards and three touchdowns on 40 catches.

The defensive matchup brings lots of intrigue into Saturday’s playoff game. Western’s Beau Landry (Kitchener) and Pawel Kruba (Windsor) were a fierce pair this season, racking up 84 tackles between them. The league knows what the Western defence brings to the table, but McMaster is finally healthy and only Ottawa knows what that looks like. The Marauders held the Gee-Gees to 184 total yards last week, a very impressive number. The big question is can they slow down the OUA’s most potent offence enough to give Ferguson a chance to win it.

WESTERN LEADERS

Passing

Will Finch
191 completions, 274 attempts, 3047 yards, 21 touchdowns

Blake Huggins
14 completions, 23 attempts, 289 yards, 2 touchdowns

Rushing

Garret Sanvido
66 carries, 498 yards, 5 touchdowns

Yannick Harou
80 carries, 475 yards, 8 touchdowns

Receiving

George Johnson
60 catches, 982 yards, 5 touchdowns

Brian Marshall
34 catches, 753 yards, 9 touchdowns

Defence

Beau Landry
46 tackles, 36 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries

Pawel Kruba
38 tackles, 29 solo tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Sean Blake
28 tackles, 21 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception

MCMASTER LEADERS

Passing

Marshall Ferguson
199 completions, 314 attempts, 2410 yards, 21 touchdowns

Rushing

Kasean Davis-Reynolds
76 carries, 399 yards, 4 touchdowns

Wayne Moore
43 carries, 325 yards, 3 touchdowns

Receiving

Daniel Vandervoort
31catches, 594 yards, 8 touchdowns

Michael DiCroce
40 catches, 486 yards, 3 touchdowns

Defence

Aram Eisho
45 tackles, 39 solo tackles, 1 interception

Scott Martin
32 tackles, 28 solo tackles, 1 interception

Keldyn Ahlstedt
29.5 tackles, 26 solo tackles, 3 interceptions