LONDON — The Western Mustangs completed a perfect regular season two weeks ago, finishing a flawless 8-0. But despite their previous eight wins, this was the game the Mustangs really wanted to win.
And win they did, defeating the McMaster Marauders 32-3 in an Ontario University Athletics semi-final Saturday (Nov. 2) to secure their spot in this year’s Yates Cup final next Saturday. The Mustangs will host the Queen’s Gaels, who earned their berth in the final after defeating the Guelph Gryphons 34-17 earlier on Saturday.
Western’s win at TD Stadium was a redemptive one for the Mustangs. McMaster has knocked the Mustangs out of the playoffs the last two years Last year they eliminated Western in the semi-final match before becoming the eventual Yates Cup champions.
After the game, Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall said defeating McMaster tonight felt good.
“[McMaster’s] been a bit of our nemesis the last couple of years,” said Marshall, former head coach of the Marauders. “It feels good to kind of put a stamp on it. I know we did it in the regular season, but you’ve got to do it in the playoffs, and that was as convincing a win as we’ve ever had against McMaster.”
The game was certainly a showcase for the Mustang defenders, who not only shut out the Marauders in the first half, but also held them to only 82 offensive yards. Marshall said their effort was outstanding.
“It was the best game that they played certainly this year, maybe the best game our defence has played in a long time,” he said.
Leading the defence were cornerback Simon Bahru and linebacker Beau Landry with six tackles each. Mustangs kicker Lirim Hajrullahu (St. Catharines) also had a game to remember, kicking six field goals to tie the Canadian Interuniversity Sport and OUA record for most field goals in a playoff game.
On the offensive side, Mustangs quarterback Will Finch (Burlington) threw for 219 yards with one interception and Mustangs slotback Matt Uren had a dominant game, returning the ball for 138 yards, which helped give the Mustangs consistently good field position throughout the match.
After the game, Uren said he was happy his team beat McMaster to earn their spot in the OUA final.
“It was great to get this redemption. We got one earlier in the season, but they weren’t at full strength so it was nice to get one today.”
McMaster, on the other hand, struggled offensively, earning only 18 first downs and quarterback Marshall Ferguson throwing for just 146 yards. McMaster receiver Michael DiCroce was held to 47 yards receiving.
The Mustangs struggled to finish their drives early in the game, relying on Hajrullahu for field goals in order to get on the board. By the end of the first half, he kicked five field goals, giving the Mustangs a 15-0 lead after 30 minutes.
Marshall said the team had to rely on Hajrullahu’s foot to get on the board.
“Sometimes when you’re playing against good opponents, field goals are all you’re going to get … Lirim being as consistent as he was, was important because we got those points on the board,” Marshall said.
In their first drive of the third quarter, the Mustangs found the end zone when Yannick Harou carried the ball five yards to give the Mustangs their first touchdown of the game, putting them up 22-0.
The Mustangs also avoided trouble early in the third quarter. Marauders cornerback Steve Ventresca intercepted a pass from Finch and ran the ball to the Western’s 26-yard line. But after the Marauders advanced the ball to the 15-yard line, the Mustang defenders were able to shut them down and they had to settle for a field goal by Tyler Crapigna to narrow the score to 22-3.
However, on the following drive, Harou once again carried the ball in for a touchdown, giving his team the 29-3 advantage. Hajrullahu would score his record-tying sixth field goal with a 42-yard effort 2:19 into the fourth quarter, securing the 32-3 win for the Mustangs and a place in the OUA final.
After the game, the Uren said the team would celebrate the win before worrying about Queen’s.
“We’ll try to enjoy it tonight, but we’ll start tomorrow watching film and getting ready for Queen’s,” he said.
Game time for the 106th Yates Cup is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 9) at TD Stadium.