The last Western Homecoming game against McMaster was a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. An undefeated Mustangs team led by legendary quarterback Michael Faulds and hungry for a return to the Vanier Cup, lost on a grim, rainy day in 2009 to the Marauders.
This year, the Mustangs hope things end differently. This edition of Mustangs football is riding a wave of momentum after five straight wins and a dominating 68-17 victory over the ninth ranked team in the nation, the Ottawa GeeGees.
None of these Mustangs were on that team that lost seven years ago. But that loss still lingers in the minds of all involved with this program. And that win was one of many that built McMaster into the program it is today, a perennial contender and worthy rival of the Mustangs.
This matchup is a tale of two teams built very differently, one marked by its offensive explosiveness and efficiency, the other built on a punishing defence.
That punishing Mac defence is centred by Mike Kashak, who currently leads the nation with 11.5 sacks. Two more and Kashak will own the all time single season sack record.
Kashak has anchored one of the dominant defensive lines in the history of Marauders football, joined by Fabion Foote, Mark Mackie and Hassan Barry to form a formidable foursome that has shut down offences across the country.
The Mustangs offensive line is ready to take on Kashak and the hard-hitting McMaster defence.
“We’ll definitely have to play hard and he’s definitely in our mindset of people to watch out for," said offensive lineman Matt Van Praet. "But as long as we work our game plan and pay attention to him I think we’re gonna be alright.”
McMaster hasn't yet seen an offensive juggernaut like this Western attack led by Chris Merchant, George Johnson and Alex Taylor.
Western leads all of Ontario University Athletics in touchdowns (43), points per game (53.4), rushing yards (1,994), and the Mustangs are second in the OUA in passing yards (2,171).
Running back Alex Taylor is second in the Ontario University Athletics with 128 rushing yards and leads the province in rushing touchdowns with 10. He will be looking to avenge a tough performance by him in last year's blowout win over the Marauders in the final game of the 2015 regular season.
"Mac is a big rivalry but I didn’t play so hot last time we played them at the end of the season, so on a personal level it’s a chance to get a little bit of a redemption game for me," said Taylor. "We did beat them last year but I want to play a little better and come away with the win.”
Chris Merchant has proven to be a talented and efficient quarterback for the Mustangs and is excited to experience his first Homecoming as a Mustang since arriving from the University of Buffalo.
“It means a lot and I’m excited to experience it," said Merchant. "I guess we got a little taste of it with our fake Homecoming thing which was fun but I’m excited to experience the real thing cause Western has such a great history."
Merchant is also looking forward to taking on a strong McMaster squad to prepare for the playoffs.
"To be the best you need to play good teams," said Merchant. "Mac is definitely one of those good teams in the OUA so it’s gonna be a really good test for us and a really good place to see where we’re at.”
When Merchant is finding his number one target, George Johnson, and when Alex Taylor is running like one of the top feature backs in the nation, the Mustangs are nearly impossible to stop. The Mac defence will need to prove its mettle against this potent Mustangs offence if they want to stay on the field longer than Guelph and Ottawa did.
The rivalry with Mac adds to the occasion for receiver George Johnson, who made it clear how he felt about the Marauders.
“Coming here it was drilled into me how much we dislike Mac from the beginning," said Johnson. "That’s in me right now. I really don’t like Mac. It’ll be a really good game. They’re well-coached like us and it’ll definitely be a battle.”
Head coach Greg Marshall believes consistency will be the key for this date with the Marauders.
"Mac is a very good football team but if we continue to get better as we have then we’ll be in good shape," said Marshall. "We just have to be consistent and Mac brings a lot of different looks and they’re a good football team so we gotta play our best game.”
Marshall, a former Mustangs running back who was named the national player of the year in 1980, is looking forward to leading his team out in front of a boisterous Homecoming crowd.
“It’s a special day," said Marshall. "It’s an opportunity to play in front of our alumni and it’s always good when you can have your old teammates come back. I’ve been coaching here at Western for a long time so there’s a lot of players and coaches that I’ve been on teams with, so it’ll be a special day.”
The day will be made even more special as it will be the last regular season game at home for those Mustangs who will not be returning next season. Marshall said it's a time to reminisce and celebrate the great careers of the tenured Mustangs.
"The unique thing about university football is you see players come in as freshmen and how they mature over their four or five years here," said Marshall. "It’s bittersweet cause it’s good that they’re moving on and graduating and to appreciate their accomplishments but at the same time you miss them, you have them and coach them and spend a lot of time with them over four or five years."
The Mustangs defence should hold their own against a McMaster scoring. For linebacker Philippe Dion the Mustangs defence will need to do their jobs and allow the offence to get on the field quickly to make plays.
"We need to keep our poise, keep our calm like we did against Ottawa", said Dion. "It helped that our offence scored on the very first drive so that gave us a little room for error. But against Mac it’s not gonna be as easy so we gotta play our game, stay focused and do the little things right.”
Chris Merchant does not fear the Marauders. None of the Mustangs do. This team have ambitions this season.
"We’re not gonna get scared of them," Merchant said. "We’re gonna run the ball right at them and see what they can do."