The Western Mustangs will play the Guelph Gryphons in the Yates Cup on Saturday at TD Stadium at 1 p.m.
Guelph has a remarkably similar makeup as the Mustangs, relying heavily on defence and rushing. However, the Gryphons were less successful, finishing 5–3, tied with the Carleton Ravens for third in the OUA.
As a team, the Gryphons have compiled 1,631 yards on the ground and have averaged 203.9 rushing yards per game — both good for second in the OUA. The team also finished third in the OUA with 78 rushing first downs. For reference, Western is first in each of these categories by a fairly wide margin.
On the other side of the ball, Guelph ranked second in the OUA in tackles and sacks, and third in interceptions. Interestingly, they have returned their 11 picks for an average of 22.4 yards, which also ranks second in the OUA.
Despite excelling on the ground as a team, the Gryphons do not have one dominant running back. Through eight regular season games, their leading rusher was their quarterback, Theo Landers.
Landers has put the ball on the ground 58 times and picked up 526 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterback averaged an incredible 65.8 yards per game and 9.1 yards per rush. These numbers are slightly skewed, though, as the fourth-year player ripped off 91 yards on one rush against the Windsor Lancers on Sep. 15. Amazingly, Landers didn’t score on the long rushing play.
The rest of the rushing game has been split amongst Jean-Paul Cimankinda, Juwan Jeffrey and Jamal Hooker. Hooker is the greybeard of the group, playing in his third year of eligibility; both Cimankinda and Jeffrey are rookies.
Despite owning the advantage in experience, Hooker has been the worst of the three Gryphons backs this year. On 36 attempts, he has picked up 192 yards and no touchdowns. Hooker’s low productivity is relative, of course, since a 5.3 rushing average is nothing to scoff at.
The two young guns, Cimankinda and Jeffrey, have been great for the Gryphons this year, combining for 574 yards and four touchdowns.
The running cohort is rounded out with one more freshman: Kwame Osei. The first-year back has rushed the ball 34 times for 151 yards.
Landers has preferred running the ball to passing this year. The quarterback has completed 61.3 per cent of his passes, but has compiled just 1,398 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. While he's averaged just 174.8 passing yards per game, he has protected the ball well, throwing only three interceptions in eight games.
The receiving corps has been led by three veterans in Kade Belyk, Zeph Fraser and Kian Schaffer-Baker. Belyk leads the team with five receiving scores this year, while also hauling in 36 receptions for 425 yards. Fraser, the other senior, posted 373 receiving yards, 28 receptions and two touchdowns.
Despite missing three games this season, the youngest of the three receivers, Schaffer-Baker, has been by far the most productive. Through five games, the third-year wideout picked up 370 receiving yards and three touchdowns on just 21 catches.
The Gryphons defence has been anchored by star linebacker Luke Korol. The fifth-year standout has set the pace for U Sports defenders with 92 tackles this season and has added on three sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.
The defensive backfield has relied on the formidable trio of Dotun Aketepe, Akeem Knowles and Brendan Murphy.
Aketepe led the team in interceptions with three on the year. Additionally, the Barrie native returned these picks for a total of 96 yards.
Knowles racked up 38 tackles, hauled in one interception and broke up four passes during the regular season.
Murphy, the rookie of the group, tied for second on the team in sacks. He grabbed one interception, made 34 tackles — five of which were for a loss — and broke up a team leading five passes. The Quebec native is truly the Swiss army knife of the Guelph defence.
The Mustangs will have a big challenge against a young, tough Gryphons team this Saturday. Western’s offensive line coach Jean-Paul Circelli compared their semi-final game against the Ravens to a Rocky Balboa fight, according to Alex Taylor. However, the Yates Cup may be even more of a slugfest, with the winner being the last team standing in a showdown of hard-nosed defences. The Mustangs need to go through a difficult test if they want to win the 32nd Yates Cup title in program history.