The Western Mustangs put the rest of the league on notice this weekend — they’re back and ready for another Vanier Cup title.
The Mustangs demolished the Guelph Gryphons in the Yates Cup by a score of 63–14 on Saturday afternoon at TD Stadium.
Western destroyed any lingering doubt after last weekend’s OUA Semi-Final game. The Mustangs not only won the Yates Cup, they dominated in every aspect. The offence was unstoppable, the defence was suffocating, and the special teams were flying.
This is all part of the plan for Western, though, as their sights aren’t simply set on a Yates Cup; they want to be back-to-back Vanier Cup champions, as well. These lofty goals took some of the emotion out of Saturday’s victory, fourth year linebacker Fraser Sopik explained.
“Honestly, it's less exciting than some because we have bigger goals,” said Sopik. “It was nice to cross it off. We're kind of already focussed on the next game.”
The 2018 OUA stand-up defensive player of the year has earned the right to be confident. Sopik has led a Mustangs defence that allowed just 89 points in the regular season, ranking them first in the OUA by a margin of 74 points — and 27 in the playoffs.
However, the linebacker felt that while the defence played well, there is still a lot to improve on ahead of the Mitchell Bow next weekend.
“Honestly, we're ready to walk in to film tomorrow and not be as happy as we should be,” said Sopik. “They got some points on the board that were some bad errors and I can tell you Coach Gleason is going to be pretty mad about.”
Specifically, the defensive star honed in on Guelph’s second touchdown of the game — a 57 yard run by Jean-Paul Cimakinda.
“We did a good job for the most part today,” said Sopik.”We let that big run go, it was the first big run we've let all season. We’re going to be hearing about that tomorrow.”
However, while the defence did slip up on this play, they can rest easy knowing that they held the Gryphons to just 15 first downs and 259 total yards. In fact, Guelph almost had as many punting yards (226) as total offensive yards.
To say that the Western offence blew the Gryphons out of the water might be an understatement. As a team, the Mustangs put up a massive 637 total yards of offence and seven touchdowns.
The leader of the offence, quarterback Chris Merchant, was rewarded for his efforts with the Yates Cup MVP — an award, that he feels, is a testament to his teammates.
“I'm probably the worst athlete on the field out there,” joked Merchant. “Credit to those guys — made some great catches, made some great runs. The O-line was putting their nose downhill and knocking some guys off the ball. I can't take any of the credit for the guys that are around me.”
Interestingly, Merchant was relied on to run the football much more than he did all season. With a team boasting two formidable backs in Alex Taylor and Cedric Joseph, they surprised Guelph with the quarterback keepers.
In total, Merchant rushed for 67 yards with three touchdowns. His three rushing majors tied his total through eight regular season games. The change in pace on offence was all by design, head coach Greg Marshall explained.
“[The game featured] a lot more Chris Merchant runs than you've seen because that gives us an extra blocker out there,” explained Marshall. “Essentially when we block everyone up and then Chris is the guy is the one who pulls the ball, [it] gives us an extra blocker at the point of attack.”
With 286 total rushing yards in the game, a lot of credit should be placed on the shoulders of Western’s offensive line. After struggling against the Ravens, the Mustangs offensive line pushed the Gryphons defence around all game.
"Yeah, they came in with kind of a chip on their shoulder,” said Merchant on the play of his offensive line. “We knew that we could come in and kind of knock these guys off the ball, and that's exactly what they did.”
The Mustangs will play the Saskatchewan Huskies next Saturday in the Mitchell Bowl at TD Stadium at 4 p.m.