The Mustangs fought through a bitter defensive stalemate on the road this weekend for a 9-3 win over the Gryphons.
The two juggernaut offences were totally neutralized in Hamilton on Saturday afternoon. Guelph University entered play averaging 28.4 points per game; Western University sat just ahead with an average of 31.0.
No one could have predicted that the offences would combine for just 12 points — all from kickers.
The Gryphons managed just 263 yards of total offence. Even worse, despite coming in as the third leading rushing team (in yards per game), Guelph would find only 78 yards on the ground.
Kaine Stevenson, the reigning Ontario University Athletics offensive player of the week, finished with 36 yards on 10 attempts. Even his quarterback, Theo Landers, out-rushed him — finishing with 39 yards on eight touches.
The Gryphons offence was suffocated by the Mustangs. Western University hauled down two sacks, five tackles for loss, forced one fumble and intercepted one pass.
To be fair, Western had their own problems on the offensive side of the ball. The Mustangs managed 357 total offensive yards, with 164 yards on the ground and 213 through the air. As well, the purple and white had a couple of unsuccessful opportunities in the red zone.
By the final whistle, only two men had scored — Western’s kicker Marc Liegghio and his Guelph counterpart, Eric Stranz.
Stranz booted a remarkable 47-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, preventing his team from being shut out on their homefield.
The deep-field goal also allowed Guelph the opportunity to come back in the game.
With under three minutes remaining in regulation, Guelph had their chance. Down by six points, Quarterback Theo Landers launched a 60-yard pass for his receiver, Abdraman Abdel-Rahim, but overshot by a half-step.
If the pair had connected, Abdel-Rahim could have easily carried the ball in for a go-ahead score.
Later in the drive, the pair was given one last opportunity to save the game on a do-or-die third down play. Abdel-Rahim was open again through the middle, and had space to run, but Landers underthrew his pass this time.
Landers and Abdel-Rahim, nursing two near-misses, could only watch helplessly from the sideline as the Mustangs ran out the final seconds of the clock.
Despite suffering the loss as a team, the Gryphons' defence played well enough for a win. The Mustangs struggled to pass the ball and gave up five sacks in the game.
Western’s offensive skill was effectively a two-man show between Chris Merchant and Trey Humes. Merchant finished with 213 yards passing and 49 rushing. Humes racked up 109 yards on the ground and 79 through the air.
After half-time, Western tried committing to longer passes but Guelph continued to snuff out any attempts to take large chunks of yardage.
Special teams was a concern coming in, but the unit was better against the Gryphons. Guelph — who entered play leading the country in average return yards — netted just 17 yards on four punt returns.
Saturday’s contest in Guelph was a reverse of the Mustangs' last win. Instead of the offence controlling the game while the defence and special teams struggled, it was the two latter groups that won out on the road.
The Mustangs can take the good with the bad and look to improve ahead of their second consecutive road game against Windsor University's Lancers. If Western can match this weekend’s defence with last weekend’s offence moving forward, this could be a scary team in the playoffs.