Next stop, Yates Cup.
The Western Mustangs took down the Carleton Ravens by a score of 39–13 on Saturday afternoon in the Ontario University Athletics semifinal at TD Stadium.
While the Mustangs struggled to defeat the Ravens in their regular season meeting in August, Western completely wore down and demoralized Carleton this time around.
Early on Saturday afternoon, the Mustangs offence was not rolling as smoothly as they had in the regular season. However, as fifth-year running back Alex Taylor later explained, they were ready for a grind.
“Our [offensive] line coach J.P. Circelli kind of compared it to the Rocky Balboa films,” explained Taylor. “At first, it's going to be a slugfest, and it's going to be a grind. We knew it wasn't going to be easy right out of the gate. They have a talented, athletic defence.”
Interestingly, while he was expecting a grind, Taylor was excellent for the Mustangs offence early on. In the first half, Western quarterback Chris Merchant and Cedric Joseph combined for just 137 yards, while Taylor had 58 yards on the ground and one reception for five yards.
Rejuvenated after the half-time break, the Western offence reaped the benefits of their business-like approach during the first half.
Joseph and Taylor started to find big holes in the Ravens defence and Merchant looked more comfortable in the passing game.
Oddly, number one receiver Harry McMaster had to wait until four minutes into the third quarter for his first reception of the game. The fourth-year wideout worked quickly in the second half, though, putting up 87 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, the offence managed 500 total yards, splitting fairly evenly between rushing (258) and passing (242). The one key area of focus for the Mustangs was turnovers. Despite a remarkable 127-yard performance, Taylor honed in on this detail after the game.
“I just got to get back to the lab … and just work on ball security and making sure that I hold on to that ball. Once playoffs roll around, you can't put the ball on the floor,” said Taylor. “Usually the team that wins is the team that gets the most takeaways and the least amount of turnovers.”
As usual, the defence was excellent for the Mustangs. Entering the game, the Ravens averaged 31.9 points per game and 417.8 yards. On Saturday afternoon, Western held the formidable Carleton scoring attack to just 13 points and 284 yards.
Highlighting the excellent play of the defensive unit, Mackenzie Ferguson hauled in two interceptions in the game. Not only were the picks great, they were actually even more impressive than it may seem, because the fourth-year defensive back was playing out of position at safety, filling in for suspended Daniel Valente Jr.
After the game, Ferguson credited the bye week and his coaches for allowing him to be successful in his new role.
“It was really advantageous to have that extra week to prepare at free safety,” explained Ferguson. "It was a little bit more stressful than my usual weeks at corner, but we had a great week of preparations. [The] coaches did a great job getting us ready, and it showed off today.”
Head coach Greg Marshall was similarly pleased with Ferguson and the rest of the defensive unit after the game, careful to point out that the Mustangs boast the best defence in the league.
With a comeback win against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, the Guelph Gryphons secured their spot in the Yates Cup against the Mustangs. While some players may try to pretend that opponents don’t matter, Taylor is looking forward to playing the Gryphons.
“There's a few teams in this conference that I guess I just don't like, that I despise,” said Taylor. “It's kind of what happens when you play in Ontario; all the teams are so close. Guelph for me is definitely the team. Being in my fifth year, I've been able to go to battle with them, and we definitely had some difficult games with them."
The last time the Mustangs and the Gryphons faced off in the Yates Cup was in 2015, when Guelph snuck out a 23–17 win at TD Stadium.
"I couldn't have scripted it any better for it to be against Guelph for our last game in the OUA," said Taylor.
Taylor and the Mustangs will play for the 32nd Yates Cup title in program history against Guelph on Saturday at 1 p.m. at TD Stadium.