The Mustangs will play the Marauders in their fifth consecutive Yates Cup appearance on Saturday afternoon. The Ontario University Athletics championship game looks to be a classic matchup of two storied franchises, with the winner going on to play either the Saskatchewan Huskies or Calgary Dinos in the Mitchell Bowl.
Western University took home their regular season face-off against McMaster University, winning 34–17 in Hamilton. But, as running back Trey Humes explained last weekend after defeating Waterloo University, the Mustangs can’t expect the Marauders to look the same this weekend.
“We've improved from week three, and so have they,” said Humes. “It was a close game back then. Hoping that it’s not going to be as close this time around.”
Of course, Humes still hopes that some things stay the same. In early September, the half back ran the ball 29 times for 130 yards and a touchdown. Even his quarterback, Chris Merchant, ripped off 104 yards and two ground scores on 13 attempts.
“We were able to run the rock very well against those guys. Especially in the first half,” continued Humes. “So, I'm hoping that we can take the momentum that we had in the second half of [Saturday’s game against the Warriors] when we were running the ball, and just come full throttle first quarter in that first drive and literally just run it down their throats.”
The good news for the Mustangs running back is that the Marauders haven’t changed all that much. On both offence and defence, they would prefer play be dictated through the air.
Mac has allowed the 10th fewest rushing yards per game in the country, with a 116.9 yard average, and the sixth fewest passing yards per game at 209.6 yards per contest.
And while their defence has been the third worst in Canada at recovering fumbles, it's been the second best at picking off passes.
They also sit fourth in U Sports for sacks, but 14th in tackles per game.
Humes’ wish will likely come true on Saturday — the Mustangs should come out looking to run the ball.
On the defensive side of the ball, Western will have to be better against the McMaster passing game.
During the regular season, Marauders quarterback Andreas Dueck threw for 345 yards and two scores on 72.5 per cent passing.
The Western secondary does not have great numbers throughout the regular season — allowing just over 300 passing yards a game, the second worst in the country — but they have started to find their form lately.
Leading the way last game, rookie Kojo Odoom picked up two interceptions and a touchdown. Jacob Andrews, another young defensive back, was also quietly dominant in the contest with four tackles and a pass break up to his name.
Even if the Mustangs are able to limit the Marauders passing options slightly, that could be enough. McMaster was completely unable to mount a rushing attack in week three against Western.
The Marauders leading rusher in that game, running back Jordan Lyons, had a grand total of 31 yards on the ground on seven attempts. As a team, McMaster rushed for 40 yards. If you combined the longest single rushes on the day from Merchant and Humes, they would have had more rushing yards than the entire Marauders offence.
Of course, part of this complete inability to run the ball is the product of going down 10-0 in the first quarter. It would be unreasonable to expect McMaster to struggle to that degree again on Saturday.
However, even if they doubled their output from week three, 80 yards would still be a horrible rushing performance.
Before the semi-final game, the defence was challenged to step up and preform in order to set the tone for the playoffs. The unit definitely passed their first test, bottling up one of the best offences in the country.
If the Mustangs defensive side, and specifically the secondary, are able to recreate that performance, the Mustangs should be heading out West next weekend.
The Yates Cup kicks off at 1 p.m. at TD Stadium.