The Western Mustangs improved to 2–0 on the season with a dominating 44–6 win over the McMaster Marauders in their home opener at TD Stadium on Saturday. This was their program's 14th straight win, dating back to September of 2017.
The Mustangs set the tone early with a deep kickoff inside the 10-yard line. The Marauders returner was barely able to pick up 10 yards after receiving the ball, forcing Mac to open their drive at their own 18-yard line.
As a team, McMaster has averaged close to 20 yards on kick returns this season. However, Western’s special teams came out flying, taking down the Marauder returner quickly.
McMaster's opening drive foreshadowed the rest of the game. Their offence, usually dependent on running back Jordan Lyons, relied instead on the rushing of their quarterback, Jackson White.
After the game, Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall complimented the defensive effort but honed in on the mistakes made containing Mac's quarterback.
“I got frustrated because we just seemed to lose the quarterback,” said Marshall. “Their best play was a scramble. We pinned them in, we covered everybody and then the quarterback's out for an eight or nine or twelve-yard gain. Yeah, once, but sixteen times... We’ve got to do a better job.”
While the defence slipped up in that respect, the unit was able to hold Lyons to just 17 yards total. For reference, the running back rushed for 164 yards last week against the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Asked after the game, Marshall explained that familiar running schemes helped the defence neutralize Lyons.
“The thing is they’re trying to run, basically, our offence and our plays,” said Marshall. “[The Mustangs defence] sees it all the time, and they rep against it all the time. [Mac] runs that counter that we run. We know how to fit it and how the linebackers fit it.”
Lost in the one-sided nature of the game, Western’s secondary had an impressive showing. Exemplary of the defensive back’s efforts, second-year safety Daniel Valente Jr. finished the game with two and a half tackles and two interceptions.
Outside of the red zone, the Mustangs offence was unstoppable. In fact, it required 42 minutes of play for the Mac defence to prevent the Mustangs from attempting a scoring chance.
The young McMaster defence looked inexperienced and unprepared for the Western attack. Early in the game, Mac sold out on the run, sometimes rushing six players at a time. The Mustangs responded with quick, short passes across the middle — picking up sizable chunks of yardage each time.
In short yardage, though, the Mustangs struggled against the Marauders defence. While the team scored on their first drive of the game, they were forced into three consecutive field goal attempts on their ensuing drives.
The offensive frustration was partially relieved by a touchdown on the next drive by Alex Taylor, but starting quarterback Chris Merchant was still unsatisfied.
“Chris came off and said, ‘Coach, let’s take a shot. Let’s go. We worked all week to take a shot and take deep shots,’ ” said Marshall.
With just 45 seconds left in the quarter, Merchant got his wish. The quarterback loaded up and unleashed a graceful pass to his favourite target, Harry McMaster, hitting the receiver in stride on-route to a 55-yard touchdown. The play served as the final blow to the Marauders defensive morale.
Out of the locker room after halftime, McMaster’s defence was tired and sluggish. Western returned to their classic run-heavy offence, allowing the hard-worked offensive line to push around Mac's exhausted defensive unit.
After three quarters of play, both McMaster and Western opted for second-string players. The Mustangs first-team offence finished 45 minutes of play with 346 passing yards and 139 rushing yards, with running backs Taylor and Cedric Joseph both averaging over five yards per carry and receivers McMaster and Cole Majoros combining for over 140 receiving yards.
The victory did come with some casualties, though, as both Sebastian Vanin and Jalen Jackson left the game with injuries. Marshall explained that Vanin simply rolled his ankle, but he suspected Jackson sustained a concussion.
The Western Mustangs return to the field next week at TD Stadium against the 1–2 York Lions.