The road to a third consecutive Vanier Cup appearance starts on Saturday afternoon at TD Stadium. The Mustangs will play the Warriors in the Ontario University Athletics semi-final game at 1 PM.
Waterloo University and Western University locked horns earlier this month, resulting in a 45-42 instant classic.
After the game, veteran defensive back Mackenzie Ferguson heaped praise on Warriors quarterback, Tre Ford.
“I'd probably say, you know, [Ford is] the best quarterback we're going to go against all year,” said Ferguson. “He's absolutely amazing. Especially the way he uses his feet.”
It was a huge game for the third-year signal caller. He completed nearly 90 per cent of his passes for 252 yards, while running for 103 yards and two scores. It was easily the quarterback’s most efficient game this season.
The Mustangs defence will look a little bit different this time around, though.
In the secondary, he’ll have to contend with Daniel Valente and Jacob Andrews. While trying to pick spots against that pair, he’ll have Andrew Thurston and Deionte Knight wreaking havoc in the trenches.
Add in that it’s supposed to be seven degrees and rainy on Saturday and it projects to be a miserable day for the quarterback.
Luckily for the Warriors, though, running back Dion Pellerin was excellent against the Mustangs in early October. The fourth year player racked up 144 yards and three touchdowns on 23 attempts. He currently leads the country in rushing scores and is third in ground yards per game.
He’ll likely be leaned on heavily – along with Ford’s own ability in the ground game – to lead the offence early on.
The final facet of the Waterloo offence was relatively shut down the last time these two teams played. Wide receiver Tyler Ternowski was only able to haul in five receptions for 67 yards.
If the Mustangs are able to keep the fourth year athlete wrapped up on Saturday, the Warriors offence will be even more constrained.
The Mustangs lit up the Warriors defence last game. The Waterloo defensive squad has some strong aspects, but they are poor overall.
As a unit, they’ve allowed an average of 21.8 points per game and 406.4 yards per game. The strength of the defensive side is in the backfield, where they have hauled in 13 interceptions — ranking third in the league.
Through the middle, the Warriors have a star in linebacker Michael Reid. The fourth year player sits third in U Sports in tackles with 59.5.
These aspects are somewhat troublesome leading into the weekend – Chris Merchant threw two interceptions last time, for example – but they aren’t the main issue of the whole team.
As the playoffs start, the Mustangs defence will need to show how they mesh together when completely healthy. They will have favourable conditions against Waterloo and they may have to shoulder the load of the game as the Mustangs deal with the sloppy conditions.
After playing Waterloo in early October head coach Greg Marshall commended the defence for battling through injuries. Ferguson thanked the offence for bailing the defence out. But on Saturday, they will need to be dominant.
This should be the first game the defence either proves, or exposes, their potential to play at a championship calibre.
The weather is cold and the playoffs are here. It may be the most overused cliché in sports — offence wins games, defence wins championships — but it couldn’t be more true for the Mustangs.
The offence won the regular season game. The defence will need to win the playoff game.