Welcome to the playoffs, Western. The Mustangs won their first game of the playoffs against the Carleton Ravens by a score of 39 to 13.
Western got on the board first in an unusual way. After Marc Liegghio missed a long field goal, the Ravens were set up within their own 5-yard line. Unable to push out of their own 10-yard line, Carleton conceded a safety with nine minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Mustangs and Ravens traded field goals for the rest of the first quarter. Mike Domagala scored the first points for Carleton with a 29-yard field goal. Liegghio matched his Ravens counterpart with a 31-yard kick of his own, putting Western back in the lead by a score of 5-3.
The second quarter brought no change to the defensive showdown. The Mustangs and Ravens offence combined for five turnovers. No turnover was more key than a Mustangs strip sack on Carleton’s quarterback, Mike Arruda, though.
Interestingly, the strip came the play after their defensive leader, Fraser Sopik, went down with an injury. Luckily for the Mustangs, Sopik returned on the next defensive drive.
The Western offence, thanks to the excellent play of their defence, was set up on the Ravens 10-yard line. After the first rush was stopped behind the line, Chris Merchant found Cole Majoros on the right side of the field. The receiver caught the ball, made the first man miss but was unable to punch in a score.
Set up with a third down and goal from the 2-yard line, Greg Marshall and the coaching staff initially set up for a field goal. However, after a Mustangs timeout, the Western offence came back out to drive for a score. Cedric Joseph, the regular season U Sports rushing touchdown leader, rewarded his coaching staff with a power rush into the end zone.
After the Western defence forced yet another 2-and-out for the Ravens offence, Merchant gave the ball back to Carleton on his second interception of the day.
Just before the snap, the Ravens defenders seemed to jump early. As well, players on both sides of the line acted as if the play would be blown dead. Merchant, likely thinking Carleton would be called for offside, threw a pass up without much conviction. However, the officials didn't make a call and Jon Edouard hauled in his second pick of the day.
The Ravens capitalized on the Mustangs miscue, driving the field well. At the tail end of the drive, Arruda dropped a perfect pass into the hands of Phil Iloki. The Western defence faced their toughest test of the game: stopping the Ravens on the 2-yard line.
Western’s defensive squad flexed their muscles, preventing the Raven from scoring a touchdown. The first play of the drive was stripped but recovered by Carleton behind the line for a loss. On the second down play, Arruda made an ill-advised pass that was nearly picked off by Sopik. With few Ravens around him, the fourth-year linebacker was staring down an open field as he tried to haul in the interception.
Unwilling to risk finishing the drive with no points, Carleton settled for an easy field goal, bringing the Western lead to 12-6.
Indicative of the defensive domination, Cedric Joseph had just 33 yards on eight carries and Chris Merchant completed just nine of his 17 passing attempts for 104 yards. However, Alex Taylor was quietly great in the half, ripping off 58 yards on seven carries.
Western opened the third quarter with back-to-back scoring drives. Off the opening kick-off the Mustangs picked up a 25-yard field goal. On the second drive, Western picked up a 2-yard touchdown rush from Joseph.
The Ravens were clearly demoralized after a would-be safety was negated by two penalties: 13 men on the field and unnecessary roughness. As a result, the Mustangs offence was given 25 yards and a fresh first-down.
Western started to put the game away on the extra drive after the penalties, rushing at will and adding another touchdown on a Taylor touchdown reception.
Arruda found Iloki on the left side of the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Despite an attempted onside kick, the Mustangs recovered the ball and closed out the game with a Merchant-Harry McMaster touchdown connection.
The Mustangs will play for the Yates Cup next weekend at TD Stadium against the Guelph Gryphons at 1 p.m.