The Western Mustangs football team's road to the Vanier Cup really, truly starts with a Saturday afternoon playoff matchup against the Carleton Ravens. The Mustangs barely edged out the Ravens in their first game of the season, a 26–23 overtime victory in Ottawa on Aug. 26. It was the closest thing the Mustangs have seen to a loss in two years.
Had it not been for a late Marc Liegghio field goal and a clutch Bleska Kambamba interception, Western could very well be sitting at 7–1 right now.
In their last matchup, penalties were a major issue for Western, as calls against the offensive line negated large chunks of offensive yardage. While the line has greatly improved over the season and the Mustangs are not the same team they were in week one, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of their game against the Ravens.
This season, Carleton's offence ranks third in Ontario University Athletics in points, points per game and team passing yards. Their defence has allowed the sixth least points in the conference, the fourth least rushing yards per game, and they've recorded the most sacks and tackles per game in the OUA.
The Ravens have been incredibly productive within their opponents' 20-yard line this year, ranking third in the OUA with a 93 per cent red zone efficiency. Even more impressively, 57 per cent of these scores have been touchdowns — placing them fifth in the OUA.
While Carleton has been fairly productive on both sides of the ball, they have also been the least disciplined team in the OUA. This season, the Ravens have committed the most penalties (107) and lost the most yardage to penalties (872).
In the rushing game, Ravens running back Nathan Carter has taken the lion's share of responsibility, putting the ball on the ground 149 times for 756 yards. Averaging 94.5 rushing yards per game, the third-year halfback ranks seventh in U Sports. He also sits tied with Western’s Alex Taylor at seventh in the nation with five rushing touchdowns.
Carter played decently well in the August game against the Mustangs. The Ottawa native racked up 61 yards on 15 rushes. However, one rush went for 19 yards. Therefore, without that long gainer, the Ravens back averaged a poor three yards per carry on 14 rushes.
The Mustangs should be incredibly happy if they can repeat this performance and hold the impressive runner to just one big gain amid an otherwise poor performance overall.
The passing attack has been well-orchestrated by second-year quarterback Mike Arruda. This season, the Ravens pivot is ranked fifth in the nation with 2,263 passing yards and is tied for fourth with Western’s Chris Merchant with 17 passing majors. But, he's thrown eight picks on the season — three more than Merchant.
The quarterback has not been able to establish himself as a true dual-threat quarterback, though. This season, Arruda has attempted just 17 rushes for 65 yards, an average of 8.1 yards per game.
Arruda had a solid performance in August against the Mustangs. He threw for 297 yards on 13-of-28 passing, along with two touchdowns. It was also his best rushing game of the year, as he ran the ball six times for 13 yards.
The Ravens receiving game has been spread between Phil Iloki, Quinton Soares and Chad Manchulenko. Iloki leads the team with 560 receiving yards on 31 receptions. Soares finished just behind him with 519 yards on 36 grabs. Finally, Manchulenko posted 371 yards on 22 catches.
The Ravens have had two defensive standouts this year: Jack Cassar and Kene Onyeka. Cassar, a third-year linebacker, has compiled 72 tackles and one interception. His tackle total places him fourth in the nation, just one tackle behind Windsor’s Daniel Metcalfe. Fifth-year defensive end Onyeka has racked up seven sacks and 27 tackles this season. His sack total has entered him into a tie with the University of Saskatchewan’s Tristian Koronkiewicz for second in the nation. Interestingly, Mustangs defensive lineman Andrew Thurston finished just half a sack behind Onyeka.
The Ravens reached the semifinal via a 30–25 win over the McMaster Marauders last Saturday.
Carleton represented the toughest win in Western’s season this year. Saturday afternoon’s game will likely be just as difficult. With impressive totals on both offence and defence, the Mustangs will have to bring their absolute best to beat the Ravens at 1:00 p.m. at TD Stadium.