LONDON, Ont. – A hopeful Mustangs crowd was silenced by a late fourth quarter touchdown that led to the Western Mustangs 32-29 loss at the hands of their Ontario University Athletics rivals, the McMaster Marauders.
Greg Marshall, Western Mustangs head coach, said the loss put things into perspective.
"At the end of the day I'm glad this happened in the regular season, but it's a wake up call, it's a wake up call to our players we have to play better than the way we played. We were certainly hurting. We had some injuries early on but that wasn't our best effort today," he said.
With a four-point lead and just under four minutes left in the game, the Mustangs found themselves in Marauders territory.
But, on a read-option play, Western Mustangs quarterback, Will Finch, pulled the ball back and fired it into the center of the field where it was picked off.
The turnover gave the Marauders offence just enough life to put seven points on the board and take the lead with less than a minute remaining on the clock.
The Marauders gave the Mustangs their first loss of the regular season, and their first loss at home since September 29, 2012, also at the hands of McMaster.
Following the game Finch was visibly upset by the loss.
"I just don't like losing, and we're better than that. We won't lose again that's for sure," he said.
In a game that featured six total field goals between the two teams, the standout moment was OUA record breaking kick made by Marauders kicker, Tyler Crapigna. Crapigna's 20-yard field goal late in the second quarter broke the career field goal record of 77 previously held by former Western kicker Lirim Hajrullahu.
Right from the start, special teams was a huge factor as both the Mustangs and the Marauders exchanged safeties to start the game.
But after a short field goal from Crapigna, the Mustangs put up the first big score of the game as Finch avoided a sack in the backfield, and kept the ball for the seven-yard touchdown to take back the lead.
And still, the pass rush didn't let up. Every time the Mustangs found a way to escape pressure, the Marauders would bring more.
McMaster's aggressive play calling led to six sacks, two fumbles and created pressure in the Mustangs backfield on multiple occasions.
"I need to do a better job of getting ball out of my hands," said Finch. "Overall as a team, we'll get better and next time that happens, we'll pick them apart."
In the midst of all the pressure however, Finch managed to complete 20 of his 29 passes for 279 yards, and one touchdown. On the other side of the field McMaster quarterback Marshall Ferguson had a strong game as well, throwing for 351 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, while completing 30 of his 52 passing attempts.
The Mustangs struggled to find their rhythm as they were plagued by injuries right from kickoff. All three of the Mustangs top receivers from last season were banged up throughout the first half.
However, even with the thinning receiving corps, the Mustangs relied on second-year wide out Shaquille Johnson to make plays.
The 2012 Canadian Interuniversity Sport rookie of the year had seven catches for 137 yards and a touchdown.
Johnson, a transfer from McGill University caught passes from two different quarterbacks to set up his fourth quarter touchdown.
Stevenson Bone entered the game briefly in the final quarter for Finch, who was shaken up on a previous play, and fired a strike deep down field to Johnson who made the incredible sideline catch.
The Mustangs also moved the ball effectively on the ground.
Finch rushed 13 times for 91 yards and touchdown while Mustangs running back Yannick Harou put up 77 yards of his own on nine carries.
Despite the 486 total yards of offence, Marshall said his team struggled to make plays.
"We just made too many mistakes. We had too many opportunities to make plays and we didn't make them," he said.
Defensively, the Mustangs fought hard but in the end their solid performance wasn't enough.
"We didn't make the most of our opportunities," said Mustangs defensive tackle Daryl Waud. "Other days we do. Football is a game where there's a lot of adversity. I think we faced that adversity today and we have to grow from this.
"I always say to myself during a game 'hills and valleys, hills and valleys.' You can't get too high and you can get too low. It just seemed like today we didn't take advantage of our opportunities and you aren't going to win football games like that."
Source: Western Mustangs