A first-round bye in the playoffs might be on the line when the Guelph Gryphons and Western Mustangs meet on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Guelph for the OUA.tv Marquee Matchup Presented by Investors Group.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, there is a log jam both at the top and bottom of the OUA playoff picture. Western, Guelph, and Windsor all sit at 5-1 and are all trying to secure a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the OUA semi-finals.
Many expected Western to run the table this season, but a Week 6 loss at home to the McMaster Marauders threw preseason expectations to the wind. The Mustangs now face a must-win situation if they hope to get the coveted first-round bye.
Like Western, the Gryphons also suffered their only defeat to the now 6-0 Marauders, dropping their season opener in a thrilling overtime game in Hamilton. And like Western, the Gryphons also have Yates Cup aspirations.
"(The bye) is very important for a number of reasons," said Guelph head coach Stu Lang. "Some of our guys are nicked up and have exams coming up, which is normal for this time of year. Another reason is football players are creatures of habit. The home game means you get to sleep in your own bed, use your own locker room and equipment, and keep your routine."
"The sport of football is a physical game, so the chance to rest up and not play that week gives you a huge advantage in the playoffs," said Western coach Greg Marshall, echoing Lang's sentiments. "There's lots of reasons to be excited and motivated about this game, but that's certainly one of biggest."
The two teams did not play each other last season, but historically it's been Western who has dominated. The Mustangs have gone 17-3 against Guelph in regular season play dating back to 1992. The Gryphons, however, did win the most recent matchup 42-39 in a 2012 regular season game.
"From our standpoint, our coaching staff has tried to build a successful football program, and we've won a lot of games, but the next step in our evolution is to finish first or second routinely, so this (game) is also a test to see where we are at as a program," said Lang. "Western has a winning tradition. (Greg Marshall), and the coaches before him, have done a great job. They expect win, so they always come in with confidence. When (we) play someone like that, we almost have to play a perfect game to win."
The Marauders showed the league that the Mustangs aren't invincible, but Western responded incredibly well with a 61-20 win against Laurier and is hoping to build from the loss rather than let it derail the team's season.
"Certainly it was a wake-up call for our team," said Marshall. "It's not that the guys didn't play hard, but it shows that you have to really prepare and do the little things right each game. It's not good to lose, but sometimes it is a wake-up call and I was pleased with how we responded."
On paper, the two teams matchup incredibly well, with Western leading the league in both points scored and points allowed per game, and Guelph ranking second in the same categories.
Guelph is led at quarterback by Jazz Lindsey. The fourth-year quarterback has thrown nine touchdowns and just two interceptions while averaging 203 passing yards per game this season. Lindsey can also stretch out defences with his legs, averaging over 30 yards per game on the ground to go along with four rushing touchdowns. He will be in tough facing a Western defence that boasts one of the best defensive lines in the country and leads the league with 23 sacks.
The season is coming down to the wire and both teams know that a win Saturday could be the difference between a Yates Cup appearance or an early-round exit come playoff time.
Be sure to tune in at 1 p.m. for the OUA.tv Marquee Matchup as well as the rest of the action from around the league!
Marquee Matchup By the Numbers
9 – Interceptions for the Western and Guelph defences; the two teams are tied for the league lead along with Toronto.
2007 – The last time the two teams met in the Yates Cup. Western upset the Gryphons in Guelph by a score of 34-21 in Greg Marshall's first Yates Cup appearance with the Mustangs.
1993 – The last time Guelph defeated Western in a playoff game. The Gryphons won the game 25-10, but lost the next three playoff meetings against Western in 2001, 2007, and 2008.
117.5 – Rushing yards per game for Guelph running back Rob Farquharson, ranking second in the league behind Dillon Campbell of Laurier. Farquharson will be in tough against a Mustangs rush defence that ranks first in OUA allowing just 78.3 yards per game.