Western Mustangs at Guelph Gryphons - November 8th @ 1:00 PM
If there is a football god, we should all be praying this week for a game as exciting as the one these two teams provided three weeks ago. If that is to happen, the Mustangs are going to have to play better than they did last week in their first-round victory over Laurier.
Western's passing game looked nothing more than average against the Hawks, which is certainly understandable with starting quarterback Will Finch out with a concussion. Replacement Stevenson Bone was just 9-22 passing, throwing a couple of interceptions.
On the ground it was a different story, as the Mustangs were able to amass over 300-yards rushing and controlled the field-position battle all afternoon. They just weren't able to find the end zone until there were just a couple of minutes left in the game, clinching a 25-10 win.
There were a couple of obvious reasons for the offensive struggles. First, it was cold and windy, making it very tough to throw the ball. Second, and more importantly, the injuries the Mustangs suffered would make it tough for any team to be their usual self on offence.
Aside from the Finch injury, receivers George Johnson and Brian Marshall left the game in the first half. Johnson hurt his knee, while on the final play of the first quarter Marshall hit his head on the track that surrounds the field at TD Stadium and didn't return.
Defensively, the Mustangs dominated Laurier. Dillon Campbell, the CIS rushing leader, rushed for 134 yards, but never broke one for a long run, something he's seemingly done at will this season.
Laurier passed for just 36 yards.
Western consistently bottled up the Hawks offence, forcing three safeties along the way, vitally important in a game that never saw more than an eight-point lead until the late Harou TD.
It was a struggle to beat the Hawks, and Laurier ain't Guelph.
The Gryphons enjoyed a well-deserved week off. Stu Lang's club is on a seven-game winning streak and there's no sign it can't maintain that momentum despite last week's bye. Very few players are completely healthy at this stage of the season, so the week of rest far outweighs any benefit from getting another win under their belts.
There is another reason to assume this team will be ready: its intensity. Guelph plays hard for 60 minutes every week and if Western shows any let up during the game, the Gryphons will be there to make them pay; and that's true on both sides of the football.
Jazz Lindsey is playing as well as he has over the course of his OUA career. Getting rest in the last week of the season, followed by a bye week, Lindsey's last performance was against the Mustangs and his best game as a Gryphon.
A'Dre Fraser has developed into one of the most dangerous receivers in the country, while if you forget about Alex Charette you will pay dearly.
Defensively the Gryphons are relentless. Linebackers John Rush and Curtis Newton will be keys to stopping the Mustangs vaunted running attack. If you're looking for a game within the game, watch how the Guelph LBs do against the Western RBs.
Guelph is hot, relatively healthy and at home. They also beat Western recently when the Mustangs were healthier than they are now. If the injury list come Saturday is substantial, the 'Stangs will be hard pressed to beat the Gryphons.
That said, don't forget who is coaching Western. It's not really a Yates Cup final without Greg Marshall coaching in it. Aside from his three seasons with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Marshall has coached in 10 of the other 11 previous OUA championship games. His record in those games is 8-2.
Do not sell the Mustangs short.
Previous meeting: October 18 in Guelph -- Western 46 - Guelph 49
Jazz Lindsey threw for 513 yards and four touchdowns. Fraser and Charette combined for almost 400 of those yards and two majors. Western stacked the box and forced the Gryphons to throw and that's just what they did.
The Gryphons scored 11 points in the final 1:16, including a game winning 41-yard field goal from Daniel Ferraro with just two seconds left on the clock.
The Mustangs relied on an extremely well-balanced offence on that day. Finch threw for 258 yards and three TDs, while the ground game amassed another 199 yards on the ground, led by Sanvido's 99 yards and two majors.
There were five lead changes in the game, with the only double-digit lead coming in the first half. If this week's game is only half as entertaining, it will still be a must-see event.
Ottawa Gee-Gees at McMaster Marauders - November 8th @ 1:00 PM
There has been much talk about the high-octane offence at Western, or the surging Guelph Gryphons; but remember, McMaster is the top seed in OUA.
The Marauders beat both the 'Stangs and the 'Gryphs en route to a 7-1 record, good enough for home-field advantage on the road to the Yates Cup. The one team that beat them?
McMaster won't wow you, they'll just beat you. They do everything well. They're productive on offence without being flashy. They're fantastic defensively against the run and the pass. Their special teams are very, very good.
Strong-armed Marshall Ferguson leads a pass-oriented offence that features great depth at receiver. Daniel Vandervoort has been the 'go to guy' for the Marauders, but freshman Daniel Petermann had been a welcome addition to the offence.
If there's one area that the Marauders may lag behind the other elite teams in the country, it's the running game. Chris Pezzetta and Wayne Moore are both good backs, but among CIS teams, McMaster was only 12th with 166 rushing yards per game, and 18th with 5.2 yards per carry.
Defensively, this team is very, very good. Even better, it's built to play with the lead, a situation it constantly seems to be in. The Marauders get good pressure on the quarterback and their veteran-laden secondary flies to the football.
McMaster's best defensive player is Nick Shortill. When the Gee-Gees have the football, you won't have to wait long before you see a McMaster jersey with the number one on it arrive on the scene.
If the offence sputters, the man with the most field goals in CIS history is there to bail them out. Tyler Crapigna, who is from the Ottawa area, was successful on 89 percent of his attempts this year, although he's only an average punter.
Ottawa made the playoffs because they beat McMaster in the final game of the regular season. It earned them a road trip to Windsor, the longest trip possible in the OUA football loop.
They handled the Lancers with relative ease, posting a 46-29 victory, setting up a rematch with McMaster.
Head coach Jamie Barresi has coached in the CFL on the offensive side of the ball and that knowledge has translated into big yardage at the OUA level. The garnet and grey averaged over 500 total yards per game, behind only Western, Calgary, Laval and Regina; elite company to be sure.
Derek Wendel is the starting quarterback for the Gee-Gees and leads a very balanced offence. Ottawa threw for 285 yards a game, while rushing for 218 more. Wendel cracked the 2,000-yard mark through the air, tossing 16 TDs and completed a tidy 62 percent of his passes. He'll have to be careful of the the Marauders ball-hawking secondary as he threw eight interceptions, tied for the OUA high. Ian Stewart was Wendel's favourite target this season, averaging 5.5 catches per game.
Mack Tommy and Bryce Viera both had good years running the ball. Viera's 7.9 yards per carry was identical to CIS rushing champion Dillon Campbell. He and Tommy combined for over 1,000 yards on the ground.
Defensively, the Gee-Gees like to go after the quarterback, and Ettore Lattanzio is very good at it. His eight sacks led OUA and was tied for third in the country. Pay too much attention to him and Khadim Mbaye will make you pay. He had five sacks himself.
Linebacker Nick Lecour is a difference maker as well on an Ottawa defence that was among the top teams in the country with 11 fumble recoveries, something it may need to do on Saturday.
Like Crapigna, Lewis Ward is one of the most accurate kickers in the country, hitting on 86 percent of his attempts. The major advantage Crapigna has is experience.
If Ottawa can protect the football, cause a couple of turnovers of its own, and keep the penalty total low, there could be an upset. McMaster is a solid team and shows no sign of being vulnerable in this match up.
It should be McMaster's day.
Previous meeting: October 25 in Ottawa -- McMaster 18 - Ottawa 38
Ottawa needed the win badly. They also had to hope Laurier and/or Carleton lost. The Ravens lost to Queen's, the Hawks lost to Guelph, leaving the door wide open. McMaster led 12-11 at the half and then proceeded to get all of its players some game time. The Gee Gees took full advantage, outscoring their opponents 27-6 in a rainy second half, clinching a playoff spot.
Viera was the offensive star, rushing for 170 yards and a touchdown.
Prompted by Coach Marshall's incredible success in Yates Cup games, here is the current OUA head coaching records in Ontario championship games.
Greg Marshall: 8-2. (McMaster 4-0, Western 4-2)
Stefan Ptaszek: 2-0.
Pat Sheahan: 1-2.
Stu Lang: 0-1.
That's it. Only four current OUA head coaches have led their team to a Yates Cup final.