BURLINGTON, Ont. – With their loss in last year's Yates Cup still firmly on their mind, the No. 4 ranked Western Mustangs (3-1) will travel to Guelph, Ont. on Saturday looking for revenge against the rival Guelph Gryphons (2-2).
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. from Alumni Stadium in Guelph, Ont. and will be broadcast live, coast-to-coast on City. Fans can also catch all the action on Saturday streaming live on OUA.tv.
Last November, the Gryphons captured their first Yates Cup title since 1996 with a come-from-behind 23-17 victory over the Western Mustangs at TD Stadium. Trailing throughout the first three quarters, Guelph tied the score in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter from a 36-yard touchdown reception by Jacob Scarfone (London, Ont.), and took the lead on a pair of Gabriel Ferraro (Mississauga, Ont.) field goals.
The Gryphons offence runs through third-year quarterback James Roberts (Cambridge, Ont.) who has completed 91 of 143 attempts for 1013 yards and five touchdowns. In the Yates Cup last season, the Cambridge, Ont. native connected on 14 of 28 passes for 221 yards and tossed one touchdown in the victory.
Similar to their counterparts on Saturday, the Gryphons might be more dangerous on the ground than they are through the air.
Daniel Palmer-Salmon (Brampton, Ont.) leads the attack with 65 carries for 325 yards and two touchdowns this season. If Saturday was any indication, Johnny Augustine (Welland, Ont.), who was injured in the opening game of the season, appears to be back after he ripped off 153 yards in Gryphons double overtime loss to Ottawa. Behind the aforementioned pair, Brandon Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.) and Jamal Hooker (Regina, SK) have combined for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
Gryphons receiver A'Dre Fraser (Halifax, NS) wasted little time getting back into the swing of things on Saturday, hauling in 12 passes for 98 yards in his season debut. Last year, the fifth-year receiver finished second on the Gryphons with 33 receptions for 520 yards and five touchdowns and will be a major factor in the Guelph offence for the remainder of the season.
While he's known more so for his highlight reel returns, Ryan Nieuwesteeg (Niagara Falls, Ont.) is a serious threat to take it to the house any time he touches the football. Nieuwesteeg not only leads the Gryphons in receiving but his 171.3 all-purpose yards per game ranks him third in OUA.
The Mustangs stampede into Alumni Stadium on Saturday looking to spoil the festivities once again. Last weekend in Kingston, Ont. for the re-opening of the revitalized Richardson Stadium, Western flipped the script on Queen's with a 27-13 victory.
After transferring from the University at Buffalo prior to the start of the season, Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) now has the reins for the Mustangs heading into Guelph. In four games this season, Merchant has completed 33 of 50 attempts for 571 yards and no interceptions. The Calgay, Alta. native finds himself tied with McMaster's Asher Hastings and Carleton's Jesse Mills for third in OUA with seven touchdowns. However, it was a relatively quiet day for Merchant on Saturday as he went 6-13 for 65 yards and a touchdown.
A major reason for that was the dominance of third-year running back Alex Taylor (Winnipeg, Man.). The Mustangs relied heavily on the 5'10", 202 lbs bruising back as he had 32 carries for 198 yards in the victory. Last season, Taylor averaged 133.5 yards per game to go along with 12 touchdowns and appears right on pace to meet or potentially surpass those numbers in 2016. Through four games, the Winnipeg, Man. native is first in touchdowns (5) and second in yards per game (131.8).
Merchant has several weapons at his disposal through the air, highlighted by fifth-year receiver George Johnson (London, Ont.). Despite being held without a catch last week at Queen's, the London, Ont. native has 14 catches for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The 6'3", 214 lbs receiver, who at one time also started for the Mustangs men's basketball team, is poised for a big season after he was drafted in the fourth round (29th overall) of the 2016 CFL Draft by the Montreal Alouettes.
Not to be outdone, freshman receiver Brett Ellerman (Calgary, Alta.) is quietly having an outstanding rookie season. Ellerman, who attends King's College, leads the Mustangs with 245 receiving yards and is tied with Johnson and Myles Rombough (London, Ont.) for the team lead with a pair of touchdown receptions.
Defensively, the Mustangs have been led this season by second-yard linebacker Phillipe Dion (Blainville, Que.). Despite only playing four games so far this season, Dion needs only one more tackle to surpass his 2015 total with still another four games to play. Dion is ranked fifth in OUA with 26 tackles, while his 6.5 tackles per game have him inside the top ten. Including Dion, the Mustangs have three players averaging four or more tackles per game, along with defensive back Malcolm Brown (London, Ont.) and linebacker Jean-Gabriel Poulin (St. Nicolas, Que.).
Both the Gryphons and Mustangs stack up fairly evenly defensively with Western holding a slight advantage in several categories, including passing and rushing yards against per game. Both teams are averaging 70 tackles per game, while the Gryphons have one more interception than the Mustangs so far this season.
Six different Guelph players have recorded an interception this season, led by linebacker Lukas Korol (Burlington, Ont.) with a pair. Korol, a third year leadership and organizational management major, also leads the Gryphons with 32 tackles, which ranks him third in the conference. Like Korol, Guelph defensive back Riley Baines (Ottawa, Ont.) is having also breakout season as his five tackles for a loss lead the Gryphons
It would come as no surprise if either Guelph's Ferraroand Western's Marc Liegghio (Woodbridge, Ont.) were called upon late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line for their respective sides. Ferraro and Liegghio are ranked second and third, respectively, in both points and field goals made.
The Quest for the Cup Campus Tour, fuelled by Pioneer, will also be on site at Alumni Stadium to promote OUA student-athletes and competitions with an interactive OUA booth featuring contests, games and prizes, along with displays and promotional materials.