LONDON, Ont. - Chris Merchant threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns, while the defence held Laurier's league-leading rushing attack to a season low 140 yards as the Western Mustangs defeated the Golden Hawks 45-26 on Saturday afternoon at TD Stadium.
"They are a good football team," said Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall after the win. "I'm happy with the outcome, we knew they would be tough defensively, and we had to pull a lot of stuff out of the hat to score some points. I thought defensively, other than the big plays, we played a great game."
With the win the Mustangs are now 5-1 on the year and take over sole possession of first place in the OUA. Laurier moves to 4-1 this season and the loss puts the Golden Hawks into a tie for second place in the standings.
Coming into Saturday's game the Golden Hawks had dominated on the ground, with Eric Guiltinan averaging just over 160 yards per game, however the Mustangs held the London native to a season-low 36 yards on 15 carries.
While the purple and white limited the Laurier running game, the Mustang defence was tested all day long as Laurier quarterback Micheal Knevel was unafraid to take shots deep down the field. The Mustangs secondary, however, was more than up for the challenge, knocking down or deflecting a number of well-placed throws by Knevel, who finished the day with 243 yards and two touchdowns on 11-for-30 passing.
"We are doing really well," said defensive back Malcolm Brown about the defence's performance. "We are coming together as a whole and we are doing everything we need to. We're communicating out there, and if we see something we don't recognize we communicate really well and adjust on the fly. I feel like we're doing really well as a whole."
Philippe Dion led Western in tackles with 10, while John Biewald picked up two sacks and Brown added a touchdown, taking back a punt that was blocked by Fraser Sopik.
Merchant led the offence once again, throwing for 360 yards on 21-for-29 passing with three touchdowns. The three majors gives the quarterback 12 on the year, good for second in the OUA.
"Chris is really settling into the offence, settling into the system," said offensive linemen Sean Jamieson. "Coming in as a first year guy is pretty tough… I think he has done a great job getting better every week and adjusting to the game plan. He's been great at developing each week into a better player."
Receiver George Johnson had another huge game for the Mustangs, hauling in four passes for 130 yards and one touchdown. Harry McMaster and Alex Taylor were the other two Mustangs to find the end zone, with McMaster hauling in a five-yard pass, while Taylor had both an 18-yard reception and 17-yard run that resulted in majors.
After neither offence was able to get things going in the opening minutes, the Mustangs were the first team on the board a little over six minutes in, with Merchant hitting Johnson on a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Western made it 14-0 before the end of the quarter, however it was the special teams unit putting points on the board, as for the third time this season the Mustangs scored on a blocked punt. Sopik broke through the line to make the block, followed by Brown picking up the ball and taking it back 22 yards for the score to give Western a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
Laurier didn't wait long before firing back with a touchdown of their own, as Rashari Henry capitalized on a Mustangs fumble and returned it 33 yards to give the Golden Hawks their first score of the game.
The scoreboard would remain at 14-7 for the majority of the quarter before Merchant recorded three 20 plus yard throws to put the Mustangs in scoring position. In the red zone, Stevenson Bone took over and threw a six-yard touchdown over the top to David Mackie to extend the Mustangs lead to 21-7 at halftime.
Laurier came out firing in the second half, scoring less than three minutes in on deep pass from Knevel. The 41-yard strike was hauled in by receiver Brentyn Hall, who came down with it in traffic to cut the Mustangs lead to 21-14 and record his first career CIS touchdown.
After that Laurier score, however, the Mustangs offence took over, adding a pair of touchdowns and a field goal to their lead before the third quarter was up. Taylor sliced his way into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the frame, and Merchant found McMaster for a five-yard touchdown to increase the Mustangs lead to 38-14.
Just as they had in the second and third quarters, the Golden Hawks scored less than three minutes into the fourth, this time on a 13-yard run from Kurleigh Gittens Jr., however it wouldn't be enough as the two teams each added one more touchdown in the quarter to set the final score at 45-26 for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs now head into their bye week over Thanksgiving before they play Ottawa and McMaster. The Mustangs travel to Ottawa on the 15th of October to play the Gee-Gee's before coming home to round out their season against McMaster at Homecoming on October 22.
"The break comes at a great time for us," said Marshall. "We said at the start of the season that Thanksgiving is the best break time. This is a good ti
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