Let's face it, at times it's tough to be a fan of OUA football.
Not to say it's a bit on the cultish side, but if you go into any sports bar in Ontario and try to start a conversation about the value of Asher Hastings as opposed to that of Derek Wendel, you'll probably get a blank stare back.
But like the old beer commercial said, those who like it, like it a lot.
For those that enjoy the sport, that loyalty has been rewarded this year. There have been some sensational games, fewer blowouts and more competition from more teams. The playoffs shape up to be incredibly competitive from the first week on.
There are still questions to be answered around the OUA, so with just a couple of weeks before the playoffs "In The Huddle" gives a synopsis of each team heading down the stretch.
The biggest question the Mustangs had before the season started was who was going to win the job as the starting quarterback. That's no longer the case as Chris Merchant has been solid. The Mustangs can throw, but this group is in all likelihood better equipped to play in bad weather than it was when Will Finch was at quarterback, when the offence was more pass oriented. The rushing game, led by Alex Taylor, has been great. If the offensive line stays healthy, they'll be tough to beat in the post season. Western has a huge game at Ottawa this week before hosting McMaster.
The Golden Hawks have also settled a question under centre as Michael Knevel has been getting better every week. They have a very, very good defence, allowing just 15 points per game, fourth-best in CIS football. They can also run the ball, in fact, nobody in the country tops the Hawks 292 yards per game on the ground. The biggest question with Laurier is whether their passing game develops to the point where they can keep defences honest. If it does, look out. Things are certainly moving in the right direction. The Hawks close out the season by hosting Guelph, then visiting Windsor.
All eyes were focused on the Ravens passing game at the beginning of the season, but now you can't stop watching Jayde Rowe. Just four rushing yards shy of 1,000, the transfer from Regina has helped balance the attack. They also have a weapon on special teams with the incredible Tunde Adeleke. The Ravens defence has also been of top ten in the CIS calibre. They have a bye, then face Waterloo.
Derek Wendel has been spectacular again this season, so there is zero concern about the most important position on the field. It's a coin toss as to whether Ottawa or Regina has the best passing attack in the country, but with 419 passing yards per game and 19 TDs, the Gee-Gees have been fantastic. They're likely in the position where the offence will have to be great because the secondary still needs some work. They host Western then travel to Queen's.
We know they can score. Their passing attack is fantastic, but much like Ottawa, there's a question of how the offence will respond if November presents a bad weather day. With all the attention on McMasters offence this may surprise you, only Montreal has allowed fewer points per game than MAC's 11. They certainly know how to get after opposing QBs with 23 sacks, again second in CIS. They close out with road games at York and Western.
In what was supposed to be a transitional season, the Gaels still have a chance of making it into to the playoffs. They host Windsor this week before closing out their season against Ottawa, both are home games. Turnovers have been plentiful for the Gaels of late, with eight in the last two games. They'll have to clean that up if they are to sneak into the postseason. Queen's is the least penalized team in the country, averaging just 68 yards per game.
The Gryphs have a gigantic game on Friday morning (you read that right) against Laurier. If they lose, their playoff fate is no longer in their own hands. They finish up against Laurier and York. The Gryphons have the talent in place, they just have to execute better. Their rushing game is fine, but the passing game and defense haven't met lofty expectations. They're certainly capable of getting very hot at the perfect time of the season.
The schedule maker is probably not head coach Warren Craney's favourite person right now. Guelph's struggles have left a playoff spot there for the taking. The Lions are tied with Queen's, Guelph and Windsor with just two games left, but York hosts McMaster and then travels to Guelph. This team has become very competitive with the Hunchak brothers leading the way offensively. The Lions are no longer an easy target.
The Lancers Vanier Cup came on Labour Day when they beat the Gryphons. Windsor can certainly run the ball with the best of them, but have given up 48 points per game. Their playoff hopes take a solid step forward if they can beat Queen's this week. The Lancers finish the schedule with a home game against Laurier.
There are some very good players at U of T, the problem is there aren't enough of them. The Blues have a problem of giving up a big play and not being able to rebound. They wrap up their season against Waterloo this week.
As the season started, the Warriors average age was just under 19-years old. Head coach Chris Bertoia probably feels like he's aged at least that much since the season began. The results this season were expected. They'll be more competitive next season with as the group matures together.
The O Zone:
Laurier held Varsity to a Ryan Grandell field goal in a 54-3 thumping last Thursday. The Hawks were able to work on their passing game, as Michael Knevel threw 20 times, completing 14 of the throws for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Kurleigh Gittens Jr. caught two TD passes and added a third major on a 92-yard punt return, which opened the scoring. He'd finish with 112 yards receiving, while Brentyn Hall added 121 more. Eric Guiltinan was on the sidelines for Laurier, but Osayi Iginuan stepped in and rushed for 98. Malcolm Thompson tied a school record by returning an interception 110 yards for a TD. Both he and Scott Hutter had two picks on the day. Giving up the big play again killed the Blues, who got a five catch, 58 yard performance from Rahul Madan.
The Lancers kept it close at Carleton until late in the first half, when Tunde Adeleke did it again. He returned a punt 106 yards for a touchdown to give the Lancers a 21-7 lead, his fourth punt return for a TD this year, he also has returned a missed field goal for a touchdown this season. That was the turning point, as the Ravens piled it on in the second half, finishing with a 53-10 win. Jayde Rowe was again the main man offensively, carrying the ball 24 times for 153 yards and a major. Windsor's Tarrence Crawford also had a nice day, rushing for 123 yards and adding 41 more with five catches. Michael Domagala had a sensational day, hitting both FG attempts, all six converts, and averaged over 46 yards on eight punts, including a 77 yarder.
McMaster scored the game's first 30 points in a 36-6 win over Queen's. It could have been worse if the Marauders could have finished drives with touchdowns instead of field goals, as Adam Preocanin went seven for seven in that category, including a 48 yarder. The Burlington freshman is now 22 for 24 this season and leads the CIS with 80 points. Chris Pezzetta had an even 100 yards rushing, while Dan Petermann was the top receiver with 101 yards. Nate Hobbs threw three interceptions for Queen's, who did have a nice day on the ground from Jonah Pataki, who rushed for 92 yards. Mike Kashak was a beast, recording 4.5 sacks, five tackles for a loss and he also forced a fumble. His 11.5 sacks leads the country in that category.
Derek Wendel was up to his old tricks against York. He threw for 514 yards and three TDs in a 54-20 win over York. The Gee-Gees and Lions put on an offensive show, combining for 1,154 total yards. Lions QB Brett Hunchak passed for 329 yards and a pair of TDs in a losing effort. Mitchell Baines wad an incredible game for U-of-O, catching 11 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions Adam Adeboboye was no slouch with nine caches for 139 yards and one score. Both offensive lines should be credited as there were 85 passing attempts, yet no sacks. It was a sloppy game as the two teams combined for almost 300 yards in penalties.