GUELPH, ON – It doesn't matter how you get into the playoffs.
All that matters is what you do once you get there. Last week, the Gryphons managed to grab the sixth and final spot in the OUA playoffs. Now, regular season records, statistics and Top 10 rankings are thrown out the window. Whichever team puts together the best four quarters on the weekend will advance. The other team will see their season come to an end. The Gryphons will look to keep their 2016 season alive and take the first step towards defending their Yates Cup title this Saturday in Hamilton as they visit the McMaster Marauders in an OUA Quarterfinal matchup. Kickoff at Ron Joyce Stadium is set for 4pm.
Last week, the Gryphons needed some help from the out-of-town scoreboard to ensure a spot in the playoffs. From here on out, they control their own fate. And in a year in which the OUA has been so wide open, the Gryphons enter the postseason with the potential to make yet another run at the Yates.
Early on in the season, the Gryphons were forced to play without the services of several key veterans. Running back Johnny Augustine suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 that forced him to miss several games. Now, the fourth year back is leading the way for what has become a deep, balanced Gryphon rushing attack. Augustine has rushed for over 100 yards in three of his five games since returning from injury, including a 20-carry, 109-yard day against McMaster back on October 1st in Hamilton. Fifth year receiver A'dre Fraser has also impressed after missing the first three games of the season. Fraser is currently tied for the team lead in receptions (27) and yards (339) alongside emerging second year target Kade Belyk.
Gryphons quarterback James Roberts enters the playoffs as the OUA's third-leading passer during the regular season with 264.9 yards per game. The third year pivot has now recorded back-to-back seasons in which he's thrown for over 2,000 yards after finishing with 2,236 last year, and 2,119 this season. Keeping Roberts upright will be a difficult task for the Gryphon offensive line on Saturday as the Marauders feature the country's best pass rusher in defensive end Mike Kashak. Kashak leads the country with 11.5 sacks on the season. That total also puts him just one sack shy of tying the CIS all-time single-season sack record of 12.5. Even if Kashak is contained, Roberts will have to be weary of a ball-hawking Marauders secondary that led the country with 17 interceptions during the regular season. The Marauders also ranked 2nd in the country in scoring defence, allowing just 10.9 points per game.
After a record-breaking season a year ago, the numbers are down this year for McMaster quarterback Asher Hastings, but the senior QB still leads a dangerous Marauder attack. All-Canadian receiver Dan Vandervoort leads a talented, experienced receiving corps for the Marauders, while senior running Chris Pezetta provides Mac with a punishing option in the backfield. Look for Gryphons linebacker Luke Korol to be in the middle of things on Saturday, as Korol finished the regular season second in the OUA with 8.0 tackles per game. When the Gryphons and Marauders met earlier this season in Hamilton, which Mac won 27-15, Pezetta ran for a season-high 143 yards. Defensively, the Gryphons did a nice job on Asher Hastings in that game, holding him to under 200 yards passing on the day while sacking and intercepting him once. The only other game in which Hastings was held under 200 yards passing was in a blowout win over Waterloo in which he exited the game early.
McMaster, the No. 4-ranked team in the country, finished the regular season with a 6-2 record, with their only losses coming on the road versus Ottawa and Western. The last time these two schools met in the playoffs was during the 2014 Yates Cup which the Marauders won 20-15. The last time the Gryphons won on the road in Hamilton during the playoffs was in 2007 when the Gryphons upset the Marauders in an OUA Quarterfinal matchup. Then again, the overall series history won't matter come Saturday at 4pm. Nor will recent performances. Or how either team got to this point. The only thing that will matter is who puts together the better 60 minutes Saturday afternoon. This is the opportunity the Gryphons have been waiting for all offseason: the chance to defend their Yates Cup title.
Saturday's game can be seen live online at www.oua.tv and will be televised on Cogeco Cable 14 for viewers in the Hamilton area. Tickets are available at www.marauders.ca.
Source: Guelph Gryphons