BURLINGTON, Ont. – For the third time in the past three years, the No. 5 nationally ranked Laurier Golden Hawks and No. 3 Western Mustangs will meet in the postseason. However, this time around the stakes couldn't be higher.
On Saturday, the two top-seeds in OUA will meet in the 109th Yates Cup, presented by lululemon, at TD Stadium in London, Ont. Click here to buy tickets to the game.
Fans can catch all the action between the Golden Hawks and Mustangs live across the province on CHCH or stream the game on OUA.tv. For those fans interested in listening to the game, the 109th Yates Cup will also be available on CJBK 1290 AM, 570 NEWS and CHRW 94.9 FM. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:16 p.m.
This will be the 14th meeting in the Yates Cup between these two historic OUA programs, with the Mustangs chasing their 31st Yates Cup in program history. Of the Golden Hawks seven provincial titles, four have come against Western.
For the Golden Hawks, Saturday's game will be their first appearance in the Yates Cup since 2006, while they last hoisted the historic trophy in back-to-back seasons in 2004 and 2005.
Following a 7-1 regular season record, the Western Mustangs will host the provincial championship for a second consecutive season as they look to hoist the Yates Cup for the first time since 2013. However, Mustangs players and fans hope that the result is different this time around as a season ago Western was upset by the rival Guelph Gryphons 23-17.
After splitting the duties under centre to open the season, quarterback Chris Merchant (Calgary, AB) took a firm grasp of the Mustangs reins in Week 3 and hasn't let go as the second-year medical sciences student-athlete led Western to six straight wins to close out the regular season. Merchant, who transferred from the University at Buffalo before the season, averaged 215 yards per game to go along with 14 touchdowns.
The Mustangs relied heavier on the run than they did a season ago and with running backs Alex Taylor (Winnipeg, Man.) and Cedric Joseph (Montreal, Que.) in the backfield, who can really blame them.
Taylor carried much of the load this season for Western and averaged 123.4 yards per game, the second highest mark in the conference. However, on Saturday in the semifinal against the Carleton Ravens, it was Joseph who stole the show, rushing for 107 yards and four touchdowns in the Mustangs 51-24 victory.
Saturday's showdown will be the second meeting between the Mustangs and Golden Hawks at TD Stadium this season. Back on Oct. 1, the two teams squared off in a battle for first with Western prevailing 45-26 to move to 5-1. Merchant threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns, while Golden Hawks quarterback Michael Knevel (Brantford, Ont.) had 256 yards passing on the day and three touchdowns.
Knevel, who took over as the team's starter in late September, threw for 1421 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight regular season games. Making his postseason debut last Saturday, Knevel went 11-for-18 for 159 yards and a touchdown to go along with 85 yards rushing. The Brantford, Ont. native was named the Porter Airlines Player of the Game following their 21-19 semifinal win against the visiting McMaster Marauders.
The Golden Hawks have recently been a run first and ask questions later style of offence and this year they led OUA with 2251 rushing yards, the fourth highest total in program history.
Running back Eric Guitinan (London, Ont.) carried the load for most of the season for Laurier; however, he is questionable for Saturday's game after suffering an injury in the semifinals.
If Guiltinan is unable to play, a pair of second-year running backs, Levondre Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.) and Osayi Iginuan (Hamilton, Ont.), could see time the backfield for Laurier. Gordon finished second behind Guiltinan with 637 yards and six touchdowns, while Iginuan ranked third on the Golden Hawks with 356 yards and three touchdowns.
The Golden Hawks possess one of the best young receiving groups in the conference, if not the country, in second-year standout Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (Ottawa, Ont.) and rookie Brentyn Hall (Toronto, Ont.). Gittens Jr. led the team in receptions (27) and touchdowns (4), while Hall hauled in 24 catches for a team high 558 yards and two touchdowns. As a freshman, Hall led the conference, averaging 23.3 yards per catch and likely will garner extra attention from the Mustangs secondary.
Not to be outdone, the Mustangs have a pretty good receiving corps of their own, led by fifth-year receiver George Johnson (London, Ont.). Johnson, who was drafted in the fourth round, 29th overall by the Montreal Alouettes, led Western with 35 receptions for 576 yards and five touchdowns. Like their opponent on Saturday, the Mustangs roster also features a young receiving tandem in sophomore Harry McMaster (Niagara Falls, Ont.) and rookie Brett Ellerman (Calgary, Alta.). The pair combined for 39 receptions for 694 yards and four touchdowns over the course of the regular season.
Despite a fairly high scoring affair their first time around, no one would be surprised if it was a defensive battle on Saturday as the Golden Hawks (15.8) and Mustangs (18.5) ranked second and third, respectively, in points allowed per game in the regular season.
Both teams will need to take care of the football on Saturday as the Golden Hawks finished second in OUA with 16 interceptions, while the Mustangs led the conference with 14 fumble recoveries. It isn't just the high powered offences that can put points on the board in hurry, but the defences as well, with Laurier (6) and Western (4) toping OUA in defensive touchdowns.
Laurier linebacker Nakas Onyeka (Brampton, Ont.) was a disruptive force all season for the Golden Hawks, leading Laurier with 59.5 tackles, including 5.5 sacks. Known not only for his tenacious tackles, but also for his chatty nature, the Mustangs will need to be disciplined when dealing Onyeka or they could find themselves quickly moving in the wrong direction.
Following a season in which was awarded the J.P. Metras Trophy as the OUA Lineman of the Year, Golden Hawks defensive end Kwaku Boateng (Milton, Ont.) shows no signs of slowing down. Earlier this year Boateng was named the top U Sports prospect eligible for the 2017 CFL Draft and he didn't disappoint, finishing third in the conference with 6.5 sacks.
However, the Mustangs counter with a defensive duo of their own in linebacker Jean-Gabriel Poulin (St. Nicolas, Que.) and defensive end John Biewald (Ottawa, Ont.). Poulin finished second on the Mustangs with 39.5 total tackles to go along with a fumble recovery and an interception, while Biewald recorded seven sacks and three forced fumbles in eight games. Laurier also can't overlook linebacker Phillipe Dion (Blainville, Que.) who led the team with 53.5 tackles.
Western rookie kicker Marc Liegghio (Woodbridge, Ont.) made 22 of 27 field goal attempts this season and coming off a year in which he led the league in scoring, could be called upon late in the game with the Yates Cup hanging in the balance. Liegghio, who also handles the punting duties for Western, averaged 36.7 yards per kick during the regular season.
Things aren't as clear-cut on the other sideline, as the Golden Hawks feature somewhat of a kicker by committee setup with sophomore Nathan Mesher (Waterloo, Ont.) and rookie Nathan McLean (Kitchener, Ont.).
The Yates Cup champion will travel to Quebec to take on the RSEQ representative, either Montreal or Laval, in the Uteck Bowl on Nov. 19, with a trip to the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Vanier Cup on the line.
If you can't catch the action in person, the 109th Yates Cup, presented by lululemon, is airing on CHCH and streaming live on OUA.tv, beginning with the pre-game show at 1:00 p.m.
The Quest for the Cup Campus Tour, fuelled by Pioneer, will also be on site at TD Stadium in London to promote OUA student-athletes and competitions with an interactive OUA booth featuring contests, games and prizes, along with displays and promotional materials.