The Ottawa Gee-Gees make their second appearance in the OUA Marquee Matchup of the Week, this time heading on the road to Hamilton to take on the McMaster Mauraders in a battle of top-10 teams in the nation.
The Gee-Gees come into the contest 3-0, having played in three tight contests against Guelph, Queen's and York to begin the season. McMaster is 1-1 on the young season after a dominating defence performance in the nation's capital to defeat the Carleton Ravens, before falling last week 29-14 to the Western Mustangs.
The last time these two met, the Gee-Gees put on quite the performance for their home crowd, defeating the then no.5 ranked Mauraders 30-8 behind a 441-yard performance from Derek Wendel. One player happy to see McMaster again is Bryce Viera, who in their last meeting had 146 yards receiving and a touchdown, while also running the ball on nine occasions for 31 yards.
Both teams have young offences that are continuing to find their rhythm, highlighted by a pair of quarterback battles.
The Mauraders starting quarterback job remains up in the air until game time Saturday, as two freshmen continue to battle it out for who will take control. Adreas Dueck has started both regular season games, but has only thrown for a single touchdown on 16 pass completeions. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Jackson White took over for Dueck in the Western game, going 8 for 13 for 103 yards, while also running the ball 10 times for 97 yards and a touchdown.
The running game features junior running back Jordan Lyons, who leads the team with 35 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown, as well as freshman Justice Allin. Even though the Mauraders have struggled to throw the ball, they have one of the top receivers in the league, in CFL prospect Dan Petermann. The Stoney Creek native has eight catches for 40 yards, but his playmaking ability has defensive coordinators around the league scheming for any time he touches the ball.
For Ottawa, freshman Alex Lavric and senior Victor Twynstra have split the quarterback duties through three games so far this season. The 6'3 freshman from Missassauga leads the team with 357 yards through the air on a 70% pass completion rate. Meanwhile, Twynstra has shown flashes to be the more dual-threat quarterback this year, with 272 yards through the air while also running the ball 12 times for 94 yards.
Bryce Viera appeared to be the lead back after posting close to another 500-yard rushing campaign last year, but sophomore Donald Shaw leads the team in rushing so far through three games, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
The Gee-Gees have three receivers with 10 receptions or more, with Kingston native Carter Matheson leading the way with 17 receptions and 191 yards receiving.
Despite the early offensive struggles for both these teams, their defences are among the primary reasons why they put sit in the top-10 in the national rankings.
McMaster' defence is among the most opportunistic in the league, having produced five interceptions, five fumble recoveries and eight sacks through just two games. In their game last week against the Mustangs, who are considered to have one of the deeper groups of linemen in the league, the Maruaders produced three sacks and three picks on the day. They also sit third in the league in points allowed this season.
Grismby native Eric Mezzalira leads the Mac men with 15 tackles and a forced fumble, while OUA and U Sports All-Star Robbie Yochim, a ball-hawking safety, sits second on the team just half a tackle behind, while also producing two interceptions. Senioers Jake Healtcote, Mark Mackie, and Michael Browers are among those expected to make the visitors uncomfortable. Sophmore cornerbacks Nolan Putt and Mitch Garland are two of the young players the Gee-Gees will have to account for, as both were all over the field in McMaster's game last week against Western.
Ottawa's stingy defence is led by Khadim Cheickh Mbaye, who leads the team with 19 tackles. The junior linebacker also has a tackle for a loss and an interception. Brothers Ty and Cody Cranston are part of a Gee-Gees secondary that has picked off opposing quarterbacks five times this season, tied for second most in the league. The Gee-Gees can also get after the quarterback, with 14 sacks through three games, second to only rival Carleton.
Jackson Bennett is a key player to watch out for the from the Gee-Gees. The junior linebacker not only has 13 tackles, including one for a loss and a forced fumble, but already returned one kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
This weekend's battle in Hamilton features two of the best kickers in the league. Lewis Ward, who was the initial OUA and U Sports Special Teams Player of the Week this year, has connected on 11 field goals so far this season, including one from 45 yards. He also has been busy in the punting department, with his 36 punts this year averaging 38.6 yards, including six inside the 20 and a monster 74 yard boot. For the home side, Adam Preocanin is the reigning OUA Rookie of the Year. Preocanin has only had one field goal attempt through two games, but is averaging 39.4 yards per punt, including two inside the 20.
One thing head coaches Jamie Barresi and Greg Knox will be looking to do is get their teams into the red zone on a more frequent basis. . The Gee-Gees have made seven trips through three games so far, having scored three touchdowns and three field goals. Meanwhile, McMaster has had even fewer opportunities, though they have made the most of them when it counts, converting on 100% of those trips.
McMaster will need to show more discipline they have through two games, being the second most penalized team in the league in terms of penalty yards a game. On the opposite sideline, Jamie Barresi's squad had drawn the second most penalties, but hold the best penalty yards per game mark in the OUA, just a hair under 71 yards per game.
Kickoff is at 1pm in Hamilton at Ron Joyce Stadium, so be sure to tune in to OUA.tv for this Marquee Matchup and all the other action from around the league.