Western set for Uteck Bowl clash with Acadia for spot in Vanier Cup

Photo by Michael P. Hall
Photo by Michael P. Hall

BURLINGTON, Ont. – The Western Mustangs used their potent offensive attack to ground the Golden Hawks in the 110th Yates Cup; something the team will be looking to repeat as they head out east to battle the Acadia Axemen in the Uteck Bowl.

The Mustangs brought a winning formula to the table in their championship rematch with Laurier, using a record-setting 75-point explosion to find Yates Cup redemption and earn a spot in Saturday’s Uteck Bowl. The ground game proved to be a deciding factor once again for the Mustangs, led by Dalt White winner Cedric Joseph. The Montreal, Que. native has been a force all season for the Mustangs, notching 10 touchdowns on the year, but has managed to find yet another gear in the postseason, with an astounding seven majors in two games.

To go along with Joseph’s 250 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the Yates Cup, Western also saw strong play out of quarterback Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.), who threw for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns, while also picking up 66 yards and a major on the ground. A pair of late touchdowns from Yannick Harou (Gatineau, Que.) sealed the deal on a six touchdown day on the ground, but it wasn’t just the ground game that was clicking on all cylinders.

The Mustangs saw big contributions from leading receiver Harry McMaster (Niagara Falls, Ont.), who fell just one yard shy of the century mark to go along with a touchdown last weekend, as well as returner Mike Sananes (Montreal, Que.), whose 95-yard kickoff scamper helped bring the early momentum back in Western’s favour. Combining these sparkling offensive contributions with a stout defensive performance, and Western was truly in the driver’s seat for much of their 75-32 victory.

On the other side of the ball will be the Axemen, who are entering the game on short rest after their Loney Bowl victory; one that ended in dramatic fashion in double overtime. After a fairly quiet first half, which saw Acadia tally just 11 points on three Jarett Saumure (Timberlea, N.S.) field goals and a safety, the team came out firing after the break.

Acadia found the endzone for the first time on the day with a 32-yard connection from Cody Cluett (Cole Harbour, N.S.) to Cordell Hastings (Calgary, Alta.) to take their first lead of the day, before Cluett found Eugene McMinns (Nassau, Bahamas) for the team’s second major of the quarter. With the game tied late in the fourth, the teams traded touchdowns in the final two minutes to send the game to overtime. A field goal each solved nothing in the first overtime, but a one-yard plunge from Cluett – his second of the game – followed by a game-clinching interception, finally gave the Axemen the 45-38 win.

Despite putting up an impressive 45 points in their Loney Bowl win, the Axemen will be in tough on Saturday against the nation’s leading defence. Western surrendered just 13.1 PPG in the regular season, keeping opponents to well under 300 yards of offence. While they may not boast a significant number of takeaways on defence, they are able to minimize their opponent’s output at a stingy rate, and will look to continue this torrid pace in their 21st bowl game appearance since 1967.

Acadia’s offence, meanwhile, ranks 14th in Canada with an average of 28.3 points per game, and one of their key contributors outside of Cluett under centre comes in the form of running back Dale Wright (Markham, Ont.). With over 1,000 yards rushing on the season (1,030), the conference’s leading rusher and AUS Player of the Year winner – should he be able to play after his Loney Bowl injury – will be matched up with a run defence that allowed less than 100 yards per game on the year, including just 88 against Laurier last weekend.

Leading the charge for Western on the defensive front will be a talented crew, and among the many defensive standouts are leading tacklers Jean-Gabriel Poulin (St. Nicolas, Que.), Nicolas Vanin (London, Ont.), and Fraser Sopik (Toronto, Ont.), each of whom accounted for more than 30 takedowns on the year. A diverse collection of others have also made their mark on their pace-setting campaign, as a total of six Mustangs brought down at least one interception, while nine made their way into the sacks column, showing that the opposition must always be aware when taking the field.   

It will be a similar script on the other side of the equation, as the Axemen boast an impressive defence of their own. Ranked eighth in the nation – allowing 24.1 points per game – Acadia is able to put pressure on their opposition in a number of ways. The AUS champs were far and away the best rush defence in the conference, allowing just 117.3 YPG, and anchored by the conference’s President’s Trophy nominee Bailey Feltmate (Moncton, N.B.), should make for an intriguing matchup for Western’s unparalleled rush game. Should Western look to adjust and further involve the passing game, Merchant’s aerial efforts will need to be mindful of Jadin White-Frayne (Calgary, Alta.), who led the country with six interceptions on the year – one less than the entire Western squad.

In what will be the teams’ first matchup since 1995, there should provide plenty of intriguing elements on the field, as both the Western Mustangs and Acadia Axemen battle for a spot in the Vanier Cup. It is just the sixth time that the squads have met, with Western holding a 4-1 edge to date, including a 55-45 win in their most recent meeting. This will be Western’s first appearance in a national semifinal since 2013, when the team lost to Laval, and they’ll be looking to press on to the Vanier Cup for the first time since 2008.

Fans can catch all the action from the Uteck Bowl on Saturday, November 18 on Sportsnet 360 or TVA Sports 2, with kickoff set for 12:30pm EST.