Written By: Mike Hogan
In a lot of ways it probably felt like a loss.
The Western Mustangs weren’t in very many close games a year ago. Their second outing of the season was an overtime victory over Guelph in a game that was delayed for over two hours by lightning. The eventual Vanier Cup champs’ biggest deficit that evening was 10 points.
The deeper the ‘Stangs progressed into 2017, the more one-sided the games became.
Eyebrows were raised across the country last Sunday as the score from the Mustangs’ 2018 season opener came in. The Carleton Ravens took a 3-0 lead, then 6-3, then 13-3. Few could believe what they were seeing when the home team took a 20-3 lead into the intermission.
Nobody would have batted an eye if Western didn’t come back. Most would write it off to being the first game of the season, or simply say that Greg Marshall’s team was due for a loss after going undefeated in ’17.
What was perhaps most impressive about the comeback was the way Western did it. There was zero sense of panic. There was a game plan in place, and even though they were down by 17 at the break, that strategy was going to continue.
Instead of becoming pass happy, which would have been completely understandable, the Mustangs came out and ran the football. The first drive was a two-and-out, with no gamble taken on third-and-two.
The next series was an eight-play drive that culminated in a Mark Liegghio field goal. Seven of the plays were runs, the other a short pass from Chris Merchant to Harry McMaster.
Western was committed to running the ball and stuck to it. There was more balance on the next drive, while the subsequent possession was back to being more run-oriented.
It was old-time football and patience in this case proved to be a virtue. There were no huge gains on offence, though there were two game-changing defensive plays.
In the first half, Carleton’s defence held Western to just four plays of ten or more yards, then twice as many in the second half. Merchant and company didn’t rewrite their offensive script because of the deficit.
It was actually an impressive display by a team that found a way to do something it didn’t accomplish all of last season – come from way behind to win a game – only because it didn’t have to.
The fact that Western may have gained more confidence from the way they won this game is a scary proposition for the rest of the OUA.
WESTERN 26 CARLETON 23 (OT)
The Carleton Ravens almost pulled off a huge upset over the Western Mustangs, losing 26-23 in overtime. The Ravens built a 20-3 lead at the half thanks to long TD passes from Michael Arruda to Mitch Raper and Phil Iloki. Western would counter with a Harry McMaster TD reception and a 37-yard TD on a fumble recovery by Phil Dion to tie it at 20-20. Mark Liegghio’s third FG of the game gave Western its first lead of the game with just under five minutes left, but the Ravens tied it in incredibly dramatic fashion. They took over at their own 20-yard line with 21.4 seconds left. After Arruda was sacked, he hit Iloki with a pass that went for 53 yards, then Michael Domagala sent the game to overtime with a 50-yard field goal. In the first round of the shootout, Liegghio kicked a 36-yarder before the Ravens took over. After one first down, Arruda rolled to his right and threw to the sideline, but was intercepted by Bleska Kambamba to give the ‘Stangs the win. Cedric Joseph rushed for 101 yards for the winners, while McMaster had five catches for 72 yards. Iloki was Carleton’s main weapon, catching five passes for 115 yards. The kickers were a combined 7/7 in field goal attempts. Linebacker Michael Moore made his Western debut after transferring from Queen’s and led the team with five tackles. Jack Cassar of the Ravens led all players in the category with 10.5. Western took several holding penalties and ended up with 13 penalties for 120 yards.
WATERLOO 53 WINDSOR 37
For those who watched the game at Warrior Field, there was no indication through one quarter what was about to happen. Waterloo led the visiting Windsor Lancers 8-0 after 15 minutes, scoring a TD on the last play of the quarter. Then things got interesting. There would be six TDs scored, one a 20-yard run, the others on passing plays of 31, 38, 74, 83, and 84 yards. The final stat lines looked like someone was playing Madden on Rookie level against the Cleveland Browns. Warriors QB Tre Ford threw for 463 yards and six TDs without an interception, rushing for 58 more. Windsor’s Sam Girard, in a losing effort mind you, passed for 478 yards with five TDs and no picks. Tyler Ternowski ended up with 11 catches for 289 yards and four touchdowns. He tied Andre Talbot of Laurier for the fourth-most receiving yards in a game, still well behind former Queen’s receiver James MacLean’s record of 377 yards set against Guelph in 2001. The Lancers had three receivers with over 100 yards – Tristan Carter, Kaeden Walls, and Alex Bornais – with the latter hauling in six catches for 172 yards and three TDs. The teams combined for 1,120 yards in offence. Waterloo won despite taking 15 penalties for 140 yards. There were no turnovers in the game.
McMASTER 16 GUELPH 15
The visiting Guelph Gryphons jumped out to an 11-0 lead early in the second quarter, but McMaster kept pecking away at the deficit. Freshman Michael Bazzo’s three-yard TD catch and the subsequent conversion gave the Marauders their first lead of the game with just under five minutes left. The Gryphons would try to tie things up with a 56-yard field goal attempt in the dying seconds, but Gabe Ferraro’s kick fell short. Mac QB Jackson White threw for 241 yards, while the young Marauders defence did an impressive job on the Gryphons offence. Theo Landers threw for just 88 yards, and led the Gryphs with 59 yards rushing. Eli Haynes had a nice day for McMaster with 5.5 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, and a sack. It was a solid attendance for a game held before school started, drawing 5,427 fans.
LAURIER 39 OTTAWA 21
The hometown Hawks jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back. Laurier used an incredibly well-balanced attack, rushing for 219 yards and passing for 218. Levondre Gordon rushed for 109 yards and a pair of TDs, while Kurleigh Gittens Jr. caught eight passes for 129 yards. Alex Lavric won the Ottawa QB job in training camp and threw for 250 yards and a pair of TDs, but completed just 15 of his 34 attempts. Laurier shut down Kalem Beaver, limiting the Ottawa receiver to just one catch for 14 yards. The Gee-Gees took a whopping 18 penalties for 145 yards.
QUEEN’S 42 YORK 21
The Lions found themselves leading 12-10 in the second quarter, but it was all Gaels after that. Nate Hobbs threw for 320 yards for Queen’s, with Chris Osei-Kusi accounting for 108 of them on six catches. The Hunchak brothers were back at work for York and had some success. Brett threw for 370 yards, Colton caught 12 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. A young Gaels defence looked more and more comfortable as the afternoon progressed. Dante Mastrogiuseppe and Nick Libertore combined to go 5/5 in field goal attempts. York actually won the time of possession battle, roughly 33 to 27 minutes. Spencer Giffin had three tackles for a loss for the Tricolour.