London, Ont. – While it may not have been the start that many expected, it was certainly one to remember to kick off the 2018 campaign. The Carleton Ravens, after missing out on the postseason a year ago, took the reigning Yates Cup and Vanier Cup champions to overtime in nail-biting fashion, and despite not quite finishing off the upset in the opener, it leaves plenty to look forward to with a trip to the Yates Cup, presented by Milk2Go Sport, on the line.
The Ravens came out firing on all cylinders to kick off their quest for the Cup this year, with much of the damage coming from the leg of Michael Domagala (St. Catharines, Ont.). The Carleton kicker put up his team’s first points of the season before his Mustangs counterpart did the same for Western. Domagala connected on a 42-yarder to give Carleton back the lead before touchdowns from Mitch Raper (Oshawa, Ont.) and Phil Iloki (Montreal, Que.) pushed Carleton’s lead to 20-3 at half time.
The Mustangs, however, were not going down without a fight, and after Marc Liegghio (Woodbridge, Ont.) connected on his second field goal of the game, it was a Harry McMaster (Niagara Falls, Ont.) touchdown reception that bridged the gap to just seven. The battle-tested Mustangs defence was the next to step up, with Philippe Dion taking a fumble recovery back 37 yards to the house, before Liegghio put Western ahead late in the game.
The kickers weren’t done there though, as a clutch boot from Domagala from 50 yards out tied the game with no time left on the clock to send the opener to the extra frame. Therein, it was once again Liegghio who sealed the deal for the ‘Stangs to avoid the early season blemish and kick off what was another undefeated season for the purple and white.
Aside from a late scare from the Queen’s Gaels, the Mustangs had little trouble navigating their way to a second consecutive 8-0 season, and the team once again proved they are a dual threat with unmatched offensive and defensive attacks.
When marching down the field, it is the electrifying run game led by Cedric Joseph (Montreal, Que.) and his conference-leading marks of 121.3 YPG and 12 rushing TDs that sparks perhaps the greatest fear, as the Mustangs’ top-ranked ground game has earned nearly 600 yards and eight touchdowns more than their closest combatants. The pass-catching prowess of McMaster, who led the team with 631 yards and 7 TDs, keeps the aerial attack in motion, alongside the additional seven combined touchdowns from Brett Ellerman (Calgary, Alta.) and Cole Majoros (Fort Erie, Ont.). And with the reigning Vanier Cup MVP under centre, Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) and company have done well to keep up their championship-caliber numbers.
The Ravens have a few tricks up their sleeve to keep the highly-touted offence on their toes; however, and one of them is the reigning lineman of the year, Kene Onyeka (Brampton, Ont.). The J.P. Metras Trophy winner led the OUA in sacks on the year and along with the potent front-seven from Carleton, should be able to wreak some havoc in the Western plans this weekend.
He won’t be the only premiere defensive player suiting up in this one, however, as the Mustangs will turn to veteran Fraser Sopik (Toronto, Ont.) to be his active, disruptive self against a Carleton team with plenty of weapons at their disposal.
Among those that Sopik, along with the team’s remaining six players registering at least one sack and eight others who have reeled in at least one interception, will be looking to defend is Nathan Carter (Ottawa, Ont.). The explosive running back made his presence felt all season long to carry the Ravens’ ground game, but found another gear still in his team’s quarterfinal against McMaster, rushing for nearly 150 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Should the Ravens want to turn to the aerial attack, something that QB Michael Arruda (Gatineau, Que.) is quite comfortable with based on his second-ranked 17 touchdowns this season, it will be a familiar face that should see plenty of action. Like Carter, Iloki turned his solid regular season production into an outstanding quarterfinal performance. With games that have seen fellow receivers Quinton Soares (London, Ont.), Dominic Walker (Orlando, FL), and Chad Manchulenko (Brampton, Ont.) take on standout roles as well, however, the Ravens will be tough to match with the ball in their hands.
With these talented playmakers at the centre, the Ravens make up the third-ranked offence, averaging nearly 32 PPG, with an identical rank in the passing game (292 YPG). And they have kept teams to just 28 point per game against, with a fourth-ranked run defence ready for the vaunted Mustangs attack. Both sides will need to make these numbers hold true on Saturday; however, as the purple ponies gallop in with top-ranks in points for (48.0) and against (11.1 PPG) and will be rested and ready with their sights on their fourth-straight trip to the Yates Cup.
To see which side will earn the edge in this highly-touted rematch, which will happen at TD Place in London on Saturday, November 3 at 1:00pm, fans can tune in to oua.tv or download the corresponding app via Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, or Roku.