Ottawa – They come in with matching records, both have their eyes on a semifinal berth, and after penning very different stories a year ago, neither will want their latest chapter to end with a loss on Saturday. But will it be the young McMaster Marauders who keep proving the doubters wrong or the comeback Carleton Ravens that continue to improve on their 2017 results?
The Ravens and Marauders both have their reasons for wanting the win in the quarterfinals. For Mac, many people were counting them out coming in to the season because of their youth, even after claiming the No. 3 seed a season ago and making it to the semifinals. Carleton, meanwhile, was forced to watch Mac and the rest of the field tackle the postseason after they ended their campaign as the eighth seed. But after pushing Western to their limits in Week 1 this year, there was a sense of improvement and optimism that they've translated into a trip back to the postseason.
The two teams did not meet in the regular season in 2018, so this will be their first time seeing each other since early September a season ago. In that matchup, it was the running game that found the most room to operate, with Jordan Lyons (Burlington, Ont.) picking up 94 yards for Mac and Nathan Carter (Ottawa, Ont.) earning 149 for the Ravens. The teams combined for just one passing touchdown – a 5-yard strike to Tommy Nield (Guelph, Ont.) to open the scoring – but from then out, it was the defence that took over. Neither team surpassed the 300-yard mark in total offence, and despite just 142 yards for the Marauders, they ultimately prevailed with a 23-9 victory.
While that wasn't either team's strongest showing last year, nor has McMaster's offence been able to consistently elevate their offence through the 2018 campaign – ranking tenth with just 18.9 PPG – the Ravens will surely be aiming for numbers closer to their third-ranked average this year (31.9 PPG).
Just like in that 2017 meeting, Carter has been a significant part of the Carleton attack, piling up 756 yards and five rushing majors on the year, adding another pair in the air. And while he has done the bulk of the damage on the ground, four receivers have made significant contributions in the passing game. Quinton Soares (London, Ont.) and Phil Iloki (Montreal, Que.) headline the quartet of 300+ yard receivers, all of whom have benefited from a strong season from signal-caller Michael Arruda (Gatineau, Que.), who ranks second in the OUA with 17 TDs.
If the visiting Marauders want to make a run in the postseason, they'll also need to rely on their key contributor from the 2017 meeting. Lyons has been one of the top rushers across the province all season long, picking up 759 yards on the year, and he is a steady presence for Mac on that side of the ball. But it's not all about the ground game, as the maroon machine also boasts one of the most electrifying receivers in Nield. The second-year slotback has made highlight-reel catch after highlight-reel catch this season, showing that he can get his hands on just about anything thrown his way, so the Ravens will need to be mindful of his whereabouts to keep the talented receiver in check.
The X-factor for the Marauders may come under centre; however, as they have experienced some ups and downs from their young pivots this season. McMaster has seen contributions from both Andreas Dueck (Winnipeg, Man.) and Jackson White (Cambridge, Ont.) at quarterback, and the team will hope that at least one of them can take advantage of their surrounding weapons to give the Ravens and their ninth-ranked pass defence headaches on Saturday.
But while the Ravens may surrender a lot in the air, their resiliency against the run is one of the best, giving up just 124.5 yards per contest (4th in the OUA). This should make it tough for Lyons and company to get in a groove, but just as the Ravens boast one of the top rushers on their side, they know that the skilled back lining up across from them can be a difference-maker in this one.
Helping the birds maintain their stout defensive front and keep the fourth-ranked rusher at bay are a pair of top-ten tacklers – Jack Cassar (Mississauga, Ont.) and Joshua Walsh (Ottawa, Ont.) – not to mention the menacing presence of the league's top sack-getter, Kene Onyeka (Brampton, Ont.), who has made his presence felt in the encore to his award-winning 2017 by topping the conference in sacks. And like the rest of the roster suiting up for this quarterfinal clash, the reigning J.P. Metras Award winner will be looking to be a difference-maker to get his side one step closer to a Yates Cup victory.
To find out if it's the Ravens who will make their way back to the semifinals for the first time since 2016 or if the McMaster Marauders can keep their semifinal streak intact to face off with the awaiting Western Mustangs or Ottawa Gee-Gees, fans can tune in to oua.tv on Saturday, October 27 at 1:00pm. For anyone not traveling to MNP Park to take in the action, the game is also available live via the oua.tv app, available for download on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.