London, Ont. - After receiving a stiff test in their first game as reigning champions, the Western Mustangs now come off a bye week to take on the McMaster Marauders in this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters, in a battle that pits two of the conference’s perennial contenders head-to-head.
With neither team coming in as a stranger to success, both squads will be looking to send a message in their Week 3 matchup, with the young Marauders striving for a statement win after taking home the loss in their last outing and the Mustangs looking to avoid the early deficit that necessitated their late-game heroics to open the season.
In one of the year’s closest games to date, the Carleton Ravens pushed the Mustangs to the limit in the nation’s capital, taking a 17-point lead into the break of their respective season debuts. The 110th Yates Cup champions did not waver; however, as the purple ponies came galloping back to take the late lead. A last-second Michael Domagala field goal sent the game to overtime, but the trusty leg of Marc Liegghio (Woodbridge, Ont.) came through in the end to give the ‘Stangs the win.
Vanier Cup MVP Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) finished with 212 yards in the air, throwing for one touchdown and one interception, while Dalt White recipient Cedric Joseph (Montreal, Que.) rushed for 101 on the ground. Both players maintained major roles for the Mustangs in their quest for the Cup a season ago, and will undoubtedly be looking to do the same come Saturday’s home opener.
Looking to keep these two and the rest of the Western offence in check will be a young Marauders defence that has stood tall in the earlier going. The Marauders have done well to stifle the oppositions’ offensive efforts, keeping the potent Guelph Gryphons squad to just 241 total yards and doing much of the same against Ottawa before Bryce Vieira hauled in the one-handed grab and scampered 61 yards to pay dirt in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter.
But while the different looking defence has been able to overcome their offseason turnover and stand tall, the offence is still looking to find their stride outside of the OUA’s top rusher, Jordan Lyons (). The running back has averaged 123 yards-per-game on the ground this season, including a 168 yard effort in the team’s Week 2 loss against Ottawa, but the Marauders will need to be firing on all cylinders to go back above the .500 mark.
Receivers Tommy Nield (Guelph, Ont.) and Tyson Middlemost (Dundas, Ont.) have shown their playmaking abilities early on, while first-year Xander Tachinski (Winnipeg, Man.) has played a key role thus far in the passing game as well. Locked and loaded with these key pieces, the aerial attack will need to hit its stride on all fronts to keep the Mustangs on their toes and allow the Marauders’ offence to truly shine.
In the teams’ last meeting, which came almost a year ago to the day, the Mustangs were able to use a quick start on both sides of the ball to buoy themselves to a 29-14 win. Western pushed their early lead to 16-0 before Lyons punched one in from the one-yard line. Despite surrendering a 33-yard run to QB Jackson White (Cambridge, Ont.), the Mustangs used a pair of second-half field goals from Liegghio and a rushing touchdown from Joseph to pull away and seal the win.
Looking for a repeat result from last season’s meeting, the Mustangs will roll out a very similar squad that ranked atop the OUA in both offence and defence last year. In addition to their potent rushing attack behind Joseph and Alex Taylor (Winnipeg, Man.), the team will also return their top two receivers from 2017, with Harry McMaster (Niagara Falls, Ont.) and Malik Besseghieur (Nanaimo, B.C.) teaming up to arm Merchant with multiple aerial options.
The likes of Fraser Sopik (Toronto, Ont.) and Philippe Dion (Blainville, Que.), who enter 2018 as the team’s top two returning tacklers from a season ago, will lead the defence against the young Mac squad. The former secured one of two interceptions for Western in Week 1, while the team as a whole also tallied three tackles for a loss and forced a fumble against the Ravens; a recipe that they will strive to repeat on Saturday.
With top talent on both sides of the ball, Saturday’s marquee matchup combatants will come out hungry for a win. Kickoff is set for 4:00pm at TD Stadium in London, but for fans not watching the game in person, you can see it all unfold LIVE on oua.tv or by downloading the app on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, or Roku.