Ottawa – The football season is winding down, but the quality of matchups sure isn’t. Case in point is this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters, which sees the country’s top squad, the Western Mustangs, travel to the nation’s capital to take on the No. 5 Ottawa Gee-Gees in what could very well be a playoff preview between top OUA squads.
Once again, the Mustangs are proving to be as tough as they come on the gridiron, pacing the conference both offensively (50.8 PPG) and defensively (12.7 PPG). And after kicking off their campaign with a comeback win in overtime, Western has been all systems go while reeling off wins in their next five games. Not unlike the Mustangs, the Gee-Gees are also finding their stride after a shaky start. A loss in their opener was quickly forgotten with back-to-back defensive gems, followed by a trio of high-scoring affairs to bring their record to 5-1.
Among those who have been difference-makers for the surging Gee-Gees is QB Sawyer Buettner (Moose Jaw, Sask.). The pivot has been a steady presence under centre for Ottawa since taking over the lead role, adding a spark to the offence that has helped them turn the corner, with the cherry on top of his debut campaign coming in a five-touchdown Panda Game performance in front of 24,000+ fans. Buettner will need to be at his best again on Saturday, as he will be going against another quarterback that knows what it’s like to play in a big game.
Western’s Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) has been a calming and leading presence for the ‘Stangs this season, using an abundance of weapons in the passing game to keep the purple ponies offence rolling. The receiving corps has once again been led by Harry McMaster (Niagara Falls, Ont.), who checks in with 78.5 yards per game and five majors on the season, while fellow running mates Brett Ellerman (Calgary, Alta.) and Cole Majoros (Fort Erie, Ont.) have combined for another seven touchdowns for the reigning Yates Cup champions. And while this trio has been readily finding the endzone thus far, they will be up against some of the most active, pass-disruptive defenders the OUA has to offer.
With 13 interceptions on the year, Ottawa is far and away the leader in that category – four clear of the next closest teams. Jamie Harry (Lachine, Que.) leads the way for the team and the conference, pulling in five picks on the year, with teammate Luke Griese (Newmarket, Ont.) not far behind with four. Four additional Gee-Gees have reeled in passes from the opposition on the year, meaning that Merchant will have to be incredibly aware of the pick-seeking defenders who have surrendered just 245 passing yards (3rd in OUA) and 20.7 points (4th in OUA) per game.
If the reigning Vanier Cup MVP and the Mustangs veer away from the aerial attack, the ground game should be ready to pick up the slack, as Western boasts the best rushing effort in the conference. Thanks to Cedric Joseph (Montreal, Que.) – who is coming off a 355-yard performance against Windsor – and company, the Mustangs average almost 100 more yards per game on the ground than their next-closest competitor, running wild against their opponents to the tune of 272.3 YPG.
This impactful ground game was one of the key factors for the Mustangs in their 2017 meeting with Ottawa, as the combo of Joseph and Trey Humes (Ajax, Ont.) accounted for over 270 yards on their own en route to 452 as a unit. Combine that with a smothering defence and the undefeated squad was able to close out their campaign with a 63-10 win. This year’s Gee-Gees squad, however, is operating on a different level.
A key example is in their own run game, because while Joseph leads the conference on an individual level in rushing yards per game, right behind him is his counterpart for Saturday – Dawson Odei (Oshawa, Ont.). Odei has run for a trio of 130+ yard games on the season, averaging more than five yards per carry in each contest this season. But the weapons don’t stop there, as the Gee-Gees have a host of receivers that make the deep threat very real.
Among those who have proven to be reliable pass-catchers for Buettner and the Gee-Gees is Carter Matheson (Kingston, Ont.), one of the premier deep threats in the conference. Coming off a 258-yard performance and backed by his conference-leading 21+ yards per catch and sixth-ranked 82.7 yards per game, the Mustangs will surely need to be weary of Matheson’s abilities, along with the rest of the dynamic receivers on the roster, to keep the team in check on Saturday.
With plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball and both teams pushing for top spot in the conference heading into the playoffs, this marquee matchup has a lot on the line. To see which side prevails in this battle of the broncos, which takes place on Saturday, October 13 at 1:00pm in Ottawa, fans can tune in to oua.tv or download the app via Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, or Roku.