The University of Guelph must have missed the memo.
Historically, teams try to line up a weak opponent for the Homecoming game. You want to win – rolling up a big score in the process – to highlight the weekend of festivities, while maybe at the same time getting alumni in a good mood so they dig a little deeper during any fund-raising activities.
It's Homecoming at Guelph this weekend, but instead of welcoming a sacrificial lamb to town, the Gryphons will line up in what head coach Stu Lang calls "the most important game on our schedule."
McMaster visits Alumni Stadium on Saturday at 1:00pm for a battle of the undefeated which sees the No. 5 nationally-ranked Gryphs hosting the No. 6 Marauders.
For Guelph, it's the beginning of the toughest stretch of their schedule. The Gryphons avoid a regular-season meeting with Western - the Mustangs and Marauders will meet in the season finale - but face McMaster, Ottawa and Queen's in consecutive weeks. Saturday's game will determine a lot for both teams.
Coach Lang's team has breezed to three straight wins, outscoring its opponents 157-48 in the process. Lang was asked by "In The Huddle" if he's learned anything about his team so far.
"Not really," laughed the coach, before continuing. "We still have high expectations. Since I've been here this is the most senior team we've had in terms of fourth and fifth-year players."
The most notable change is behind centre, where the Jazz Lindsay era ended and the James Roberts era began. That's led to a new-look Guelph attack, despite the graduation of big-play receiver Alex Charette to the CFL's Montreal Alouettes.
"The offence has changed," confessed the coach. "Both of our QBs (Roberts and Alex Skinner) throw deeper, so we throw deeper than we have in the past."
To be able to pull that off that type of offence, a team needs needs dynamic receivers, which the club has in A'Dre Fraser and Jacob Scarfone. The latter leads all CIS receivers with 414 yards, the former is second in the country with 341 yards. Fraser has 21 catches, first in the nation, one more than Scarfone. The dynamic duo has combined for six touchdown catches through three games.
The McMaster offence is no slouch either, averaging 54 points per game in their two wins. Remember McMaster? The team that came within a whisker of winning the Vanier Cup a year ago? They're back and the Gryphons staff thinks they may be better on that side of the ball.
"Kevin MacNeill is our defensive coordinator," said Lang. "He came to me and said 'Mac is better than they were last year.' Asher Hastings may throw the ball better than [last year's QB] Marshall Ferguson. With those receivers the passing threat is exceptional."
This is one of the games that fans circled on the schedule at the beginning of the season. Everyone wants to see how these teams stack up against one another. McMaster won both of last year's games 34-27 in overtime in the regular season and 20-15 in the Yates Cup final.
Nobody would complain if Saturday's game was as close.
The Gryphons scored four touchdowns in the first quarter in their 49-22 thumping of York. The lopsided score came despite Roberts throwing five interceptions to five different Lions. Johnny Augustine rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns while adding 98 receiving yards. Guelph had 195 yards in penalties. York's Jahmari Bennett had the day's biggest play, returning a punt 115 yards for a touchdown. The Lions have surrendered 161 points in three games.
The city of Hamilton has provided some exciting special teams plays this season. The Ticats have been spectacular on specials this year, but the Marauders may have one upped them. With Mac up by eight points over Ottawa with two-and-a-half minutes left in the game, a direct snap to receiver Mitch O'Connor - who was lined up as an up back – was punted toward the right sideline. Danny Vandervoort was lined up onside and raced downfield where he caught the punt at full speed without breaking stride, then ran 15 yards into the end zone for the touchdown. For those who may be unfamiliar with the rule: any player lined up behind the punter is considered to be onside and doesn't have to give five yards to the returner and has an equal right to the ball.
That play capped an incredibly entertaining 57-42 win over Ottawa. The Gee-Gees might not agree with the word 'entertaining' after leading the game 32-17 at one point. Asher Hastings threw for 373 yards with five TDs and no interceptions. Vandervoort had two more TD catches, giving him six in just two games. Daniel Petermann was the leading receiver with six catches for 135 yards. Wayne Moore seemed unstoppable at times, finishing with 21 carries for 132 yards. Derek Wendel had a 301 yard, three touchdown game for Ottawa. Bryce Vieira was held to 41 yards on ten carries.
Western was at it again, steamrolling Laurier 59-9. It was 38-0 at the half. The Mustangs have won their three games by an average score of 70-9. A dozen different 'Stangs caught passes in the game, while eight players carried the ball, led by Alex Taylor with 159 yards. Matt Uren had ten catches for 143 yards and a pair of majors. Will Finch leads CIS with 915 passing yards despite being out of each game early due to the lop-sided nature of each game. Defensively, Nick Vanin returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown, while Ricky Osei-Kusi was unblockable, recording three sacks and four tackles for a loss. Laurier's Dillon Campbell was held to just 74 yards on 13 carries.
The country's leading rusher led Queen's to a 47-24 win over Waterloo. Jesse Andrews carried the ball 21 times for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Nate Hobbs threw for three more majors. The Warriors were in this game at the half, trailing 21-14. Queen's put the game away with 25 unanswered points in the third quarter. Waterloo came out throwing and was very effective at it as Lucas McConnell threw for 423 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns. Blair McKay had 106 receiving yards on eight catches. The Gaels Luke Ball was credited with a sack and 3.5 tackles for a loss.
After losing its opening game at Queen's, the Carleton Ravens have won their next two games by a combined score of 119-16. The latest was a 62-16 win at Windsor. Jahvari Bennett was the Ravens main offensive weapon, carrying the ball 18 times for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jesse Mills threw for three majors, while Tunde Adeleke returned a punt for a touchdown for the second-consecutive week. The Ravens defensive pressure was relentless, as they totaled five sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Freshman Windsor quarterback Liam Putt took over for Casey Wright midway through the first quarter. He ended up 14-28 for 274 and a pair of touchdowns, but he was picked off three times. Beau Lumley led the Lancers with 188-yards receiving on just six catches. It doesn't get any easier for Windsor, who travel to the University of Ottawa this week.