BURLINGTON, Ont. - In an action-packed regular season of OUA football, where fans saw almost 2500 points scored over the course of seven weeks, it seems fitting that the two teams responsible for almost a third of that offensive production meet up in the Week 8 OUA.tv Marquee Matchup.
The No. 2 nationally ranked Western Mustangs head to Hamilton, Ont. this Saturday to take on the No. 6 McMaster Marauders, in a game that will show what both teams are made of heading into the playoffs.
The Mustangs have stampeded over the rest of the league this year, going a perfect 7-0 through the regular season to sit atop the OUA standings.
Led by a balanced offence that boasts an average of 64 points a game, fans can expect a significant amount of their games to be spent in the redzone. Running back Alex Taylor has been an absolute force on the ground, topping the 1000 yard mark on the season this past weekend in his 195 yard, two touchdown performance against Ottawa. The second-year Winnipeg, MB native has torched opposing defences, running for 144.3 yards a game while making 12 visits to the endzone. Taylor leads CIS in rushing touchdowns and all-purpose yards, and leads the Mustang run game that possesses various threats.
Western has collected 2690 yards of offence on the ground this year, thanks to the efforts of Taylor and the rest of the deep Mustang backfield which includes four runners who average 50 yards or more per game. Senior Yannick Harou has amassed 432 yards on the ground and punched in a stunning 10 touchdowns for Western this year.
"They're dominant like no team has been, [they average over] 700 yards of offence, I don't think any of the rest of the league have done it all year, and they haven't had less than 700 yards once," said McMaster Head Coach Stefan Ptaszek. "They are on a roll like we haven't seen in the OUA."
This season Western has put an astounding 448 points up on the scoreboard, a feat that puts them just 10 points behind their own OUA record of 458 set in 2013. That year quarterback Will Finch led the Mustangs to a Yates Cup win over Queen's, something they fell short of last season after exiting the playoffs early thanks to Guelph. For a team that has been averaging 64 points a game, the Mustangs could also top the CIS record of 481 points (set by Laval in 2003) with a mere 34 points against Mac this Saturday.
On the defensive side of the ball, Western has developed its own version of the Purple People Eaters, leading the country in points allowed, sacks, and interceptions. The 'Stangs are also tied for first with Mount Allison for defensive touchdowns, sitting at four apiece. Defensive ends Ricky Osei-Kusi and John Biewald have been giving quarterbacks nightmares all season long as the most lethal sack duo in the country with 12.5 sacks between them. If it wasn't Osei-Kusi and Biewald keeping up QB's at night, the duo of defensive backs Josh Woodman and Malcolm Brown, who have picked off quarterbacks a combined seven times, certainly are.
If there is any team with an arsenal equipped to handle the stampede of Mustangs, it's the McMaster Marauders. The Mac Men, led by second-year quarterback Asher Hastings, have been putting the ball in the endzone quite often themselves, averaging an impressive 47 points a game.
Hastings leads CIS in touchdown passes with 29 after breaking the OUA record against Waterloo two weeks ago. Last weekend, Hastings threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over Laurier, a performance that puts him one shy of the CIS record of 30 touchdowns held by St. Mary's quarterback Chris Flynn. Receivers Danny Vandervoort and Dan Petermann have been the main benefactors of Hastings' record year, pulling down ten and eight touchdowns respectively. Vandervoort has hauled in 10 touchdowns this season, a McMaster record, and could potentially top the OUA record of 13, a record currently held by Vandervoort's coach Stefan Ptaszek, set in 1994. Coach Ptaszek might even want his accolade to be topped, if it helps the Marauders put the Mustangs defence back on their heels.
"For us, our ability to spread the ball around and have multiple receivers that can hurt you, is at least an opportunity to make them a little uncomfortable," said Ptaszek. "Our offence has got to be sharp, because frankly, the only way to slow them down is to try and keep them on the sidelines."
It was a very similar story last year when these two teams met up. Both teams were working towards undefeated seasons before McMaster pulled out a last minute win to stay perfect, topping the Mustangs 32-29. With a four-point lead and just under four minutes left in the game, the Mustangs found themselves in Marauders territory. But, on a read-option play, Mustangs quarterback Will Finch pulled the ball back and fired it into the centre of the field where it was picked off. The turnover gave the Marauders offence just enough life to put seven points on the board and take the lead with less than a minute remaining on the clock.
The Marauders handed the Mustangs their first loss of the regular season, and their first loss at home since September 29, 2012, which also was at the hands of McMaster.
McMaster would continue cruising after the victory, making their way all the way to the Vanier Cup, where they would get knocked off by Montreal in a devastating one point loss. Western, who was without starting quarterback Finch, would suffer a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Guelph 51-26 in the OUA semifinal.
Despite not meeting up in the playoffs last year, the Mustangs and Marauders always seem to find a way to match up in the important games.
The two squads have met each other in playoffs four of the past five years in what is turning into one of the biggest rivalries in OUA football. Since 2007, only one Yates Cup has been won by someone other than Mac or Western. If you go back further, the two schools have won 12 of the past 17 OUA championships.
These two schools have an intertwined history, as Mustangs Head Coach Greg Marshall led the Marauders to four consecutive Yates Cups wins from 2000-2003 before heading to the CFL for a brief stint as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach, which opened the door for the Ptaszek era. Marshall soon returned to OUA, except this time he traded in his maroon for purple and took over coaching responsibilities from storied Western coach Larry Haylor.
The matchup to watch in this game will definitely be the battle at the quarterback position. Both Asher Hastings and Will Finch have had incredible years. Hastings leads the league in touchdown passes, while only throwing four interceptions. Finch has led his team to an unbeaten record while throwing for 17 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. Arguably their most impressive statistic is their pass completion rate, with Hastings leading the league at 72.9% and Finch close behind with 69.6%. Finch currently holds the OUA completion percentage record with 69.7%, set in 2013, but both quarterbacks could potentially eclipse that record depending on their performances come Saturday.
Fans can expect the epitome of an OUA football game when these two teams clash at Ron Joyce Stadium. In a game that could very well set the tone for the OUA playoffs, this is not a matchup you want to miss.
Catch all the action on Saturday live starting at 1:00pm on OUA.tv! Fans can also watch the game locally on Cable 14 in Hamilton or listen to the game on TSN 1150, CHRW 94.9 or CJBK 1290.