BURLINGTON, Ont. – The No. 5 nationally-ranked Guelph Gryphons and the No. 2 Western Mustangs have been on a collision course all season long. On Saturday the two top-seeds in OUA will meet at TD Stadium in London, Ont. for the chance to once again hoist the coveted Yates Cup.
The 108th Yates Cup, presented by Investors Group, kicks-off Saturday, November 14th at 1:00 p.m., live on CHCH.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams since the Gryphons eliminated the Mustangs from the playoffs last season in the Yates Cup semifinals. Since that 51-26 loss to Guelph at Alumni Stadium, Western has not lost a game, going a perfect 9-0 in the regular season and playoffs combined.
The Mustangs didn't just win this season, they dominated the competition, amassing one of the greatest offensive seasons in OUA and CIS history. The purple powerhouse became the highest-scoring team in CIS football history this season, finishing the regular season with 494 points to break the previous single-season mark of 481 set by Laval in 2003. Western also shattered the touchdown record, finding the end zone a staggering 64 times this season, two more than the old national standard shared by Laval (2003) and Saint Mary's (2001).
Western averaged 729.5 yards of total offence during the regular season, and were led by former OUA MVP quarterback Will Finch (Burlington, Ont.). Finch threw for 2616 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, completing 69.5 % of his passes, the second-highest mark of his career. However, in their semifinal game against the Laurier Golden Hawks, Finch left the game in the third quarter and his status for Saturday's contest is uncertain.
Should Finch not be able to play for the Mustangs, Western will look to quarterback Stevenson Bone (Darien, Conn.) to lead the team to their first Yates Cup win since 2013. Bone, who is no stranger to the postseason, was under centre when these two teams met in the playoffs last year, completing 14 of 33 attempts for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. In relief of Finch on Saturday, Bone went 3 for 6 for 20 yards, however, he took several shots down the field that opened up the run game.
The combination of Alex Taylor (Winnipeg, Man.), Yannick Harou (Gatineau, Que.) and Cedric Joseph (Montreal, Que.) in the backfield give Western one of the deepest group of running backs in the province, if not the county. As a team, the Mustangs averaged 368.4 yards per game on the ground, amassing 2947 yards during the regular season to lead CIS. To just say that Western led the nation would be a gross understatement, as the next closest team was the Calgary Dinos who rushed for 1920 yards.
However, the Mustangs haven't faced a team this season that can defend against the run quite like the Gryphons. Guelph only allowed 125.0 yards rushing on average during the regular season. In their semifinal last week against Carleton, they held Ravens running back Jahvari Bennett to just 48 yards on the ground after he averaged 126.0 yards per game this year.
For Guelph, it begins on defence with linebacker John Rush (Niagara Falls, Ont.) who led the country with 60 total tackles, an average of 8.6 per game. Guelph also features one of the best secondary pairings in the league with defensive halfback Nick Parisotto (Guelph, Ont.) and free safety Tristan Doughlin (Toronto, Ont,) constantly on patrol. The duo combined for six of the Gryphons 13 interceptions this season, while Rush picked off a pair himself.
With a full season as the starter under his belt, quarterback James Roberts (Cambridge, Ont.) will direct the offence on Saturday afternoon as the Gryphons hope to bring the Yates Cup back to the University of Guelph for the first time since 1996. This will be the second Yates Cup appearance in as many years for Roberts, as he replaced injured quarterback Jazz Lindsey in last year's championship, going 17 for 29 for 183 yards in the 20-15 loss to McMaster.
In last year's semifinal, Roberts, like his counterpart Bone, was an injury replacement, entering the game for Lindsey after he was shaken up and was forced to leave in the first quarter. Roberts carved up a vulnerable Western defence, completing 12 of 21 attempts for 238 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnny Augustine (Welland, Ont.) was a beast this season in the Gryphons backfield, and if Saturday was any indication the third-year running back isn't slowing down any time soon. After a regular season in which he finished fifth in the conference averaging 101.8 yards per game, Augustine had his way with the Ravens in the semifinals, carrying the ball 35 times for 245 yards and two touchdowns.
The Gryphons possess several weapons on both sides of the ball that can leave the opposition reeling. But it might be returner Ryan Nieuwesteeg (Niagara Falls, Ont.) that has the potential to turn the game completely on its head. Nieuwesteeg returned 59 punts this season for a league leading 846 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while averaging 23.3 yards per kickoff return, fifth best in OUA.
If the weather in Guelph, Ont. last week was any indication, the sunny days of September are long gone and the elements could be a big factor on Saturday. But come rain, hail, sleet, snow or anything in between that shouldn't phase the kicking game of either team. Guelph's Gabriel Ferraro (Mississauga, Ont.) was a perfect 4-4 on Saturday, connecting on field goals from 22, 20, 30 and 18 yards out. Over in London, Mustangs kicker Ben Kelly (London, Ont.) was also flawless going 3-3 with his longest field goal coming from 35 yards out early in the 2nd quarter.
Saturday's game will be the first time since the 2007 season that the Gryphons and Mustangs meet in the Yates Cup. That year, the No. 6 seed Mustangs travelled to Guelph, Ont. to take on the No. 5 seed Gryphons in the 100th edition of the Yates Cup.
In that game, it was former Mustang and current Golden Hawk head coach Michael Faulds who completed 23 of 41 attempts for 390 yards and a touchdown in Western's 34-21 victory. The win capped off one of the most improbable turnarounds in OUA history as the Mustangs were 0-4 to start the season.
Former quarterback Justin Dunk was under centre for the Gryphons, completing 18 of 30 passes for 245 yards. Dunk, along with former Carleton Ravens quarterback Mark Lee, will be in the broadcast booth on Saturday with the call of the 108th Yates Cup, live on CHCH.
Western and Guelph have met each other in the Yates Cup five times throughout the years, with Western holding a slight 3-2 lead in the series. Out of Guelph's three Yates Cup victories, two of them have come against the Mustangs.
The Yates Cup champion will host the RSEQ representative, either Montreal or Laval, in the Mitchell Bowl on Nov. 21, with a trip to the Vanier Cup and a chance to play for the national championship on the line.
If you can't catch the action in person, the 108th Yates Cup, presented by Investors Group, is airing on CHCH and streaming live on OUA.tv, beginning with the pre-game show at 1:00 p.m. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:27 p.m.