"Finally" OUA In The Huddle with Mike Hogan - 108th Yates Cup

"Finally" OUA In The Huddle with Mike Hogan - 108th Yates Cup

It's the game we've waited all season to see.

For McMaster, or more recently Carleton and Laurier, you were hoping the meeting would have come in the regular season. If you don't have a horse in the race and just wanted to see the OUA's top two teams go head to head, you finally have your wish.

Undefeated Western faces 7-1 Guelph for the 108th Yates Cup, a matchup that seemed destined to happen.

For the Mustangs the game is big. They've won the Yates Cup in recent memory, but it's been since 1994 when they beat Saskatchewan 50-40 in overtime that the Mustangs have won the national title. Head coach Greg Marshall has been incredibly successful in OUA, but has yet to win a Vanier Cup as a head coach, despite having dominant teams at both McMaster and Western.

For the Gryphons, the game is equally important, but for different reasons. They haven't won a conference title since 1996. To do that, they'll have to beat a Mustangs team that at times has looked unbeatable. It should come as no surprise that Guelph head coach Stu Lang isn't shocked by the matchup in the finale.

"There was a lot of talk that this may happen," said Lang.' "We would talk to coaches on the road during recruiting trips and everyone thought we would both end up 8-0. Western was blowing everyone out, so we figured we might finish second anyway."

Western lived up to its end of that deal, finishing with an unblemished record. The Gryphons would lose just once, dropping a 23-15 decision at Queen's, Lang's alma mater.

The story line has changed somewhat in the last week. Instead of the focus being on the meeting of the two Goliaths of the OUA, it's switched to the health of Western QB Will Finch. He left Saturday's game against Laurier with a head injury, horrible news at the best of times, but magnified because Finch suffered a pair of concussions a year ago.

Long-time OUA football chronicler Morris Dalla Costa of the London Free Press reported earlier this week that according to Coach Marshall, Finch experienced headaches on Sunday and Monday. Given Finch's history it would lead one to believe that he won't be playing this week. But Lang says that the Gryphons are of the mindset that the Burlington native will be behind centre on Saturday.

"We're prepping as if Will is playing.  If he can, he will," confessed the coach. "He's passionate, he's committed to being a better player. He's one of the best quarterbacks in what is such an important position."

The Gryphons advanced to the championship game with a 33-21 win over Carleton. It was an old-school playoff game with both teams emphasizing strong defensive play and a commitment to running the ball. The 'Gryphs top player that afternoon was running back Johnny Augustine. The Welland, Ont. native put on a show, carrying the ball 35 times for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"It's nice to know we have a great running game," said a very happy head coach. "Our o-line really stepped it up. To see Johnny Augustine rush for 245 yards was a great sign."

Guelph has come close to winning a Yates Cup, but hasn't been able to close the deal. They've been a great regular-season team for the last handful of years, but have suffered painful playoff losses in the last three seasons to Queen's, and twice to McMaster. While never wanting to talk about himself, Lang told 'In The Huddle' that for him personally, a win Saturday would be, in the parlance of Donald Trump, huge.

"It'll mean a lot," admitted the coach. "We've put a lot into winning the Yates Cup. For us it's the thing. Guelph was never better than 6-2, now we've gone 7-1 for four straight years."

Lang took a moment to talk about how a small school like Guelph has been able to move into the upper echelon of the conference, and mentioned how they've specifically worked on the mental aspect of the game.

"We've talked to players about playing with hearts and minds," explained Lang. "We had a young team with a lot a heart and passion and weren't expected to win. When you're expected to win you have to play with your mind."

Lang spoke of his time in the CFL with Edmonton, where as a receiver he won five Grey Cup rings.

"With the Eskimos our success was more mental than anything," continued the coach. "Here we're starting to move from just playing with heart to the mental aspect of the game."

If the Gryphons are going to beat the Mustangs at Western, they'll have to combine physical and mental skills. At times Guelph has made mental mistakes which have resulted in turnovers and needless penalties.

If they do that on Saturday, the Mustangs will in all likelihood make them pay. With or without Finch, they're still a very good football team.

Fans can't wait for the kickoff.

The O-zone: For many reasons it will be a shame if Finch can't play on Saturday. There are several reasons why this story hits home on a personal level. I've had a couple of family members have to give up the sport due to concussions. My stepson still suffers from headaches three years after being injured. My ex's son played with Will in house league, with the Nelson Lords and with the Burlington Stampeders, he too left the game due to multiple concussions.

I first saw Will play when he was nine years old and there was always something special about him. He was a unique talent from a young age and it's been a lot of fun to follow his career. I hope he's deemed healthy enough to continue playing. If the right thing to do is to shut it down, as painful as that decision will be, I hope he remains involved in the sport as a coach. He's put a lot of hard work into progressing this far.

It's the final 'In The Huddle' of the season. Again, a big thank you to the coaches around the league for their contributions to the column. A bigger thank you to Matt Walker, Communications and New Media Coordinator at the OUA office for editing this mess on a weekly basis.

The biggest thank you is reserved for Bryan Crawford. It was 'Crawdaddy's' initiative that led to this column and the 'Uncovered' football preview. Bryan is leaving his post as the OUA Director of Operations to work as Senior Director of Operations at Canada Basketball.

I watched Bryan as a talented running back at Queen's, then got to know him as he played seven seasons for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts, the team I do the play-by-play for. He's a bright man who is wildly passionate about OUA sport.

Best of luck Bryan, and thanks.

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