In The Huddle: Winner take all

Photo by Rick Zazulak
Photo by Rick Zazulak

Burlington, Ont. (by Mike Hogan) - Over the course of the season In The Huddle has written several thousand words keeping you up to speed on what’s happening in the OUA. That said, words from the media pale in comparison to words from those closest to the game.

To prepare you for this week’s conference championship, this space asked head coaches Greg Marshall of Western and Stefan Ptaszek of McMaster to look at the game by talking, for the most part, about their opponents.

Q: Which part of your team has improved the most since August?

Marshall: That’s a good question. I think in part we went through such an evolution. We lost six or seven starters (to graduation), then we lost five or six to injury. Last week we were as healthy as we’ve been and that was probably our best game defensively. We’re healthy, we got two linebackers back last week, we got two secondary members back last week. So our defence as a whole, but our offensive line has also played much better.

Ptaszek: That’s a great question. I’d have to say our offensive line. We lost three starters early in the season and we had to rally. We are significantly better. We rushed for 270 yards against Waterloo.

Q: What impresses you the most about your opponent?

Ptaszek: Their quarterback play is spectacular. Chris (Merchant) finds a way to make everything work. He keeps plays alive and his eyes are always downfield. He’s also as tough as anyone in the OUA.

Marshall: Their defence. What they do and how they scheme you and prepare their guys. They have a really good secondary. They cover down really well and come up with big pressures.

Q: Which area of your opponent’s game doesn’t get the respect it deserves?

Ptaszek: Their defensive line was pretty banged up, and the kids that had to step up and hold the fort stepped up and held the fort. They have eight kids that can play and what they do is pretty simple, but I’ve told our players that just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy.

Marshall: Probably their defensive line. They play hard. As a defence, they get a lot of interceptions and have a good veteran secondary, but a lot of that is predicated on their front playing at such a high level. Their force unit has done a great job getting pressure. Their linebackers also play well.

Q: Which game against this week’s opponent is your most memorable, either as a player or as a coach?

Marshall: If we were going to talk about my playing days that would be going back a long way (laughs). As a coach, we’ve had a lot of good games against Mac over the years, but probably the 2011 Yates Cup stands out. We beat them by a ton during the regular season, but then we started getting hurt. Donnie (his son, the Mustangs starting QB) went down and they beat us in the Yates Cup and went on to win the Vanier. That one still hurts.

Ptaszek: In my senior season (at Laurier in 1994) we lost in double OT 38-36. That team went on to win the Vanier Cup that year. The losses always stick with you longer than the wins.

Q: What is the best attribute of your opposing coach?

Ptaszek: Greg builds a quality organization from top to bottom. He surrounds himself with quality people both on and off the field. What’s underestimated is how sharp his offensive mind is. He makes fantastic in-game adjustments and his record certainly speaks for itself.

Marshall: Stef is a really, really, good man. McMaster is still a very special place to me, I spent a lot of time over there, and I see a man with a great deal of integrity. He’s a great coach, he really knows the passing game and his teams are always fundamentally sound, but he looks after those kids. If I were to pick a guy to lead a program I care about a great deal, it would probably be him.

The two coaches will go head-to-head on Saturday. It’s a 1:00 kickoff on CHCH.

THE O-ZONE:

This is the final In The Huddle of the season, so if I may, I’d like to say thank you to some people who make this happen. Thank you Gord Grace. The OUA’s CEO was nice enough to invite me back again this season, much appreciated sir. Thank you to Chris Verlaan, the OUA’s Communications and Digital Manager. Chris am the editter who maykes the currecshuns every weak. Editing this article may be the toughest part of his job. Words can’t accurately express how thankful and indebted I am to the head coaches in this conference. Being pestered for several minutes during training camp for the OUA Uncovered previews, then making time for me during the season is probably the last thing they want to do in such a time-sensitive job, but granting me access makes this column a pretty good conduit between OUA teams and the reader. That leads me to the final thank you, and that’s to those of you who read this space on a regular basis. It never ceases to amaze me when a coach, player, or fan comes up and mentions something they read in an article. Thank you all for spending some time here, I hope you enjoyed reading the columns as much as I had writing them. The fundraising dinners aren’t too far away, but first there’s a championship trophy to lift on Saturday, then hopefully two more for the team that wins the Yates Cup. Cheers.

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