21 and (Not) Over
Western Mustangs FootballGreg Campbell
It was not pretty, nor should it be, but good teams find ways to win close-knit games, and that is what happened Saturday afternoon at TD Stadium
It took until the third quarter for the Western Mustangs to assert their will, but once the freight train started going, it could not be stopped.
Greg Marshall’s side went on a 27-7 run in the second half, securing their fourth consecutive trip to the Yates Cup thanks to a 39-13 victory over the Carleton Ravens.
Playoff football comes down normally to three things. Defence, ball security, and he ability to run the ball.
Check off all three of those boxes for the defending Vanier Cup champions.
The league’s number one ranked defence in all major categories (scoring, total yards, rushing yards, and passing yards) allowed only 272 yards in the contest, while creating three turnovers. This was all done without starting free safety Daniel Valente Jr., who was sitting out of the contest due to a one-game suspension.
Ravens quarterback Michael Arruda completed just 16 of his 33 pass attempts, for 196 yards and three interceptions. Running back Nathan Carter had 86 yards on the ground, but only averaged 3.9 yards per rush on 22 attempts, while also hauling in six passes for 46 yards.
Phil Iloki led all Carleton players with seven receptions for 120 yards, but the majority of those yards came in the first half.
Linebacker Philippe Dion led the way with six tackles in the contest. Defensive end Deionte Knight played a major role in the win, with 3.5 tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble. McKenzie Ferguson, the Radio Western Player of the Game, had a pair of interceptions, manning the free safety spot in place of the aforementioned Valente Jr.. Bleska Kambama had the other interception off of Arruda.
A large reason for the Mustangs’ turnaround in the second half of game was their ability to run the ball down the throats of the Ravens.
Senior back Alex Taylor led the way, with 16 carries for 127 yards and a 7.9 yards per carry average. His teammate, Cedric Joseph, who led the OUA in rushing yards during the regular season, had a pair of majors to go along with 97 yards on the ground.
Senior quarterback Chris Merchant finished 17 of 30 through the air in the contest, good for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The rust of the bye week was clear though for the former Buffalo Bull product, as the timing was slightly off between he and his receivers, resulting in two interceptions.
Edmonton draft pick Harry McMaster led the receiving corps with four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. Cole Majoros was the other key player in the passing game, finishing with five catches for 59 yards.
The Mustangs look to break the U Sports record for consecutive wins (22) when they take on the Guelph Gryphons in the 111th Yates Cup at TD Stadium.
The title game is a rematch from 2015, when Guelph stunned the Mustangs with a 23-17 victory to capture the 108th Yates Cup.