No. 2 Western hosts No. 3 Queen's in battle of undefeated teams on Sportsnet 360

No. 2 Western hosts No. 3 Queen's in battle of undefeated teams on Sportsnet 360
HAMILTON, Ont. – After two seasons of McMaster rule, the maroon skies appear to be clearing up over Ontario. As those skies disperse, purple rain has blown in from the west, and it’s thundering down on the OUA. The No. 2 Western Mustangs are a perfect 5-0, averaging 61 points per game and have asserted their will on the likes of Ottawa, No. 9 McMaster and Carleton. Likely the last team standing between them and regular season perfection is Canada’s third ranked team and their archrival, the Queen’s Gaels. The battle for OUA supremacy will be aired from TD Stadium Saturday at 1 p.m. on Sportsnet U: OUA Saturday football live on Sportsnet 360 and is presented by Wilson Sports Equipment of Canada.    

At 4-0, Queen’s is a dangerous matchup for any team in the OUA. Their wins haven’t been as spectacular or offensive as Western’s – aside from a 52-1 beatdown on York – but they’ve grinded out wins over McMaster, Ottawa and Windsor. The Queen’s defence has allowed the second fewest pass yards in the league (1049) against Marshall Ferguson, Aaron Colbon and Austin Kennedy. The backfield suffocated York and only conceded 62 passing yards in 31:24 of possession.

This game is shaping up to be a classic battle of dynamic, high-flying offence against a rock solid, unrelenting defence. It’s a measuring stick for both teams with home field advantage through the playoffs potentially on the line. Considering that TD Stadium is turf and Richardson Stadium is grass, Queen’s having home field in November would be a true advantage.

“There are always rewards for success,” Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan. “One of the rewards is being at home at the end of the season and we understand that.”

That wasn’t lost on Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall, who wants to take preemptive measures to avoid a long trip to Kingston.

The game is also the centerpiece of Western’s 100th Anniversary of Athletics Homecoming – as if these rivals needed any extra motivation.

The Mustangs offence enters the game with a league leading 661 yards per game and quarterback Will Finch (Burlington, Ont.) is the man in the saddle. The highly touted pivot has delivered a spectacular season thus far throwing for 1884 yards and 15 touchdowns. Finch is the country’s most efficient quarterback, boasting a 74% completion rate and is the only under centre to eclipse the 70% mark. He is eight yards off the pace for CIS passing leader (Colbon has 1892), despite throwing 53 fewer attempts. These are ridiculous numbers, especially for a second-year QB.

The key for Finch this week is how he matches up against Pat Tracey, Queen’s defensive coordinator and the consensus top DC in the league. Tracey, who has 109 career CIS wins as a defensive coordinator, has coached against Marshall for over two decades. Tracey and Marshall know each other inside and out.

“(Pat’s) not afraid to change things up, to insert different players into different positions to get the matchups he wants,” Marshall said. “We have our offence, we know what we do well, but we have to see what kind of things they take away from us.”

“They are very well coached,” he added. “They are going to be very well-prepared and his players are very smart. They work their system well and on top of that, they are very athletic.”

Finch’s counterpart, Queen’s QB Billy McPhee (Burlington, Ont.), has led his team to four wins and is averaging 256 yards per game. It’s a good number, but a far cry from Finch’s 376. McPhee tends to stretch the field for the long pass and his 54% completion rate isn’t a comforting number for Queen’s fans. He’s on pace to break 2,000 yards, but his attempts and completions are down from his 2012 numbers. Last year, McPhee threw nine interceptions, but through four games he’s only thrown two. His accuracy needs to be spot on, as the Mustangs are tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions. Of course, they are tied with Queen’s.

“For our defence, it’s a really good challenge,” Marshall said. “If we are going to be a great football team, we have to be more consistent on defence. Queen’s will certainly provide that challenge for us this weekend.”

There’s a natural relationship between strong passing numbers and strong receiving numbers, so it is no surprise that the OUA’s top two receivers are purple clad. Brian Marshall (London, Ont.) and George Johnson (London, Ont.) are number one and two on the list and are the only receivers averaging over 100 yards per game. Marshall has 614 yards with seven touchdowns, while Johnson has collected 575 yards and four scores. In total, five Mustangs have over 130 receiving yards.

Giovanni Aprile (Scarborough, Ont.) is McPhee’s top target, racking up 328 yards and three touchdowns this season, while Scott Macdonnell (Montreal, Que.) and Justin Chapdelaine (Abbotsford, B.C.) have 190 and 180 yards respectively. All fine football players, but with Westerns skill and depth, they hold the advantage once the ball is in the air.

An ankle injury to Western running back Garrett Sanvido (Vancouver, B.C.) gives the running advantage to Queen’s. Second-team All-Canadian Ryan Granberg (Sherwood Park, Alta.) and Jesse Andrews (Arnprior, Ont.) have split the duties for the Gaels, but have combined for 425 yards and four scores through four games. Granberg’s touches (and yards) are down, but the number two running back from last season is explosive, strong and always a threat with the rock.

“In previous years he got the majority of touches here and by the time we got to the end of the year, he was pretty beaten up,” Sheahan said. “In the biggest games of the year, when you need him at his best, he may not be physically. We have a couple of other ball carriers who are sharing the load with him and it makes us a better overall team, even if his numbers are down.”

Expect Yannick Harou (Gatineau, Que.) to run the ball for Western, but anyone who rushes the ball – for either side – should expect to be hit, and hit hard.

All-star linebacker Sam Sabourin (Stittsville, Ont.) will line up for the Gaels, along with Justin Baronaitis (Rexdale, Ont.) and Matt Webster (Calgary, Alta.). Sabourin, listed at 6’2” 225lbs leads the team with 20.5 tackles to Baronaitis’ 20, but the defensive back has 18 solo tackles. As a defensive corps, the Gaels have 17 sacks through four games and have allowed 126 yards per game.

Western counters with Beau Landry (Kitchener, Ont.) and Pawel Kruba (Windsor, Ont.), a hard-hitting athletic duo. Landry’s numbers are as intimidating as Kruba’s beard, as Landry has 34 tackles, including 27 solo takedowns. Kruba is second on the team with 25 tackles.

The top two teams in the league also feature the top two kickers. Western’s Lirim Hajrullahu (St. Catharines, Ont.) and Queen’s Dillon Wamsley (London, Ont.) lead the league in total points. Hajrullahu has 81 points through five games, (16 per game) and is sitting at 373 career points, only 37 shy of Neil Lumsden’s CIS all-time record of 410, set in 1975.

Wamsley is also having a strong season, averaging 13.5 points per game, 54 total. Wamsley, a London native, will play in front his parents (who are professors at Western) and an old coach. Wamsley attended summer football camps and worked with Hajrullahu. It could easily come down to the student versus the teacher if this game is close late.

Tim Micallef and Mike Morreale have the call at 1 p.m. from TD Stadium. If there’s one game to watch this season, it’s hard to argue against two undefeated teams playing the next chapter in the league’s most storied rivalry. If both teams keep up their pace, Saturday could be a Yates Cup preview. Tune in to Sportsnet U: OUA Saturday football, live on Sportsnet 360 at 1 p.m. for all of the live action, presented by Wilson Sports Equipment of Canada.

WESTERN LEADERS

Passing

Will Finch
119 completions, 161 attempts, 1884 yards, 15 touchdowns

Blake Huggins
9 completions, 15 attempts, 171 yards, 1 touchdown

Rushing

Garret Sanvido
66 carries, 498 yards, 5 touchdowns

Adam Sinclair
29 carries, 246 yards, 4 touchdowns

Receiving

Brian Marshall
27 catches, 614 yards, 7 touchdowns

George Johnson
33 catches, 575 yards, 4 touchdowns

Defence

Beau Landry
34 tackles, 27 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries

Pawel Kruba
25 tackles, 20 solo tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Sean Blake
21 tackles, 16 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble

QUEEN’S LEADERS

Passing

Billy McPhee
57 completions, 105 attempts, 1027 yards, 7 touchdowns

Ryan Mitchell
1 completion, 4 attempts, 12 yards

Rushing

Ryan Granberg
41 carries, 216 yards, 2 touchdowns

Jesse Andrews
34 carries, 209 yards, 2 touchdowns

Receiving

Giovanni Aprile
11 catches, 328 yards, 3 touchdowns

Scott MacDonnell
12 catches, 190 yards, 1 touchdown

Defence

Sam Sabourin
20.5 tackles, 16 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble

Justin Baronaitis
20 tackles, 18 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery

Matt Webster
16.5 tackles, 15 solo tackles, 2 interceptions

OTHER BROADCAST GAMES THIS WEEK

Rogers – Waterloo Region
Sat. Sept. 28 @ 1 p.m. – OUA Football/Windsor @ Laurier TAPE DELAY (TBD)
 
 
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