"How is Will?"
When a question concerning the health of the team's quarterback begins an interview between columnist and coach, that's not a good sign. It is, however, the way the conversation began with Western head coach Greg Marshall with regard to the wellbeing of Will Finch, the Mustangs starting signal caller.
Finch was injured in last week's game against Windsor. He was hit in the head and subsequently remained down on the field for over ten minutes before being strapped on a board and carted away with what appeared to be a concussion, his second of the season.
"He's good," said Marshall, sounding more like a parent than coach. "He's feeling better, his appetite is back, but he's not going to class."
Needless to say Finch's season is likely over, no matter how far Western progresses in the playoffs, which begin this weekend with a game against Laurier.
So now as the coach flips the keys to the Mustangs offence to Stevenson Bone, one must look at the irony of this move.
Finch was considered the next big thing when he was recruited out of Nelson High School in Burlington. He makes way for a player who's dad was a household name for his playing days at Western, as well as his post-career fight with the CFL to get a fair chance to play quarterback in the league. He felt he was discriminated against because he was Canadian. The Ontario Human Rights Commission agreed.
It is with far less fanfare that his son prepares for his first OUA playoff start.
"Right now we're getting Stevenson ready to play," Marshall told 'In The Huddle'. "He's taking snaps and he's not nervous at all."
The magnitude of the game may be unfamiliar territory to Bone, but the opponent is not. The third-year QB started against the Hawks just three weeks ago, during Finch's previous injury. Bone lit up Laurier for 285 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while rushing for 86 yards and another score. Western won the game 61-20.
It was an eye-opening performance for many OUA observers, with even Marshall himself admitting he wasn't expecting some of what Bone did.
"The thing that surprised me," reflected the head coach, "is that he made so few mistakes and bad decisions. Laurier was bringing pressure and he was very composed."
It was a good night for the Mustangs in a season that hasn't exactly turned out as planned.
Sure, they were 6-2 this season. They beat the teams they were supposed to, but the Finch injury isn't the first. Valuable and versatile receiver Matt Uren was injured in the first quarter of the McMaster game and hasn't played since. Kalvin Johnson and Jesse McNair's injuries have also hurt the Mustangs in the secondary.
And there were the losses.
In Week Six, Western and McMaster went back and forth, with the lead changing hands eight times, before the Marauders prevailed 32-29 on a last-minute touchdown.
Not to be outdone, Guelph hosted the Mustangs in the penultimate game of the regular season and surpassed the McMaster game in terms of sheer excitement. This time there were five lead changes and a last-second field goal decided the 49-46 win by the Gryphons.
Two tests against the other elite teams in the OUA, two heart-stopping losses. Very few people thought that the Mustangs would be playing in the first week of the playoffs as this team had first-round bye written all over it.
"It's been one those years where everything goes sideways on you," admitted Marshall, pointing primarily to the injuries.
The calendar turns to November on Saturday and the Mustangs have the opportunity to turn the page and get a fresh start. That said, so does Laurier. The Hawks have a bad taste in their mouth after the blowout loss earlier this month, but, oh yes, they also have Dillon Campbell.
Campbell dominated the CIS rushing race this season, finishing with 1,458 yards (nobody else has rushed for a thousand with one week left in Quebec and Canada West). Western 'held' Campbell to 111 yards rushing - his lowest output of the season - but he added 87 more receiving yards.
"He's powerful, he's explosive, he catches the ball well," said Marshall, a Hec Crighton-winning running back himself. "If you give him just a crack he turns it into big yards in a hurry."
Run defence is a strength of the Mustangs. As a group they allowed only 83 yards against per game, second only to Laval. If they can contain Campbell they should beat Laurier. If they don't, the game could go "sideways" on them.
And we've seen that before.
At the bottom of this page there's a disclaimer; "Mike Hogan's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ontario University Athletics."
I'm playing a hunch this is one of those times.
I admit freely and openly that I love OUA football. It's the level of the sport that opened my eyes to how incredible the game is. I've been watching CIS football since the very early 70s and have been to games from Halifax to Regina. The thing I'm criticized for the most by Toronto radio listeners is that I'm too much in love with Canadian football and talk about it more than local interest calls for.
To rework an old Gilbert Gotfried line, if loving Canadian football is a crime then I should be on death row.
To me it's incredibly frustrating - maybe more so because I'm the play-by-play voice for a CFL team in a city that, for a myriad of reasons, doesn't seem to care about three-down football at any level - when I see decisions that make little to no sense.
One of those head scratchers happened last weekend.
If you're reading this article I can guarantee you that at some point you've been to a game, or watched online, and said "Why aren't more people here?"
The point being that in my opinion everything should be done by schools with a common goal in mind; To spread the gospel of how sensational this game is and make it easy for people to want to return.
Under no circumstance should a decision be made to alienate fans.
The Carleton Ravens program is two years old and over the last week acted like a child of the same age; Immature, petulant and selfish.
If you missed the story, here it is in a nutshell - with kudos to stories by Neate Sager and Claude Scilley - both of whom love OUA football and have for years.
Carleton banned the Queen's band from bringing musical instruments to last week's game.
I'm not making that up because I couldn't make that up.
Despite traveling across the country supporting its team for over a century, the band members were told they would not be permitted to bring in their instruments. The band has played at Vanier Cups, Grey Cups, other team's homecoming games, the Calgary Stampede, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston.
Just not at Carleton.
God forbid there be entertainment at a football game.
A quote in Sager's column for Yahoo.com says the Ravens were concerned that the band was too big and that they were worried about losing home-field advantage.
I understand that concept, but the Queen's band does not perform while the game is underway. There is no constant barrage of tubas while the opposing team is trying to call a play. The band plays when asked, or after a Gaels touchdown.
Even if your team is playing Queen's, seeing the 'Oil Thigh' performed with the band, especially at a game when the student side at Richardson Stadium is full, is an amazingly cool thing to witness.
It's an iconic part of the history of OUA and even better it adds something else to a game: fun.
There, I said it. Believe it or not these games are supposed to be fun.
The Queen's Band knows that. They found out that they could bring vuvuzelas to the game, so they did. They had fun with the situation.
That made a whole lot more sense than letting them bring in instruments, didn't it?
The Ravens rapid rise from the ashes was perhaps the best feel-good story of the 2014 season. The actions of last week left an enormous blemish on that warm feeling.
Perhaps the true winner on this day was karma. While Carleton tried to mute the Queen's band, it was the Gaels that silenced the Ravens playoff hopes.
Mike Hogan's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ontario University Athletics.