OUA In The Huddle - Yates Cup Edition

OUA In The Huddle - Yates Cup Edition

The Yates Cup has been awarded 106 times and each one of those championship games comes with a myriad of story lines.

On Saturday, the trophy will be presented for the 107th time, and while the heroes of the game itself have yet to be identified, the tale of how the competing teams reached the finale has now been completed.

McMaster and Guelph have each found their way to the same destination using different road maps, but ultimately navigating the same route.

The two teams met in the opening week of the season. Afterward, many thought there would be a rematch, but most felt it would come in a semi-final game. Remember, Western was given the nod as the favourite to finish the regular season with the best record.

But it was not to be for the Mustangs.

Guelph eliminated Western with a 51-26 win at Alumni Stadium, despite falling behind early. Gryphons head coach Stu Lang watched his team overcome an early 9-0 deficit, then key injuries to quarterback Jazz Lindsey and receiver A'dre Fraser, to knock off the visitors.

When asked what he discovered about his team on Saturday the coach was fatherly with his reply.

"I learned how proud I was of them," said Lang.  "With Jazz going down early, then A'Dre. Western got up on us 9-0, but we didn't quit."

McMaster's semi-final win over Ottawa wasn't exactly a walk in the park either.

Ottawa led the game 28-27 early in the fourth quarter. It wasn't until the Marauders final drive, capped by a last-minute touchdown by Chris Pezzetta, that the game's outcome was not in doubt. The final score was 42-31.

Head coach Stefan Ptaszek was impressed by his team's never-say-die attitude.

"Our sideline was pretty resilient," explained Ptaszek. "More often than not our defence holds us in games until the offence gets going. It's good for our psyche to have the offence hold us in until our defence got going."

So the rematch is set.

Much has changed since that Labour Day meeting. Ptaszek admits his team has a different look.

"We've evolved in all areas," explained Ptaszek. "(Defensive coordinator Greg) Knox has an attacking defence in front of a group of fifth-year kids that all can get to the football ."

While McMaster's coach focused on the way his team has changed due to the veterans on the back end, Guelph's coach looked at the other end of the experience spectrum.

"Our rookies learning that they can play," said Lang of his team's maturity, pointing to one player specifically. "Nick Parisotto was sixth in the country in interceptions."

Lang then spoke about two of his key veterans.

"It looked like Jazz may have plateaued in year three," the coach said of his QB. "He was intent on showing he had more. Also, Rob Farquharson not getting drafted gave him something to prove."

'In The Huddle' asked both coaches what impresses them the most about their opponent. Lang, who lost his only appearance as a head coach in a Yates Cup final, started out by giving props to his counterpart, who is undefeated as a head coach in his two appearances in OUA championship games.

"I'm not sure I could name just one thing, but it starts with Stef," said Lang. "You go back to 2000 and they've won six Yates Cups. They have nine fifth-year players and you're going to do well when you have a large group of core fifth-year players."

Ptaszek was more specific about what impresses him the most about the Gryphons.

"Their special teams. Coach (Bill) Brown has them flying," said an obviously impressed coach. "They tilt the field on a regular basis. Also, their defence is one of the best units in the country."

As for playing at Ron Joyce Stadium this week, Ptaszek stressed the importance of home-field advantage.

"It's ginormous", said the coach. "The 13th man is big, but it's also the familiarity. Being close to home is important."

The Gryphons head coach echoed that sentiment.

"Football players are creatures of habit," explained Lang. "Road games are different, there's the bus ride, worrying whether you brought everything in case there's bad weather. It's just different."

Over the course of each conversation, both coaches seemed a little more businesslike than normal, understandable given the magnitude of the game. Ptaszek says it's time to "put the pedal to the metal", while Lang, as usual, talked how his team doesn't want success, it wants "sustained success."

Two different routes, two different approaches, but two teams fully deserving of their appearance in the final game of the OUA season.

Previous meeting: September 1st in Hamilton - McMaster 34, Guelph 27 (OT)

It would have been tough to start the season with a better game; two teams with visions of a Yates Cup, though both schools were ranked behind Western. Rob Farquharson opened the scoring with a 20-yard touchdown run, which helped the Gryphons build a 13-9 half-time lead. They'd increase the advantage to 24-9 late in the third before the Marauders started the comeback.

With two-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter, Marshall Ferguson hit Max Cameron with a 33-yard TD strike, then connected with Ben O'Connor for a two-point conversion, the second time they'd connect on a two-pointer in the quarter.

In overtime, McMaster got the ball first and Ferguson capped the drive with a nine-yard TD run to give his team its first lead of the day. Guelph would then get the ball and on first down, but Jazz Lindsey was called for intentional grounding. The Gryphs threw the ball twice more, but each attempt fell incomplete, giving the home team an impressive come-from-behind victory.

Ferguson threw for over 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Farquharson finished with 143 yards on the ground. A'Dre Fraser was the only receiver on either team to break the 100-yard mark, finishing with six catches for 103 yards.

The O-Zone: This season felt a little different. There were some incredible games, spectacular performances and tremendous drama. That said, as exhilarating as the positives were, the negatives were equally draining. Blowouts, forfeitures and injuries were talked about as much as the memorable plays and nail-biting games.

It also seemed to end abruptly. The season didn't seem longer or shorter than normal, but the Yates Cup seemed to creep up incredibly quickly. Good luck to both teams and here's hoping for an entertaining finale.

As this is the final column of the season there are several thank yous to be handed out. To the head coaches around the league, thank you for your cooperation. Talking with the media can be the least-favourite part of the job. I enjoyed every conversation with each of you.

To Bryan Crawford, OUA Director of Operations, thanks for having me back. I know a couple of the columns were not your favourites, but thanks for giving me the freedom to talk about the issues I felt were important to broach.

Matthew Walker and Julian Mei had the thankless job of editing this mess, er, column on a weekly basis. Thankless, that is, until now. It was also Matt's idea to come up with a weekly OUA Power Rankings. It was a fantastic way to initiate more discussion about the league. Well done.

Mostly, thanks to those of you who read this column. The sport is a passion of mine that I wish was shared by more people. That said, it never ceases to amaze me how many times someone has mentioned to me that they read this space on a weekly basis.

Thank you for your appreciation of this entertaining level of football and most of all, no matter what your rooting interest is, enjoy Saturday's game. The players, coaches and support staff have worked incredibly hard to find themselves in this position.

Cheers.

Mike Hogan's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ontario University Athletics.

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