BURLINGTON, Ont. - Last season, the Ottawa Gee-Gees had one major obstacle to overcome in order to advance to the Yates Cup: the third-ranked McMaster Marauders. But McMaster proved too difficult to overcome, cutting Ottawa's season short.
The Gee-Gees will once again make their way to Hamilton, Ont. this weekend for the OUA Marquee Matchup and you can be sure they haven't forgot what happened the last time these two teams met in the "Steel City."
The Gee-Gees will arrive at Ron Joyce Stadium on Saturday looking for redemption after being knocked out of last year's OUA semifinal by McMaster, 42-31.
After a slow first quarter which saw McMaster jump out to an 18-0 lead, Ottawa fought their way back into the game and would go up 20-18 to start the second half thanks to a 32 yard touchdown pass from Derek Wendel to Tristan Bailey. Tied at 28 in the fourth quarter, the Marauders were able to pull away for good after a late touchdown was hauled in by Josh Vandeweerd, punching their ticket to the Yates Cup.
Earlier in the season, Ottawa played the role of David against the Goliath Marauders, knocking off McMaster 38-18, ending their chance of a perfect 8-0 regular season. Kicker Lewis Ward connected on five field goals on his way to an 18-point effort, while on the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Khadim Mbaye dominated with six tackles, four of them being for a loss, and three sacks. With the victory, the Gee-Gees also locked up their own playoffs spot, where they would advance past Windsor 46-29 in their quarter-final matchup, before falling to the Marauders in the aforementioned game.
Despite the rough playoff outcome for the Gee-Gees, head coach Jamie Barresi has been preaching that the biggest game for Ottawa is always the next one on their schedule.
"Some of the guys talk about [last year]" said Barresi. "But the main theme we've been going with is that whoever is up next is our main focus, whether it be [McMaster], or Carleton, or whoever. McMaster is a powerful group, who was one play away from taking it all last year. They have a lot of weapons, and are where every program wants to be right now."
Coming in and contributing as a first-year running back, Bryce Vieira emerged as a playmaker last year. In his two meetings with the Marauders last season, Vieira gained 369 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
Vieira hasn't shown any sign of slowing down this year, as he was named the OUA Offensive Player of the Week following his performance in his team's 41-17 win against Queen's this past weekend. Vieira finished the day with 17 rushes for 110 rushing yards and was just as dangerous catching the ball as he was rushing it, hauling in five receptions for 93 yards. Vieira finished the day with 210 all-purpose yards in the victory.
Fourth-year quarterback Derek Wendel had no problem finishing what Vieira started, finding pay dirt four times while throwing for an incredible 384 yards. Wendel is currently tied for first in OUA in passing yards per game with his Week 3 opponent McMaster's Asher Hastings.
This is Hastings first year starting at the helm of the Marauder offence, and so far the second-year quarterback hasn't disappointed. Hastings led his squad to a 55-33 win over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues during their Week 1 matchup, throwing for 384 yards and five touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns were snagged by third-year receiver Daniel Vandervoort on his way to OUA Offensive Player of the Week honours. Vandervoort's four touchdown receptions ties the single-game OUA record.
Meanwhile, running back Wayne Moore kept Toronto's defence honest by rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown, en route to McMaster's 473 yards of offence against the Varsity Blues.
Fans can expect a shootout when these two teams step on the field, as both Ottawa and McMaster boast highly efficient, well-rounded offences. In each of McMaster's seven trips to the red zone in Week 1, they were able to put points on the board, with five of those attempts resulting in touchdowns.
Ottawa marched the ball with similar ruthless efficiency against Queen's last week, collecting 29 first downs on their way to 556 yards of total offence. Both teams sit near the top of the league in terms of passing yards per game, with McMaster averaging 14.8 yards and Ottawa closely behind at 14.2 yards per completion.
McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek knows it will be a challenge to stop the Gee-Gees offence, especially after losing major pieces on defence. Linebacker Nick Shortill took his talents to Montreal, and the secondary lost two staples in Steven Ventresca and Joey Cupido. But Ptaszek is confident that he has the players who are able to step up and fill the void.
"Coach [Barresi] and his spread offense, when it hits on all cylinders, it's one of the most potent offences in the country," said Ptaszek. "They are a very explosive group. They are an OUA playoff team."
"You don't replace Hall of Famers" continued the coach. "I can't ask my young guys to be a Shortill, Ventresca, or Cupido."
"But we will have Robbie Yochim, who's a great short side corner and he will do a good job of locking down that side for us. In our linebacking core, names like Richardson, Heathcote, Munden, and Fitzsimons. These guys are seniors that have been in the program forever and can step up and each pick up a piece."
The position that should garner the most interest in this matchup is receiver, with both teams respective star wideouts poised to make big contributions. OUA first-team all-star Danny Vandervoort made a statement in his first game, averaging almost 17 yards a catch. Ottawa's Ian Stewart collected 113 yards against the Gaels, but failed to find the end zone, something you can be sure he will be eyeing in Hamilton this weekend. Vandervoort sits in second place for receiving yards this season, while Stewart holds down the fourth spot.
Catch all the action live on Saturday on OUA.tv and locally in the Hamilton area on Cable 14. Fans can also listen to the game on TSN Radio 1150.
OUA.tv Marquee Matchup By the Numbers
4 - Touchdowns hauled in by Danny Vandervoort last week against Toronto, tying an OUA single-game record.
384 - Yards thrown by both McMaster's Asher Hastings and Ottawa's Derek Wendel during their Week 1 games. Both quarterbacks currently hold the top spot in CIS for passing yards per game
33-4 - McMaster's home field record since the opening of Ron Joyce Stadium in September 2008.
7/7 - Red zone conversion rate for the Marauders in their Week 1 meeting with Toronto. Last season, the Marauders were tied with the Gee-Gees for fourth in red zone percentage, scoring on 91% of their trips.
42-31 - The score last time these two teams met. McMaster edged out Ottawa after a fourth quarter touchdown, which sent the Marauders on to the Yates Cup and sent the Gee-Gees home.