BURLINGTON, Ont. - After two tough games on the road to open the season, the Queen's Gaels (0-2) will return home Saturday for the opening of the revitalized Richardson Stadium against their longtime rivals, the No. 5 ranked Western Mustangs (2-1).
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. from Richardson Stadium in Kingston, Ont. and will be broadcast live, coast-to-coast on City. Fans can also catch all the action on Saturday streaming live on OUA.tv.
The Gaels are led by third-year quarterback Nate Hobbs (Mississauga, Ont.) who is averaging 228 yards per game through just two games early in the season. Hobbs is coming off a game in which he went 20-34 for 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, with an aggressive Mustangs secondary coming to town on Saturday, Hobbs will need to find a way to minimize the turnovers as he has thrown five interceptions so far this year.
Hobbs' favourite target this season has been receiver Chris Osei-Kusi (Brampton, Ont.) who has 14 receptions for 144 yards. Coming off a big performance in Guelph and his first career OUA offensive touchdown, the second-year arts major has established himself as a major component of the Gaels offensive unit after seeing time on both defence and special teams in 2015.
With the departure of former Gaels running back Jesse Andrews, Jonah Pataki (Wallaceburg, Ont.) has stepped up as the featured back for Queen's. Pataki, who saw time as the starter a season ago when Andrews missed time due to injury, appeared in all 7 games for the Gaels, rushing for 378 yards and six touchdowns. Early on this season, the Wallaceburg, Ont. native is averaging 56 yards per game with one touchdown. Pataki, who also sees time returning kicks for the Gaels, leads the team averaging 131 all-purpose yards per game.
The Mustangs will ride into Richardson Stadium on Saturday looking to spoil the festivities while keeping pace atop the standings early on the regular season. The Mustangs are just one of seven teams heading into Week 4 currently tied for first place with four points. Western, along with No. 4 Carleton, No. 9 McMaster, Guelph and York sit with a 2-1 record, while No. 7 Laurier and No. 8 Ottawa are the only two remaining unbeaten teams at 2-0.
After a platoon at quarterback through the first couple weeks of the season, Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) appears to have potentially won the starters job heading into Saturday. Merchant, who transferred prior to this season from the University at Buffalo, went 16-18 for 258 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday's victory over the visiting Waterloo Warriors. In three games with Western, the medical sciences major has thrown for 506 yards and six touchdowns, which ranks him tied for second in OUA with Carleton's Jesse Mills.
Merchant's favourite target since joining the Mustangs has been fifth-year receiver George Johnson (London, Ont.), who has hauled in 14 catches for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The 6'3", 214 lbs receiver, who at one time also started for the Mustangs men's basketball team, is poised for a big season after he was drafted in the fourth round (29th overall) of the 2016 CFL Draft by the Montreal Alouettes.
Beyond Johnson, the Mustangs possess numerous weapons at receiver including rookie Brett Ellerman (Calgary, Alta.) and Harry McMaster (Niagara Falls, Ont.). The pair has combined for 17 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
While Western has several dangerous options through the air, unquestionably their most feared weapon is on the ground with third-year running back Alex Taylor (Winnipeg, Man.).
Coming off a season in which he finished third in OUA averaging 133.5 yards per game and second with 12 touchdowns, the 5'10", 202 lbs bruising back has picked up right where he left off. In three games this season, the Winnipeg, Man. native is averaging almost a first down per attempt at 9.1 yards to go along with five touchdowns. The Gaels, who have allowed 206.5 rushing yards against per game, will need to find a way to slow down Taylor if they hope to have the Richardson Stadium re-opening follow the script.
Despite their 0-2 record, the Gaels have been solid defensively, only allowing an average of 367.5 yards per game against, the third lowest mark in the conference. Against the pass, Queen's (161.0) and Ottawa (160.5) are in a virtual tie for first place. However, especially with Taylor coming to town, the Gaels will need to work on their run defence as they have allowed 206.5 yards against per game.
Fourth-year defensive lineman Zac Sauer (Ayr, Ont.) is having a breakout season with the Gaels, as through just two games he leads the team with 15.5 tackles. The 6'3", 236 lbs graduate from Southwood SS appears to be well on his way to surpassing his 33 tackles from a season ago.
Speaking of breakouts, Mustangs linebacker Phillipe Dion (Blainville, Que.) has been force to be reckoned with for Western. In just his second year with the team, Dion already has 19 tackles, which sits just 7.5 tackles back from his 2015 total with still five games remaining. Including Dion, the Mustangs have four players averaging four or more tackles per game, including defensive backs Malcolm Brown (London, Ont.) and Jesse McNair (London, Ont.), and linebacker Jean-Gabriel Poulin (St. Nicolas, Que.).
It will be a battle of rookie kickers on Saturday as Mustangs Marc Liegghio (Woodbridge, Ont.) and Gaels Nick Liberatore (Dartmouth, N.S.) go head-to-head. The pair has both connected on 75 percent of their field goal attempts this season and has not missed an extra point attempt. Liegghio holds a slight advantage punting averaging 35.5 yards compared to Liberatore's 32.2 yards.
With a $20 million renovation, the Richardson Stadium revitalization project offers improved sightlines and seating that is closer to the field of play to enhance the spectator experience. In addition, the stadium will feature a state-of-the-art Jumbotron scoreboard, bowl seating design with 8,500 seats, new washrooms, improved stadium and area lighting.
Pre-game there will be plenty of festivities for fans of all ages to enjoy including face painting, balloon art and live music. Official on-field pre-game ceremonies will begin at 12:30 p.m. and fans are encouraged to arrive early and find their seats.
The Quest for the Cup Campus Tour, fuelled by Pioneer, will also be on site at Richardson Stadium to promote OUA student-athletes and competitions with an interactive OUA booth featuring contests, games and prizes, along with displays and promotional materials.