BURLINGTON, Ont. – For the second consecutive season, the No. 3 nationally ranked Western Mustangs and the No. 5 McMaster Marauders clash in the final weekend but this time around the stakes couldn't be higher.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. from TD Stadium in London, Ont. and fans can catch all the action on Saturday streaming live on OUA.tv. The game will also be broadcast live locally on Rogers TV in London and Cable 14 in Hamilton. You can also listen to the game on CJBK 1290 AM or CHRW 94.9 FM.
Last year, the Marauders and Mustangs met to close out the regular season with Western prevailing 46-24 to preserve an undefeated 8-0 record and the top seed for the playoffs. This time around, the two teams enter the final weekend with identical 6-1 records with Saturday's winner finishing first in the conference and laying claim to home field advantage throughout the postseason.
McMaster and Western enter Saturday riding the two longest winning streaks in the conference as winners of four and five straight games, respectively. Since being upset on the road in Week 2 by the now No. 6 ranked Carleton Ravens, the 'Stangs have stampeded over the opposition, outscoring them 265-86.
It was also a tough trip to Ottawa, Ont. earlier in the season for the Marauders as they were beat 30-8 by the uOttawa Gee-Gees. However, since then the Marauders have looked unstoppable and will make the trip to London, Ont. with first place aspirations.
A season after they shattered several OUA and CIS records, the high powered Mustangs one again lead the conference in several offensive categories, including points per game (53.4) and yards per game (595).
Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) grabbed the reigns of the Mustangs earlier this season and hasn't looked back. Merchant, who transferred to Western from the University at Buffalo prior to the start of the season, has been highly efficient, completing 67.2% of his attempts this season. Merchant also ranks second in the conference with 14 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions.
However, once again this year, the Mustangs have established themselves as a run first and ask questions later type of offence and who can blame them with running back Alex Taylor (Winnipeg, Man.) in the backfield. The shifty back is averaging 128 yards per game to go along 10 touchdowns to lead OUA.
When Merchant and the Mustangs do decide to air it out, there are several game changing options in the arsenal, beginning with fifth-year receiver George Johnson (London, Ont.). Johnson leads the team averaging four receptions per game, while his 73.1 yards per game ranks him tenth in the conference. Should the Marauders find a way to shut down Johnson, Harry McMaster (Niagara Falls, Ont.) and Brett Ellerman (Calgary, Alta.) are the most likely secondary options as the pair has combined for 649 yards and four touchdowns this year.
For the Marauders, quarterback Asher Hastings (Regina, SK) is quietly putting together a solid year. After making headlines last year when he broke both the OUA and CIS passing touchdown record, Hastings is averaging 242.4 yards passing per game to go along with 10 touchdown passes, the fifth highest mark in the conference.
Hastings has several weapons at his disposal, including his favourite target this season Dan Petermann (Stoney Creek, Ont.). The former OUA Rookie of the Year has 43 catches this season for 448 yards and a touchdown. However, the Marauders biggest threat continues to be fourth-year receiver Dan Vandervoort (Barrie, Ont.), who leads the conference averaging 22 yards per catch. Vandervoort leads the team with five touchdown receptions, which ranks him tied for third overall in OUA.
The Marauders have leaned a little heavier on the run than previous seasons with fourth-year running back Chris Pezzetta (Burlington, Ont.) carrying much of the load for McMaster. After a couple injury plagued seasons, Pezzetta is healthy and has rewarded the Marauders with an increase in carries. Pezetta, who is studying economics and geography, ranks fifth in several categories, including: yards per game (92.4) and yards per rush (6.2). He's coming off a performance last week that saw him rack up a career high 173 yards in a half against York, earning him the OUA Offensive Player of the Week honours.
Not only are the Marauders and Mustangs known for their abilities to put points on the board but also to keep them off it.
McMaster is allowing a stingy 9.7 points per game against to lead OUA, with Western (18.6) two spots back. A major reason the Marauders have been so successful defensively is their secondary which has picked off opposing quarterbacks a league high 15 times this season.
Defensive back Robbie Yochim (Kelowna, BC) is the team leader with 35 tackles and three interceptions. However, the Marauders have several ball hawks on the defensive side of the ball as nine different players have a pick this year.
In his fifth and final season with the Marauders, defensive lineman Mike Kashak (Courtice, Ont.) has been an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks all season long. Heading into Saturday's showdown with the Mustangs, Kashak needs just 1.5 sacks to break the OUA and CIS record held by former Marauder Ben D'Aguliar.
For Western, it is their ability to force fumbles which has been a game changer. The Mustangs are first in the conference with 13 fumble recoveries and second with four defensive touchdowns.
Linebackers Phillipe Dion (Blainville, Que.) and Jean-Gabriel Poulin (St. Nicolas, Que.) have wreaked havoc this year and with home field advantage in their grasp, fans can expect the pair to have a major impact on Saturday's game. In just his second season, Dion ranks sixth in the conference with 48.5 tackles, while Poulin's 18 assisted tackles rank him inside the top 15.
One of the most interesting matchups will be between a pair of rookie kickers, Western's Marc Liegghio (Woodbridge, Ont.) and McMaster's Adam Preocanin (Burlington, Ont.). Both kickers have converted 83% of their attempts this season with just one point separating the two. With 24 field goals on the season, Preocanin needs just three field goals on Saturday to surpass the single season record held by former Guelph Gryphons kicker Dan Ferraro.
The Quest for the Cup Campus Tour, fuelled by Pioneer, will also be on site at TD Stadium to promote OUA student-athletes and competitions with an interactive OUA booth featuring contests, games and prizes, along with displays and promotional materials.