BURLINGTON, Ont. – And then there were four.
The Yates Cup semifinals take place on Saturday with the No. 8 nationally ranked Carleton Ravens travelling to London, Ont. to take on the top seed No. 3 Western Mustangs, while in Waterloo, Ont. the No. 7 McMaster Marauders will battle the No. 5 Laurier Golden Hawks. The winners will advance to the 109th Yates Cup, while the losers will see their quest for the cup come to an end.
Kickoff for both games is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. from TD Stadium in London, Ont. and Laurier's University Stadium. Fans can catch all the action between the Marauders and Golden Hawks live across the province on CHCH, while Carleton-Western will be available to those locally on Rogers TV in London. Both semifinal games will also be streaming live on OUA.tv.
For those interested in listening to the games, McMaster-Laurier will be broadcast on Funny 820 Hamilton and 570 NEWS in the Waterloo region, with the Ravens and Mustangs is available on CJBK 1290 AM or CHRW 94.9 FM.
After a 7-1 regular season, the No. 3 nationally ranked Western Mustangs are the top seeded team in the Yates Cup playoffs and should they win on Saturday, would have home field advantage for the championship game next Saturday.
However, if the Mustangs mistakenly look past the Ravens this weekend, the error could prove costly in their pursuit of the 31st Yates Cup championship title in program. Carleton is the only team to hand the high powered Mustangs a loss during the regular season, as the Ravens shocked the then No. 4 ranked team in the nation 38-31 back in Week 2.
In the victory, Ravens quarterback Jesse Mills (Halifax, NS) threw for 341 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Jayde Rowe (Toronto, Ont.), who was making his home debut after transferring to Carleton prior to the season, exploded for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns as well.
Western will need to get off to a quicker start on Saturday if they hope to shut down a high flying Ravens team who are looking to advance to Yates Cup final for the first time since their rebirth.
In that game, Carleton jumped out to an early 24-0 lead before the Mustangs stampeded back into the game with 31 consecutive points of their own. However, the Ravens would even the score 31-31 with just under six minutes to go in the game before taking the lead for good on a 12-yard touchdown from Mills to Wilson Birch (Niagara Falls, Ont.) with 2:45 to play in the game.
The Ravens will be looking to ride an emotional 45-9 win over the crosstown rival uOttawa Gee-Gees last Saturday as they leave the nest and head to the "Forest City" for a rematch with the Mustangs.
Just as they did against the Mustangs, Carleton overwhelmed the Gee-Gees in the first half, scoring 17 unanswered points against uOttawa and carried a 27-3 lead into halftime. The Ravens picked up right where they left off putting up another 18 straight before the Gee-Gees scored late in the 4th quarter with the game already out of reach.
After splitting the duties under centre to open the season, quarterback Chris Merchant (Calgary, AB) took a firm grasp of the Mustangs reins in Week 3 and hasn't let go as the second-year medical sciences student-athlete led Western to six straight wins to close out the regular season. Merchant, who transferred from the University at Buffalo before the season, averaged 215 yards per game to go along with 14 touchdowns.
The Mustangs relied heavier on the run than they did a season ago and with running back Alex Taylor (Winnipeg, Man.) in the backfield, who can really blame them. Taylor carried the load this season for Western and averaged 123.4 yards per game, the second highest mark in the conference. The dynamic back also found the end zone 10 times to lead OUA, including a season high three scores on Oct. 15 against the Gee-Gees.
The No. 5 Laurier Golden Hawks turned some heads this season on their way to a 7-1 record and with their only loss of the season coming at the hands of the previously mentioned Mustangs, Laurier will be out for revenge as the road to their first Yates Cup since 2005 will likely run through London, Ont.
McMaster and Laurier did not play each other during the regular season so Saturday's semifinal will be the first meeting between the two sides since their OUA quarter-finals showdown in Hamilton a season ago.
In that game, the Golden Hawks upset the then No. 6 ranked Marauders 29-15, handing McMaster one of their earliest playoff exits in recent memory. The loss still weighs heavily on those Marauders players who were involved in the game and to return the favour to the Golden Hawks in front of their home crowd on Saturday would be sweet revenge.
Former Golden Hawks running back Dillon Campbell was the story in that one for Laurier, however, this time around the spotlight will be on Eric Guilitan (London, Ont.) after he finished the season averaging 105.1 yards per game and nine touchdowns, just one major behind Western's Taylor. Guiltinan was limited late in the season due to injury but a pair of second-year standouts, Levondre Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.) and Osayi Iginuan (Hamilton, Ont.), stepped up to carry the load for Laurier and all three could have a major roles to play on Saturday.
On the defensive side of the football, Saturday's showdown features the two top defences in the league as McMaster (10.9) and Laurier (15.8) finished first and second, respectively, in points allowed per game. The high flying Marauders secondary led OUA with 17 interceptions, while the aggressive Golden Hawks defence finished the year with 36 sacks in eight games.
With that in mind the Marauders will need to find a way to protect quarterback Asher Hastings (Regina, SK) or it could be a long day for the 2015 second-team all-star. A season after breaking several OUA and CIS records, Hastings finished fourth in the conference averaging 239.4 yards per game. Just a year removed from tossing 31 touchdown passes, the third year sociology major threw just 11 this season.
However, with the arsenal of receivers at his disposal, Hastings and the Marauders can put points on the board in a hurry. The McMaster receiving corps is led by fourth-year standout Danny Vandervoort (Barrie, Ont.), but it definitely doesn't end there, as the Marauders have one of the deepest groups in the province, if not the country.
In what could be his final season with the Marauders, Vandervoort, who earlier this year was named the No. 4 prospect eligible for the 2017 CFL Draft, finished the season in the top five in yards (78.9), yards per catch (18.6) and touchdowns (5).
The Marauders are making the trip to Waterloo, Ont. on Saturday coming off a narrow 17-11 quarterfinal win over the rival Guelph Gryphons in a rematch of the 107th Yates Cup.
McMaster found themselves playing from behind for most of the game until midway through the fourth quarter when Hastings connected with receiver Dan Petermann (Stoney Creek, Ont.) on an 8-yard touchdown pass. Rookie kicker Adam Preocanin (Burlington, Ont.) extended McMaster's lead to 17-11 with just over two minutes to play but the Gryphons did not go quietly into the night.
With under a minute to go Guelph marched 68 yards down the field before defensive back Keldyn Ahlstedt (Whitby, Ont.) made a game saving interception on goal line to seal the Marauders victory.
The Quest for the Cup Campus Tour, fuelled by Pioneer, will also be on site at University Stadium in Waterloo to promote OUA student-athletes and competitions with an interactive OUA booth featuring contests, games and prizes, along with displays and promotional materials.