LONDON, Ont. – The Western Mustangs were nothing short of dominant on Saturday afternoon, controlling both sides of the ball on their way to a 66-12 win over the Guelph Gryphons in the OUA Semifinals at TD Stadium.
"It was a complete team victory, but I've coached football for a long time and I don't think I've seen as dominate defensive performance as that game there," said Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall. "I've seen them, but not against good offences like Guelph. You know a good offensive line and shutting down the runs, shut the pass game down, it was as good a game as I've ever seen"
The win sends the Mustangs back to the Yates Cup, where they'll meet up with the Laurier Golden Hawks in a rematch of last year's OUA final on Saturday, November 11, at 1 p.m. in London.
While putting 66 points on the board may get the headlines, it was the Mustangs defence that stole the show on Saturday, limiting the Gryphons to just 74 yards passing and 69 yards rushing.
"Everyone came in with the mindset that this is our last game if we don't execute, and no one was ready for the season to end," said defensive lineman Mitchell Stadnyk. "We knew we had to do our jobs perfectly if we wanted to continue playing. We have bigger plans then this."
Just as he did last season, Cedric Joseph made an impact in the provincial semifinal, scoring four touchdowns in the contest for the second consecutive year. Joseph picked up three majors on short-yardage runs before going virtually untouched into the end zone on a 45-yard run for his final score of the afternoon.
"The first three were short yardage so I have to give credit to the offensive line, the fourth one was a little bit longer," said Joseph. "I just have to give it up to the offensive line for me, they had a pretty good game, it's really easy for use as skilled players when the offensive line does a really good job blocking upfront, to let us do our thing."
Chirs Merchant had another strong outing with 268 yards on 13-17 passing with one touchdown. His main outlets in the passing attack were Malik Besseghieur with 117 yards on four catches, and Harry McMaster with five catches and 79 yards receiving.
Marc Liegghio saw his field goal streak end on a 45-yard attempt on the Mustangs first drive but he still turned it into points on the board as a fumble by the Gryphons allowed Western to recover the ball on the one and set things up for Joseph to punch it in on the next play.
A conceded safety from the Gryphons made it 9-0 for Western as the Mustangs controlled the field possession throughout the frame.
Just as Western looked to be about extend their lead even further, Orion Edwards forced a fumble allowing Nick Parisotto to pick it up and take the ball back 102-yards for the score with just 90 seconds left in the first.
The Gryphons momentum was short lived however, as Fraser Sopik picked off a pass to kill Guelph's next drive. Joseph then put Western back on the board with a pair of short runs midway through the quarter.
After both Liegghio and Gabriel Ferraro traded field goals, the Mustangs struck again just before halftime as Merchant connected with McMaster on a 27-yard touchdown pass to give Western a 37-10 lead at the break.
The Mustangs continued to roll in the second half, with Liegghio scoring on field goals of 27 and 42 yards, while Merchant, Joseph, and Kevin John all ran in for touchdowns to give Western a 66-12 win.
With the semifinals now in the books the Mustangs will turn their attention to the Yates Cup, and a rematch with the Golden Hawks. While fans and supporters of both sides have been hoping for another showdown in the provincial final, the Mustangs are also looking forward for another contest with Laurier.
"I'm glad it's the Golden Hawks, there's no one I'd rather face," said Stadnyk. "They are a good football team, but we think that they're another team that think they have our number, and we need to prove to a lot of people that we are the best team in Ontario and we prove that every week."
The 110th Yates Cup is set for Saturday, November 11, at 1 p.m. at TD Stadium. Fans can tune in to all the action live on CHCH, OUA.tv, Radio Western 94.9 FM, and Newstalk 1290 CJBK.