There won't be a lack of storylines when two OUA heavyweights kickoff on Saturday afternoon in London for the OUA.tv Marquee Matchup Presented by Pioneer.
The McMaster Marauders (5-0) and Western Mustangs (4-0) have forged one of the best rivalries in OUA football over the past five years and rank fourth and third respectively in the CIS Top 10 this season.
Of course, sport's best rivalries aren't born out of regular season games – these teams have met in the playoffs every year dating back to 2010, splitting the four matchups. Last year it was Western coming out on top, defeating McMaster 32-3 in the semi-finals en route to the Yates Cup championship. Perhaps the most important of the four victories, though, belongs to McMaster, when the Marauders marched into London for the 2011 Yates Cup and rolled over the Mustangs 41-19. McMaster then went on to capture the Vanier Cup championship that has eluded Greg Marshall's talented Mustang squads.
No one's season will be coming to an end on Saturday, but for two of the best teams in the country, the matchup will be an excellent measuring stick to see what work needs to be done.
"The key word this week is 'learn'," said McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek. "We need to learn that we can compete and battle, and see what we can and can't do against Western. The Yates Cup is not going to be won in Week 6; we need to learn enough so that we can compete for it a month down the road."
For the Mustangs, who have come to treat winning the Yates Cup as an expectation rather than a goal, Saturday will also be looked at as a stepping stone in that process.
"It's important, but it's not a playoff game," said Marshall. "Whoever wins will have an advantage like home field and a bye in the playoffs; there are stakes, but ultimately it is not a playoff game, so you might hold some things back that you're saving for the playoffs."
McMaster will provide Western its first real test of the season; the Mustangs first four opponents have a combined record of 1-19 heading in to Week 6.
Statistically, when you take Western's opponents into consideration, the teams match up very evenly.
Both schools have passing attacks led by all-star caliber quarterbacks. Western, with Will Finch, is averaging 337.2 yards per game in the air, while McMaster, led by Marshall Ferguson, is averaging 325.2 yards per game. The teams rank 1-2 in OUA in passing yards per game.
On the ground, Western is averaging an eye-popping 381.2 rushing yards per game, but as Coach Marshall pointed out, Western's offence has been very heavy on the run due to many of its games being decided by halftime, which likely won't be the case this week.
McMaster has a revamped rushing attack led by Wayne Moore and Chris Pezzetta – who returned after separate ACL injuries caused him to miss two seasons – that is averaging almost 200 yards per game this season. The Marauders will need to establish the run against what Coach Ptaszek called "one of the best defensive lines in the country."
Western and McMaster both possess stingy defences as well; the teams have allowed the fewest points per game in OUA play, giving up just 7.5 and 13 points per game respectively.
The Western-McMaster matchups also have special meaning to Coach Marshall beyond what the games mean to the standings. Marshall coached the Marauders from 1997-2003, leading the team to four consecutive Yates Cup victories from 2000-2003 and called Hamilton home for a long time.
"I loved my time (at McMaster)," he said. "That's where our family grew up – our boys went to elementary school in Hamilton – those years I was with McMaster and then the Ti-Cats were very important. The thing about McMaster, is that the friends I made and coaches I worked with, a lot of them are still there, and a lot of the success we had there was due to them, so it's always fun to go against your friends and people you have tremendous respect for."
Western and McMaster have set the pace in OUA football this season, and Saturday could very well prove to be a preview for the Yates Cup game, so be sure to tune in to OUA.tv for this Marquee Matchup and the rest of the action from around the league! The game will also be airing live locally on Rogers London, Cable 14 in Hamilton and on Rogers Sports Plus.
Marquee Matchup By the Numbers
2 – Number of field goals needed by McMaster kicker Tyler Crapigna to break former Mustang Lirim Hajrullahu's career record of 77. Crapigna will have the chance to break the record on the very field where Hajrullahu had the majority of his success.
22 – Quarterback sacks for the Western Mustangs defence. The dominant pass rush will have its work cut out for it dealing with Marshall Ferguson and a potent Marauders offence.
2006 – The last time neither Western nor McMaster played in the Yates Cup. Ottawa defeated Laurier 32-14 that season.
5 – Interceptions in four starts for Western quarterback Will Finch. In eight games last season, he threw just six interceptions.