Only one team can claim to have beaten the McMaster Marauders this season, and that team will be heading to Hamilton this Saturday for the OUA Semifinal.
Needing a win on the final day of the season to clinch a playoff berth, the Gee-Gees successfully defended home turf and defeated the Marauders 38-18, spoiling the team's undefeated season.
However, with home-field advantage through the playoffs and a first-round bye already locked up, McMaster rested several starters in the second half including starting quarterback Marshall Ferguson. As a result, Ottawa pulled away scoring 17 third-quarter points after going into the half trailing 12-11.
McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek is not overlooking the loss, though.
"They beat us flat out," he said. "I don't care who was in the game, in the first half the score was flattering to us at 12-11 and we were lucky to be in the game. They played us tough start to finish. We did take a few guys out in the second half, but the bottom line is they were the better football team for 60 minutes. Our team learned that even if we fray a little bit we're in trouble, and it was a valuable lesson for the locker room."
In the win against McMaster, Ottawa's star quarterback Derek Wendel was held to just 11 completions for 200 yards, one touchdown, and one interception on 26 passing attempts. OUA's fourth leading passer averaged 271 yards per game this season, but will need to be much sharper against a ball-hawking Marauder's defence that tied for second in OUA with 11 interceptions and is coming into the game well-prepared and well-rested.
"(The Marauders secondary) is very good, so Derek really needs to be focused," said Ottawa head coach Jamie Barresi. "I put a lot of pressure on him to perform and have high expectations for him. We need him to step up against a very good defence."
Wendel looked much better in Ottawa's dominating 46-29 road win in the quarter-finals against Windsor when he threw for 262 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. His no.1 target that afternoon was Ian Stewart, who led the way with 11 catches, 107 yards and a touchdown. He will have to find a way to create separation against a tough group of Maruaders defensive backs.
Ferguson has arguably the best core of receivers in the league at his disposal.
Daniel Vandervoort, Max Cameron, and Daniel Petermann led the way respectively with 683, 490, and 468 receiving yards. It is virtually impossible to defensively scheme a way to stop all three, but Ottawa will need to limit big plays and force Ferguson to go to his second and third reads.
The X-factor Saturday afternoon will be the run game.
Neither team is thought of as a run-first offence, but both boast capable backs able to shake the outcome of a game.
For Ottawa, Bryce Vieira led the way against Windsor with 98 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. He ran for 589 yards in the regular season (seventh in the league), averaging 7.9 yards per carry
Defensively, the Gee-Gees will need OUA's sack leader Ettore Lattanzio to put pressure on Ferguson. He recorded a sack and two tackles for a loss in the regular season win against the Marauders.
The semi-final meeting will be a rematch of last year's OUA quarter-final, a game McMaster dominated in a 41-7 win. However, Coach Barresi pointed to last season as a great learning experience, and something valuable to build on for this year's playoff run.
The Gee-Gees and the Marauders have met in the playoffs four times since the beginning of the century, with McMaster winning three of the four matchups. Ottawa's last playoff win against the Marauders came in the 2000 season when the Gee-Gees were still a member of the RSEQ conference. The two teams met in the CIS semi-final bowl game that season, with Ottawa coming out on top 20-15 en route to capturing the school's second Vanier Cup. Ottawa returned to OUA the following season and lost to McMaster 30-22 in the Yates Cup.
Be sure to tune in to all the action Saturday on OUA.tv and locally on Cable 14 in Hamilton.
OUA Semifinal by the Numbers
4 – Interceptions this season for Steven Ventresca. He led the Marauders and ranked tied for second in the league.
5 – Field goals made on five attempts by Ottawa kicker Lewis Ward in his team's win against McMaster. He will be going against McMaster's Tyler Crapigna the all-time OUA and CIS leader in field goals.