OUA Football: Mustangs send message with big win

If there was any debate about who the team to beat in the OUA is, Tyler Varga and the Western Mustangs sure made it seem pretty obvious on Saturday.

No. 2 Western showed they're the defending Yates Cup Champions for a reason, trouncing no. 3 McMaster 48-21 in front of a hostile crowd. Varga not only lived up to the hype from his phenomenal debut, but likely made it even bigger by rushing for 149 yards and scoring four touchdowns.

For a battle between the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams in the country, it sure looked like regular OUA matchup, where blowouts are quickly becoming the norm in the parity-starved conference.

A 7-7 first quarter made it seem like the matchup would live up to its billing, with Mac looking like they were going to shred the Mustang secondary apart all day, while Western's only offence came largely thanks to a huge 51-yard reception by Andy Thibaudeau.

Then Varga took over.

After looking solid if unspectacular early on, the rookie running back put his mark on the game, breaking dozens (not exaggerating: he was un-tackle-able, if that's a word) of tackles and chugging Western up the field, where they would score twice in the second quarter to open up a 21-7 lead at halftime.

"I made some moves in the open field I guess, but that's what the running back's supposed to do. I just did my job," said Varga, perhaps understating what was simply a stunning performance.

The emergence of Varga, who now has seven touchdowns in the first two games of his CIS career, is catching nearly everyone in the league off guard, perhaps most of all opposing coaches.

"He's unique. He's solid and tougher and looks more like a fourth- or fifth-year kid in terms of taking hits and and moving the ball after first contact... I knew he was a playmaker, I knew he was gonna score. I didn't know he was gonna be this put together and mature and steady with the football so young in his career," said Stefan Ptaszek, the Mac coach on the wrong end of Varga's 149 yards.

"He's good. He's special. He's got a great drive and great determination. He catches well, blocks well," said Western coach Greg Marshall, once a purple pony back himself, and perhaps sounding a bit jealous about the attention afforded to the young Varga.

Western's halftime lead should have been seven when Mac got down to first-and-goal from the one yard line, but the Western D-line held strong and stopped Marauder rookie Chris Pezzetta on three straight carries to swing the momentum.

Mac made things interesting early in the second half, with Mike DiCroce hauling in a 26-yard touchdown to make it 21-14. But from then on, the Marauders could simply not contain Varga and his backfield mates Donnie Marshall, Nathan Riva and Garrett Sanvido. The Mustangs ran for 321 yards against a pretty solid front-7 from McMaster.

"We ran hard today. [Varga] ran hard, Nathan ran hard, Garrett ran hard, so did Donnie. We've got a lot of guys comin' at you," said Greg Marshall.

"They're tough kids to bring down and that's not gonna change," said Ptaszek.

While it's only week two in the OUA, the win for Western is huge. Apart from sending a (terrifying) message to other OUA teams, beating McMaster means any postseason matchup between the two (which seems, at this early point, like a reasonably likely outcome) will take place in London.

"Getting the tiebreaker is huge. Getting the first-round bye is important, as is home field advantage," said Greg Marshall. "We need to be able to communicate on offence and need our home fans quiet."

Of course, a win over a solid divisional rival in the early season guarantees little if nothing for Western. Promising teams at Ottawa and Laurier lie waiting, and McMaster did little on Saturday to suggest a Mustang win meant a whole lot.

But after scoring 134 points in their first two games while blowing away a much-hyped opponent, Western has clearly sent a message that they're ready to defend their Yates Cup.

With a superstar in-the-making carrying the ball and a boatload of confidence going forward, it's up to the rest of the OUA to prove that anything else is true.
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  1. This game at least in first half, very close effort as Western stuffs Mac at goalline near end of first half. Could easily have been 7 point game at half instead of 21-7.

    Western looked very porous on defense in first half and made adjustments in second half. Backbreaker was INT run back for TD by close to 300 lineman(sorry- maybe 275) by Western.

    Dating back to 2006 against Laurier in playoff game that Golden Hawks won, when Western was stopped 3 or 4 times on short yardage, Western has been suspect to convert to get the first down or score if on the goalline. This is the first time since then that I have felt reasonably confident that Western could get the third and short yardage- perhaps Varga, Riva and hopefully return of Hipperson will make this even better.

    Mac will be better defensively and will get better offensively at least in key situations.

    Ottawa, Laurier and even as I type this, a petulant Windsor(in a very close game- tied against Laurier in last few minutes-Windsor win on kickaround on last play- yikes) will protest deferring either Western or McMaster a Yates final.

    This OUA will get closer as the season draws on, with the upper 6 teams getting better through experience.

    How the OUA will fare against other divisions in playoffs is another matter.

  2. I told ya. Varga's career is starting off as if he will become one of those truly unique performers; the type of star that is referenced in the future, whenever we see something special on an OUA grid iron.

    He is so amazing now; I can't help but wonder if he could actually become more "un-tackle-able" as the games and years roll on.

    By the way, I'm appealing to theScore to scrap plans for the Guelph-Toronto tilt. This Mustang team is entirely too entertaining to be obscured by a woeful 1-1 match-up, in Toronto. Varga and the Stangs, playing a much better-than-expected uOttawa squad, simply must be the national game. If the Canadian university game is going to grow, we need to put these types of showcases in the national spotlight.

    Here's hoping that theScore sees the bigger picture.

  3. It's the first time I've watched Varga live and yes he's definitely a quality back, maybe the best I've seen since Lumsden.

    As far as the match up this game was closer than the score indicated.. ..much closer. A rookie drop for a TD, the last Mustang TD meaningless with McMaster opting to go for it on 3rd and 8 in their own end, not converting before half, the Quinlan hit in scoring position, and on and on.

    I'm not discounting the Mustang win. They're a solid team that could be Vanier bound with some defensive improvements, but I'm also likely to take McMaster in a rematch as it is unlikely they'll take that many bad breaks again.

  4. No disagreement with Ottawa-Western being the most national TV-worthy game of all the 1 pm OUA starts next week. (Mac-Windsor is also good but The Score's probably not able to take any 7 pm games due to other commitments, like 25-year-old wrestling shows.)

    However, you get the most eyeballs on university football in the post-season. There's s a good chance Western will be on 4 weekends in a row in November, so it's not a big concern. Growing the sport means giving a hand up to some struggling programs. OUA pays for the time and Toronto has not been on since opening Varsity Centre. It's not a bad idea to give them some exposure. Any publicity is good publicity, even if you lose 33-6.

  5. With tongue in cheek, they should show York at Waterloo. Someone might win that game!

  6. Normally, I'd be all-in for the strengthening of some of the programs that play the "sisters of the poor" role. However, putting two underdog types of programs on in the national showcase game (with due apologies to the rest of the country, beyond Southern Ontario) could make for an exceedingly ugly three-hour spot. If last year's Western-Guelph groan-fest was uncomfortable to watch, imagine what 1993 Vanier Cup memories filler would sound like after another two and out.

    I'd love to see the second tier of the OUA get a little positive national exposure. Sadly, there is a reason that some kids have to draw the curtains and others are center stage during grade-5 drama day--yuck, great metaphor but those are some bad memories.

    By the way, I caught Sager's opening for the Queen's-Ottawa match-up. Excellent job, guy! I didn't stick around for the game but that was solid content and it was well presented.

    Yuck, I'm all "niced" out now.

  7. Hey, I'm with you, push the top programs when possible. Although Ottawa's had a soft early schedule with Guelph having lost a lot to grad't'n and Queen's playing more than a bit tentative and progressing in baby steps.

    Thanks for the praise on the broadcast. Was so nervous! Next time I'm on is for U of T-Ottawa on Sept. 24. We're planning a pregame show for that one.

    So is Windsor the real deal? I gave the Lancers a top 10 spot for the first time.

  8. I wouldn't mind seeing either of the Windsor-Mac or Queen's-Laurier match-ups over the Guelph-Toronto stinkeroo-in-waiting.

    Placing the second worst game on the slate is not how you build a brand's reputation, particularly with the non-Canadian university sports fan.

    Oh well, at least it appears that SSN is going to be carrying the Ottawa-Western contest.

    Looks like Mustang Nation is given another reprieve from having to follow the game on CHRW; Note: giving the down and distance is essential for listeners. I didn't mean for that to come out so snidely . . . I guess I could always backspace . . . but . . . . Oh well, the suggestion is out there now.

  9. Slide,

    You and I share a pet peeve with some of these student broadcasters. I don't know if it comes from having only watched hockey which has a flow to it, but so many of them don't give down-and-distance. My mum's complained about it a few times over the years with our hometown team (she usually puts the game on when she's shopping on Saturdays).

    I haven't done enough play by play to say how it should be done, but my general rule is say "first down at the ______-yard line," so people know where the ball is spotted. ("First and 10" is redundant since anyone who cares enough to watch knows it's 10 yards for a first down.) Then give the distance on second down, always.

  10. The best radio football broadcast I have ever heard--not that I listen to a lot of sports radio these days--was the 1996 Miami-Nebraska, Orange Bowl contest. The game was great for an number of reasons but it was the call that makes it still stick out in my memory. As I closed my eyes, I could literally "see" both teams marching up and down the field; I knew, with few exceptions, exactly where they were on the field. I recently caught the re-broadcast of the game on one of the classics channels. From Miami's exhaustion to Schlesinger's gashing TD runs, that radio job brought the game home, perfectly.

    I hate picking on the people who bring the CIS home to us. I have a great deal of appreciation for the commitment and limited thanks that the duty provides. Still, constructive criticism is a useful tool, if accepted in the supportive nature it was given.

  11. Nice. Remember that game well! The second-best Miami-Nebraska Orange Bowl game after 1984 (when Tom Osborne SHOULD have just kicked the PAT, finished 12-0-1 and won the national championship).