If this isn't the year Greg Marshall beats Laval, then when will it be? Framed against the cold steel bleachers of a less than sold-out TD Waterhouse Stadium, the Western Mustangs made the gap between No. 1 and No. 4 look wider than the lack of understanding between Ford Nation and an urban hipster.
By the end of 15 minutes, after the Queen's Golden Gaels had failed to make hay off two Mustangs miscues, Will Finch and friends were primed to produce the most definitive Yates Cup win among Marshall's eight as a head coach. Western, with Finch goings bombs-away to fellow superlative sophomore Matt Uren, controlled the middle two quarters and won 51-22 to retake the summit in the OUA.
They might be there for a while. Finch, game MVP Uren, running backs Yannick Harou, Tom Marshall and Garrett Sanvido, pass rusher Dylan Ainsworth, linebacker Preston Huggins and starting O-linemen Kadeem Adams and Matt Van Praet each have at least two years' eligibility remaining. Western, which led by as much as 43 points in the first 45 minutes on Saturday, could be poised to match the run the Marshall-made McMaster Marauders had at the outset of the millennium, when they won 41 of 44 games against Ontario teams during a four-year Yates reign from 2000-03.
"Against Ontario teams" is the operative part. Marshall is 0-for-3 against Laval in university football's cruelest month — agonizingly close semifinal losses in 2003 and '10 sandwiched around a no-doubter Vanier Cup loss in 2008. Those McMaster and Western teams had their shortcomings, but through 10 weeks this fall, no OUA squad came close to finding one in Western. It was just the sixth time a team hung a half-a-hundred on an opponent in the Yates. The 29-point margin was the largest in the Yates since 1992, when Wally Gabler Jr. and Guelph drilled, coincidentally, Western 45-10.
Perhaps Calgary, with home field for the Mitchell Bowl next week, can do so. Laval, which will play Mount Allison at an undisclosed location in the early Uteck Bowl, didn't look like a world-beater while escaping with a 14-11 Dunsmore Cup win over Montreal.Finch was uber-efficient on Saturday, throwing 20-for-27 for 252 yards with three TDs while rushing 12 times for 77 more, without turning the ball over. That makes him the winner of the Battle of Burlington vs. Queen's Billy McPhee (21-for-35 for 275, two TDs and two picks) if you feel a need to be superficial about it. Western bent Queen's more than it broke it along the ground, where Sanvido toted the rock 20 times for 98 to lead a 220-yard output. Defensively, the Mustangs held firm, holding Queen's all-time leading rusher Ryan Granberg to 44 yards in his final OUA game. McPhee's interceptions weren't egregious; the first was on a nothing-to-lose second-and-long deep ball and the other by Huggins came on a ball that Pawel Kruba tipped into the air.
One stat note for Queen's: Justin Chapdelaine finished with seven catches for 82 yards and a TD in his final game.
Queen's gets tight
Western's second- and third-quarter play, when a Groundhog Day-like circuit of sustained drives, booming wind-aided Lirim Hajrullahu kickoffs and Gaels two-and-outs led to the score climbing higher and higher, likely renders second-guessing Queen's approach academic. It needs to be said, though, that the Gaels had the mien of a lot of basketball teams who go up against Dave Smart's Carleton Ravens, knowing the big onslaught is just a matter of when. Pat Sheahan, whose best Tricolour teams — the Tom Denison teams that played Sisyphus by rolling their boulder up Mt. Marshall in 2002-03 and the team that traversed the Golden Mile in '09 — got off the bus spreading the ball around to receivers. Yet Queen's didn't seem ready to take that chance on McPhee by putting it all on their fourth-year QB. That meant a lot of unsuccessful first-down runs and a lot of second-and-longs instead of the second-and-mediums that Danny Brannagan seized on so well four years ago.
Queen's star linebacker Sam Sabourin, who might be in the CFL come next September, fell on an early Uren fumble and the Gaels also sold out to block a Hajrullahu punt in the first quarter. Queen's only converted those gifts into a 5-3 lead. After that, Western scored the next 45 points.
There's no knowing whether Queen's getting more on the board early would have made any difference. Western mooted that but good. Now the Mustangs are two stages away from the peak that four other Ontario teams have scaled during the Laval era. Otherwise, all the OUA records written in purple ink will seem pretty moot, too.