Matching up the Western Mustangs and the Laurier Golden Hawks (plus a look at the other finals)

Western versus Laurier. Greg Marshall versus Michael Faulds. Teacher versus student. Veterans versus rookies. Consistent returners versus newcomers.

Whichever way you write the narrative, Saturday is surely going to be a show. At least, we hope.

The Laurier Golden Hawks — along with the assuming support of nine other OUA teams — will be looking to knock off the Western Mustangs. You may wonder, "well, Guelph knocked them off their pedestal last year. It's a new season."

Saturday, Western will have hosted the Yates Cup five times in the last nine years. Not exactly the parity we want to be speaking about.

But this time around, it's not the Guelph Gryphons or the McMaster Marauders accompanying them in the final. It's a team that hasn't seen the Yates Cup final in 10 years, and hasn't held it in 11.

It's also a team that has a coach that turned them around from a 1-7 team to a 7-1 team in four seasons, and one of the top-ranked CIS USport players, and was named OUA Coach of the Year Thursday.

I wrote for The Cord that win or lose, Michael Faulds and the Hawks have exceeded expectations. It's true — they got through the McMasters and the Guelphs and the Ottawas and the Carletons of the OUA. They finally figured it out — at least this far.

But winning will put a stamp on this season and finally give the OUA something that doesn't include "Western" to promote.

The matchup, however, leaves a lot of questions and uncertainty.

HEAD-TO-HEAD:
  • The Mustangs and Golden Hawks have battled for the Yates Cup 12 times in the past, including eight conference finals as well as four division finals between 1974 and 1978, when the trophy was shared by the East and West division winners. 
  • Western currently leads the series 8-4
  • The game will be the second of the season. On Oct. 1, Western defeated Laurier 45-26
  • The two teams are meeting in the post-season for the second straight year as the Mustangs downed the Hawks 32-18 in semifinal action last November in London 

THE STATS:
  • Western had 44 touchdowns during the 2016 regular season, top in the OUA. Right behind them was Laurier, who scored 43 touchdowns for the first time ever. 
  • Western had 4,358 yards of total offence in the regular season, first in the OUA. Laurier had 3,904 yards. 
  • Western and Laurier were around the same for rushing yards — Western having eight extra yards — but Western had more passing yards (2,377) than Laurier (1,754).
  • Laurier's defence had 16 interceptions in the regular season and 62 disruptions (combined total of fumble recoveries, interceptions, sacks), which was first in the OUA. Western had nine interceptions — fifth in the OUA. 
  • Laurier averaged 108.6 yards of penalties per game, the third-most in the OUA. Western had 94.4 yards per game in penalties.
  • On their 16 interceptions, Laurier accumulated 444 yards, the best in Ontario. On Western's nine interceptions, they accumulated only 62 yards — third-last in the OUA.

THE STUFF STATS DON'T TELL YA:
  • Both teams dealt with quarterback competition. Michael Knevel took over for Julien John as the Hawks' pivot, and Chris Merchant took over starting duties as the season ramped up. 
  • However, Western often switches between quarterbacks Merchant and Stevenson Bone. Bone is often put in the game for QB sneaks.
  • Laurier's Eric Guiltinan went down against McMaster and no update has been given for him. His status is questionable for the final.
  • But, as Morris Della Costa wrote for the London Free Press, injuries are common among the 'Stangs. The list of Mustangs players who left the field at various times include running back Alex Taylor; offensive linemen Gregoire Bouchard and Sean Jamieson; receiver George Johnson; defensive tackle Rupert Butcher; defensive end John Biewald; and yes, even quarterback Chris Merchant was on the turf several times writhing in pain.

THE SKINNY: 

Western's offence is fully loaded. Laurier's defence is beyond words. Western needs to stay healthy. Laurier needs to stay healthy. Laurier needs to look to depth and defence. Western needs to capitalize on their depth. 

THE OUTCOME: 

The last few times these teams have met, the season matchup has been a blowout while the playoff matchup came down to the wire. Too close too call, but discipline and consistency will win the game. Sloppy play will cost the team a ticket to the national semifinal.

Follow @shelbyblackley on Twitter for live coverage of the Yates Cup. 




THE REST OF THE COUNTRY:


DUNSMORE CUP: No. 1 Laval Rouge et Or (8-1) at No. 2 Montreal Carabins (8-1)
  • Laval has claimed 12 conference banners since joining in 1996 — 12 in 20 years — including a national record 11 straight from 2003 to 2012
  • Montreal returned to national football in 2002 and captured the first RSEQ title in 2014 and repeated as champs last year 
  • Montreal and Laval have met in each of the last three finals of RSEQ and seven championship games overall.
  • Laval holds the head-to-head lead 5-2
  • This fall, the teams were an even match in conference play (Montreal took the first win 24-21, Laval won the rematch 22-19)
  • Carabins finished first dude to points allowed (72 Montreal v. 78 Laval) 
  • It will pit the top two defences against each other (Montreal allowed 9.0 points per game, Laval allowed 9.8)

LONEY BOWL: Mount Allison Mounties (4-5) at No. 10 St. Francis Xavier X-Men (7-1)
  • StFX has captured 12 AUS banners since 1960, including last years when the X-Men won for the first time since 1996
  • Mount A has won six times, including back-to-back titles in 2013 - 2014
  • This is the third-straight meeting between the teams 
  • StFX finished a perfect 7-0 against AUS opponents, including 29-14 and 65-17 victories over the Mounties 
  • X-Men topped the conference in most categories, including points scored (37.4), total yards accumulated (484.5), points allowed (16.1), total yards allowed (336.0)
  • Mount A had the best rushing attack in the AUS, averaging 168.6 yards per game. StFX finished second

HARDY CUP: UBC Thunderbirds (4-5) at No. 6 Calgary Dinos (7-2)

  • Calgary has won the Can West football championship 15 times, including a league-record six in a row from 2008 to 2013, but lost the last two years to Manitoba in 2014 and UBC in 2015
  • This is Calgary's ninth straight appearance in the Can West final 
  • UBC is the reigning Vanier Cup championship, winning against Montreal last year
  • UBC has 15 conference championships, with last year's win over the Dinos marking its first victory since 1997.
  • In head-to-head Hardy Cup meetings, the teams are tied 4-4 all time
  • The Thunderbirds are the second team to reach the Can West final after a less than .500 season (2010 Alberta Golden Bears being the other)
  • Calgary finished 6-2 this season, finishing second. UBC finished fourth with a 3-5 record
  • Calgary won both matchups this season (35-8 in Calgary, and a thrilling 41-35 OT victory in Vancouver) 
  • Calgary has the advantage in most categories, including points scored per game (36.8 v. 31.3), total yards (507.4 v. 480.9), points allowed (20.9 v. 30.6), total yards allowed (395.4 v. 462.3)
Stats and points courtesy of U Sports
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