It is not where a team starts, but where it finishes — and this engrossing Guelph-Waterloo rivalry is far from finished.

In a rather kismet outcome for a season that's been a Long Journey To The Muddle, two teams that went to double overtime on the final day of the regular season will reconvene on the same field in seven days time for an Ontario University Athletics quarterfinal. The Gryphons' 47-44 double-overtime decision against the Warriors, combined with events elsewhere. gave them home-field for a quarter-final next week. Waterloo got the help it needed from bye teams Ottawa and Western to be assured of the No. 6 seed, its first playoff berth in 15 seasons and first since a smaller tournament was adopted.

O glorious day, then! McMaster will be at Carleton for the 5 vs. 4 quarterfinal.

While everyone gloms on to Waterloo's accomplishment the way everyone adopts the baseball team in the LCS with the longest pennant drought — don't knock it, what were you doing 15 years ago? Bet you didn't even have Wi-Fi yet — the events don't get this dramatic without the Gryphons' improved scoring capability. So let's start there.


The OUA playoff seeding gets a lot easier if Ottawa beats Queen's, clinching second place and eliminating the Gaels. Everything else is a bunch of tangled Christmas lights.

And that's what we wanted! vHot take: the scheduling guidelines OUA introduced a few years ago have done a heckuva job, fomenting parity that would make late-career Pete Rozelle blush.

The conference has a Muddled Seven that could potentially end up in tiebreakers involving the five playoff spots after You-Know-Who, and there's even a very faint possibility of a five-way tie. That would be both the tidiest one for determining who is and the messiest one for determining who plays who, so root for that.

Here's the chain of events that would entail, in diminishing order of likelihood:
  • Carleton is already 5-3
  • The Waterloo-Guelph victor finishes 5-3, while the loser finishes 4-4
  • McMaster wins at Windsor
  • Queen's beats Ottawa at home, leaving the Gee-Gees 5-3.
  • Laurier upsets Western to finish 5-3, which seems like a faint possibility even though the Mustangs have nothing to play for.
The last bullet point seems kind of unlikely, but you never know. Speaking of not knowing, OUA's tiebreaker criteria, "record in games against common opponents," doesn't offer much. With so many potential deadlocks, it's hard to see there being many common opponents. Everyone had to skip a turn somewhere in an 11-team conference with an eight-game regular season. And "Record in games against each of the other teams in the division, starting at the top of the standing and continuing in descending order," does that mean everyone will be judged on whether they kept Western under the 33-point cap? Probably not, since Guelph did not play Western.

I spent the early part of my Sunday making a spreadsheet with margins of victory and defeat for the Muddled Seven.

At least McMaster had Justice on the field on a day when its players protested a perceived injustice off of it.

However the Queen's-McMaster affray that was replete with playoff ramifications played out on Friday — the Marauders won 27-24 after withstanding a late, desperate rally by a Gaels side that seemed to gain maturity over the course of play — the chain overreaction that led to Marauders coach Greg Knox being off the sideline due to being on "administrative leave" is the first point of reference. The ground with Knox being absent is being well-tilled by the much more established media. Whatever actually happened between the Marauders coach and a chain-crew official during the Sept. 22 Laurier-McMaster game was regrettable, but not unforgivable. (Full disclosure on the ambiguity: as a blogger who works at one of the media portals covering the story, there's info I'm not at liberty to put on a blog; it's called the Cut Your Own Grass Policy.) The Knox situation, coming at a time when Mac is in transition after director of athletics Glen Grunwald moved on to head up Canada Basketball recently, escalated into the coach being put on leave before Ontario University Athletics could wrap up an investigation into whether a one-game suspension was warranted.

It's not even apparent, because university sports, if Knox will helm McMaster (4-2) next week against Waterloo (3-3) in another Major Playoff Implications game.

"I'm not going to comment on that," said Marauders co-offensive coordinator Tom Flaxman, who split Knox's duties with defensive coordinator Scott Brady, "But I can say that as coaches and players that we all support coach Knox and we hope there's a timely resolution."

The only clear takeaway was that what could have caused a downward spiral gave McMaster that extra 2 per cent of resolve to squeak out its third home win by three or fewer points.

"The message we had was just to ignore the media on it, we can't control that so just let this bring us closer together," said the Marauders field-side halfback Noah Hallett, whose two Madden-stick pass breakups in the end zone turned seeming Queen's touchdowns into field goals, representing an eight-point swing in a three-point decision. "It's brought us together, the motto's McMaster vs. everybody.

"Obviously it's a big thing to lose our coach. Knox is a great coach and we wanted to express ourselves on that."

The autumn of close games continued, at least on Friday. McMaster survived by three points against Queen's (3-4). Laurier won by six at Carleton, 37-31, behind frosh QB Connor Carusello, and the Golden Hawks (3-3) are back in the thick of things while the Ravens (4-3) have eaten some reality sandwich.

University sports, to use the old saw, is a great game to survive the institutions that offer it. In the wake of that kerfuffle, the short week produced the considered one of those below-the-radar battles that October lends itself to with the in-season incremental improvements began to show up in teams' games — or don't — as playoff positions are firmed up.

Something had to give in a matchup between two mid-level teams that both came in with a glaring deficiency in the passing phase. Up until this week, Queen's couldn't stop the pass and Mac couldn't complete many. Ultimately, Marauders QB Andreas Dueck had the complements around him to win the day, finishing 23-of-30 for 367 yards with one interception.

The biggest one in going forward was the fellow listed as McMaster's fifth running back, Justice Allin, who was making his season debut after having his 2017 campaign scuttled by a torn ACL. Jordan Lyons is the alpha in the rushing phase for McMaster, but the Marauders worked in Allin beautifully as the scatback, decoy, or beta-back, getting defenders out of areas, creating single coverage downfield for receivers as Tommy Nield and Levi Paul. to exploit The boxscore might have shown some modest usage, apart from a 62-yard reception on a swing pass in the first half, but Allin was the X-factor for a Marauders attack that showed some sizzle.

"One thing I want to say about Justice Allin is that in all the time I've been doing this (coaching), I have never seen an athlete take as seriously as he did his rehab," Flaxman said.

"Justice has only had five or six practices but when he's in it changes what we can run," Flaxman added. "We can get more potential for explosive plays. It's a credit to him for making it back. He's going to be a big part of things — he just needs to get some touches. And get some hits."

One doesn't get to grasp the effect of Allin being back from watching the webcast, or checking stats, or watching the tweeted highlights, as much as those resources are appreciated for making the games more accessible. And you sort of miss the influence that Hallett had by denying Queen's two surest-handed receivers, Matteo Del Brocco and Richard Burton, touchdown catches.

"The first one definitely hurt," said Hallett, who needed the trainers' staff after denying Del Brocco in the second quarter. "But I told myself I could play through it."

The hard reality is football games only have one winner, but getting an in-person viewing did show that Queen's, with head coach Pat Sheahan doing something similar to Wally Buono in the CFL by eschewing a headset on the sideline, is trending positively. While Mac has those three narrow wins, Queen's (3-4) has three narrow losses against quality opponents, having also taken Carleton to overtime on the road, while making Western score twice in the fourth quarter last week. With Nate Hobbs buying time throughout the day, Queen's had perhaps its best offensive effort against McMaster in a decade with 482 yards. That normally adds up to more than 24 points, but McMaster seems bound and determined to prove the hypothesis that nothing matters in Canadian football until the offence enters the score zone.

Hallett and his teammates were able to limit the damage.

"We've had a bit of practice with those close games," he said. "Our defence has learned how to tighten up the coverage when we need it."

Three of four OUA games are now in the books, so we can update, pending the Laurier-Carleton outcome in the 1 p.m. contest that is the late game by default.

McMaster 27 Queen's 24 — Probably talked out about this game, so we'll pivot to video:

No. 8 Laurier 37, No. 9 Carleton 31 — Please don't be That Guy who says Laurier getting a desperately needed season-saving win justifies why they were nationally ranked with a losing record. That is neither here nor there for them. What matters is you can sort of read some of that spirit coming back into their game.

The Golden Hawks, behind Connor Carusello — and I'm going to call him Carson one of these teams; apology in advance — always seemed to have a response. It went way beyond the Esson Hamilton pass-and-run touchdown that put them up for good with 7½ minutes left. Laurer responded with a touchdown drive three times after Ravens touchdowns. The only time they didn't was with an interception, and Will Amoah picked off Carleton's Michael Arruda to get the ball back immediately. Carleton never really kept momentum in a game that had eight lead changes.

Veteran Laurier kicker Nathan Mesher left with an injury. Nick Petermann had to kick the last two converts. He was a two-way player in high school, so apparently his talents have no end.

The other big takeaway is Laurier got the curse off the yellow jerseys, perhaps by combining them with white helmets and white paints. They kind of look like Georgia Tech crossed with Los Angeles Rams throwbacks.

Circling back, Laurier being not only ranked but ranked higher than the Ravens is not as far down the silliness spectrum as one might think. The OUA is such a muddle that I nearly put them on my top 10 ballot as a fifth team out of Ontario, but Occam's Razor as expressed by Herm Edwards won out; you play to win the game, and Laurier had been losing games, by razor-thin margins. So undefeated Saint Mary's got my 10th-place vote on Sunday night.

Thursday's action, in a matter of speaking

No. 1 Western 66, Windsor 14 — Hot take: Western coach Greg Marshall thin-sliced this turkey perfectly by pulling Cedric Joseph after he broke the OUA single-game rushing record in the first half with 17 rushes for 355 yards in the first half.

There was no upside to having Joseph go in for another possession or two for a shot at the national mark of 395. Showing mercy was an editorial comment.

It also made a point, if indirectly, that it would have been semi-halfway worthless — you need a record performance to defeat Windsor? — to do this against an outmatched counterpart. By the same token, Joseph broke a conference record set by the matchless Andre Durie, who had 349 in a game for York in 2003. He still gets something,  stays fresh for Ottawa next week and no one looks at it as Western pouring it on a against a bottom-three team.

Windsor's coaching staff really should wear it for this debacle. The Lancers decided to play a lot of press coverage, leaving them exposed in run support and giving Joseph relatively easy passage to rushing lanes wider than Mile 114 of the Arthur Burkhardt Expressway. It's Western. Put eight defenders in the box and make them beat you with the pass. That way you still lose about 66-14, but temporarily taking them away from their wheelhouse strength is a small victory.

No. 5 Ottawa 53, Toronto 21
— Competitive balance through intervention is the best way to describe the Gee-Gees having 17 accepted penalties for 202 yards. Without that, Ottawa might have really blown out Toronto after knocking Varsity Blues quarterback Connor Ennis out of the game with a late hit on a 41-yard reception, which set up a touchdown that brought Toronto within two scores at 22-14.

To think someone who is halfway to being an idiot savant fretted that this was a trap game for the Gee-Gees, who hit 200 rushing yards and 400 passing, including 258 through Good Kingston Boy Carter Matheson.

Worst Case Ontario update:
  1. Western (best-case 8-0, worst-case 8-0). If they came out of that Windsor controlled scrimmage with refs and cheerleaders with any significant injuries, the entire coaching staff should have to run the stadium steps 100 times immediately after eating their turkey.

    It was a big fireworks display in London in more ways than one.
  2. Ottawa (best-case 6-2, worst-case 5-3). Not since 2012, when future Hec Crighton winner Will Finch was a frosh quarterback and Ottawa had the last remnants of the good Denis PichΓ© recruiting classes, have the Gee-Gees hung in with the Mustangs. Have things changed?
  3. McMaster (best-case 6-2, worst-case 4-4). It's not clear how good these Marauders are and is not yet clear who will be their head coach(es) on Oct. 13. What a time to be alive.
  4. Carleton (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). Of course  the Ravens and Gryphons, the teams with the most likely "win out" routes to finishing 5-3, have missed each other in the schedule. That will make it complicated to figure out in two weeks' time.

    A short week and a young opposing quarterback and Carleton allowed 619 yards. Oy vey.
  5. Guelph (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). In these divided, fragmented times, a university athletic department, public school board and Catholic board found a way to give high school football a bigger platform and perhaps convince classmates and the community to get a little more invested. Well-played, Guelph.

    Meantime, the bye-weeking Gryphons have the great setup with Toronto and Waterloo at home over the final quarter-leg.  
  6. Waterloo (best-case 5-3, worst-case 3-5). The version of itself Waterloo presented against Carleton and Laurier is fully capable of winning out against McMaster and Guelph and earning the Warriors' first berth in a six-team playoff. (Eight teams made it in 2003, the last time they got in.)

    The version of itself Waterloo presented against Western and York likely topples into Next Year Country again. Either way, with the football Warriors off, it's not too self-indulgent to shout out Waterloo hockey forward Kenny Turner for scoring his first OUA goal in the season opener. Turner was a black ace for most of the last two seasons after coming to UW from Junior A ranks in northwestern Ontario. A lot of striving and sacrifice went into that goal, which broke a 9-0 shutout.
  7. Laurier (best-case 4-4, worst-case 4-4). The Golden Hawks will predictably handle Windsor next week and then get rolled real good by Western. Then what happens when they get thrown into the hopper of 4-4 teams?

    I thought of putting 5-3 for the best case, on the odd off-chance Western has to sit everyone with so much as a canker sore. But overall Laurier's final record is the one 4-4 mark that I feel most secure about writing in with the same pen I use to do The New York Times crossword in 23 minutes, seriously, really.

    (If we've learned nothing else from Donald Trump Jr., you make your humble-brags really specific and totally unrealistic.)
  8. Queen's (best-case 4-4, worst-case 3-5). Flaxman did call Queen's "a great team; eventually they're going to find ways to win games." McMaster's skill-position guys just made a few more plays.

    Rookie receiver Richard Burton had a promising afternoon and the lost fumble at Queen's 30-yard line in the third quarter was a killer, as did having two penalties on the punt immediately prior that pinned Queen's on its one-yard line. The turnover was a classic case of where the runner keeps his legs churning and the defenders pry the ball out. Mac only cashed in for a field goal and a 17-16 lead, but a skein of productive Queen's marches was broken up and they didn't regain rhythm until it was almost too late. One really empathizes with Burton.

    It might be too late for Queen's to get into the playoffs. Figuring out the tiebreakers is like counting proxies before the big stockholder's meeting and Queen's is lacking tiebreakers with losses to Carleton and Laurier.

    If little else, Week 9 against Ottawa is a spoiler situation for Hobbs' final home game. Queen's was in the same situation against Carleton in 2014 when Billy McPhee was the fifth-year quarterback, and they stepped up to wreck someone's season that day.
  9. York (best-case 4-4, worst-case 2-6). It will be a tall order for York to upset Carleton and finish 4-4, but there's a reason to root for that beyond doormat-does-good sentiment. A closing thought:

    Toronto (2013) and Waterloo (2017) have cracked .500 in recent years without getting a playoff berth, as only six of the 11 teams make the playoffs — 54.5 per cent, lower than the other three conferences (60 per cent in the Atlantic, 67 in Canada West, 80 in the RSEQ).

    It takes so much outlay of athletic budget, plus human capital, to go from doormat to viable, but the entry point is still too restrictive.

    Ontario University Athletics was right on one level in 2004 when it eliminated the 1 vs. 8 and 2 vs. 7 quarterfinals. At the same time, if an expanded national playoff is on the way then some incentives need to be created for the characteristically bottom four teams to enjoy some form of post-season play.

    But something can be well-designed and still prone to unintended consequences. The system shouldn't just be a fail-safe for the powerhouse that got upset in its own conference. It was nauseating to some degree that happened last season with the Alabama Crimson Tide and the College Football Playoff in the U.S., but in terms of who was fooling who, Nick Saban's evil empire still had a better case than Central Florida.

    Likewise, hypothetically, if there had been a six-team playoff in 2016, Western would have got a wild card after an ignominious fourth-quarter collapse in the Yates Cup. That's fine, but there is an opportunity to create something in Canada with avenues for teams from all walks of the football life, and budgeting levels.

    That is a message I hope OUA hears, as the country's most diverse football conference. All the other stakeholders' wishes are pretty clear. Quebec likely wants to have two berths, and considering that either Laval or MontrΓ©al have played in and/or hosted the last 10 Vanier Cup games, they deserve it. Canada West will probably want two, and AUS will want the guarantee of its champion hosting the Atlantic Bowl every year, as either a quarterfinal or semifinal.

    Pinky-swear to bloviate more about this after the turkey coma wears off.
Week 8 slate: Windsor at Laurier (Fri.), Carleton at York (Fri.), Western at Ottawa (Sat.), McMaster at Waterloo (Sat.), Toronto at Guelph (Sat.), bye, Queen's.
It is no longer clear who is No. 1 in the country, but there is a lead horse for that second playoff bye after Ottawa and Sawyer Buettner vented an entire undergrad degree's lifesplan of Panda Game anguish.

Why look up the definition of catharsis when you can just embed a worthy-of-Webster's video of Ottawa fans getting to storm the field for the first time since the rivalry game moved to TD Place in 2014?

When city rivals play every year, the past is much more prologue and each game is a callback to prior contests. During the four-year losing streak, Ottawa had spans where it went up and down the field but stalled in the red zone. Carleton would be opportunistic and come up with the explosion plays. Instead, Ottawa was a finisher par excellence in the red zone, particularly on stretched-out catches by Kalem Beaver, Dylan St. Pierre and Carter Matheson, while the defence generated a 5-1 edge in turnovers. More on that down below.

The other major moving parts involve the purple teams coming back to the pack, while Waterloo evidently turned back into a pumpkin right in time to end up in a Starbucks latte. Western needed to score on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter to edge Queen's, heretofore the third-most generous — that means ninth-ranked, Bubba — defensive side in the conference, for a 26-23 win. It's a wild coincidence that Western has made two trips to Eastern Ontario and had the same squeaker of a scoreline each time; by the way, they still have to schlep up to Ottawa in two weeks' time. The Mustangs showed some heavy mettle in the fourth quarter, but their voter support in the polls could be (groan) softening.

Meantime, Laurier apparently has a volleyball team now, because they give the ball away about every three touches. The Golden Hawks had six interceptions charged to Tristan Arndt as Guelph scored all 17 second-half points in a 27-24 win that the Gryphons were badly overdue to get after losing thrice by a combined four points.

The league is hella unpredictable; with York actually on the fringe of playoff contention after a 34-32 win against Waterloo, exactly half of the games so far (15 of 30) have ave been decided by seven or fewer points. One would have to have a special kind of confidence of a mediocre white man to start projecting final standings, but there is a playoff pecking order. Carleton coach Steve Sumarah said it will take a 5-3 record to get into the playoffs and it appears he might be right.

Time for Worst Case Ontario:

  1. Western (best-case 8-0, worst-case ... 8-0). The road to Quebec City is still going through London, but damn Western (5-0), would a statement road win kill ya? Waterloo doesn't count, not with how the Warriors lost against York on Saturday.

    Western might welcome a well-orchestrated loss.
  2. Ottawa (best-case 6-2, worst-case 5-3). So what if Carleton and Ottawa finish second and third? Do they go back to TD Place for a semifinal game that could probably draw 10,000 people on very short notice?

    The worst thing would be for a Panda Game win to prove Pyrrhic. The Gee-Gees (4-1) haven't had to travel outside of their city since the opener up at Laurier. Coach Jamie Barresi doubtlessly enjoyed the most emotional and eye-catching win of his six-season Gee-Gees tenure but cautioned about falling into a "stupor" heading into a short week before a roadie to play winless Toronto, who are the best 0-5 team in the country. (For those trolling at home, UBC is the best 1-4 team, especially in the budget:win ratio.)

    In terms of motivated opponents, Ottawa has it all. Toronto, which hasn't won a game but has come close in the past two weeks. In Week 8, Western will likely be looking to clinch home field through to the Yates Cup and Mitchell Bowl. Then it's a finale at Queen's, which could be in a win-and-in scenario.
  3. McMaster (best-case 6-2, worst-case 4-4). It's not even too certain that McMaster (3-2, idle this week) will win its final home game, against Queen's on Friday. Their Oct. 13 roadies at Waterloo and even Windsor aren't gimmes, the former since the Warriors can score a lot of points and the latter due to the distance and distractions.

    Not beating oneself seems to one of the cardinal virtues this season. McMaster has yet to do that, plus it has Jordan Lyons in the rushing phase.  
  4. Carleton (best-case 6-2, worst-case 4-4). There is no anecdotal evidence about how the Ravens will react after losing a Panda Game, which is a feather in their cap. The Ravens (4-2) could win out against Laurier (Oct. 5, home) and York (Oct. 12, away) and have a bye before hosting a quarterfinal. But their pass coverage has been porous for four games in a row. 
  5. Guelph (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). As previously noted, Guelph (3-3) has the favourable October schedule of bye-Toronto-Waterloo, and they're only a few blown scoring opportunities from being 6-0. That puts the Gryphons ahead by a nose among the quartet of three-loss teams.
  6. Queen's (best-case 5-3, worst-case 3-5). They were good enough to tease against Western and, although few sports fans ever admit this, sometimes that is really all we want. The Queen's-McMaster game is pretty much a playoff game for at least one of the teams and, no, I'm not just saying that since it's one of the few I can see due to work commitments.

    Having the extra week to prepare for Ottawa might help Queen's a little. Not too sure how their blocking group would hold up against a pretty decent Gee-Gees D on Oct. 20.
  7. Waterloo (best-case 5-3, worst-case 3-5). There are a couple of plaintive little hopes that keep one from writing off Waterloo (3-3).

    One is that they have their bye week before hosting McMaster in Week 8, in what should be a bitter battle, since Warriors pass game coordinator Jon Behie will be matching wits against the defensive coaches from his alma mater. McMaster hasn't put up points against a credible team on the road, or really even at home. Then Waterloo finishes against Guelph, which it scored 49 points against last season.
  8. Laurier (best-case 4-4, worst-case 3-5). The Golden Hawks have gone from hell on wheels on likely needing help to make the playoffs. The Carleton game next Friday is a must-win and, based on how the Golden Hawks have been shooting themselves in the feet, it is tough to envision a win against Western in Week 9 unless the Mustangs field a totally B team.  
  9. York (best-case 4-4, worst-case 2-6). The Lions (2-4) are mathematically alive. About a million things would all have to break their way, and Carleton's offensive line might quickly kibosh those faint playoff hopes by opening 400-series highway-wide holes for Nathan Carter in that Oct. 12 Ravens-Lions game. But credit to York and Brett Hunchak for sweetening the plot with a homecoming win against Waterloo on Saturday.
As far as the games on Saturday were concerned:

Ottawa 38, Carleton 27 — Well, the beauty of the Panda Game is that you don't really have to do much analysis, since it's really just a fun time and no one thinks about it too deeply beyond whether the Black team or the Garnet & Grey team won. For one Saturday each year, the city's two university populations create a true, uniquely Canadian, big-small-town event. I used to resent that, for all the booze consumed, there wasn't much spillover into watching the Gee-Gees or Ravens play teams from outside the world's biggest village, but that's the city of Ottawa for you. It's really a bit of a face-dance: play at having a fierce football rivalry, then back to being friends on Monday.

Anyway, a lot of the characteristics that make the Gee-Gees program unique came to the fore on Saturday. One, Barresi is a quarterback whisperer, and Buettner was beastly with the five touchdown passes, as Ottawa took home-run shots whenever they presented themselves in the score zone. Then there was the backstory with how Kalem Beaver and Carter Matheson, who caught two touchdowns apiece, were relatively late converts to football who didn't even play until well into their high school years, since they were busy being athletes, not one-sport automatons. They found a niche and uOttawa coached 'em up.

The way Ottawa finished drives also erases the memory of that 2014 game when a skein of red-zone stalls left the door open for Carleton to win on Nate Behar's Hail Mary catch on the final play.

This time, the Gee-Gees led by as much as 24 points. The huge scoreline swings came mainly via a Jamie Harry end-zone interception in the third quarter, along with takeaways that set up Buettner inside Carleton's 20-yard line.

The smokes-and-mirrors narrative with Carleton probably got a boost. The Ravens offence and Michael Arruda had 475 yards. The easy way out is to point to the four interceptions and the penalties, several of which came in the return phase.

Even that 475 figure looks like empty calories. Take out the trick-play touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. After trading touchdowns in the second quarter for a 14-14 tie, Carleton went interception-punt-punt-interception-punt-punt on the rest of its possessions through the end of the third.

That's bad. The margin was only really close since the Ravens ran some bubble screens and draws to Nathan Carter against loose coverage, hoping Ottawa's tackling completely fell apart. (Ron Howard voice: it didn't.)

Western 26, Queen's 23 — One refrain on loop is that Western didn't get much off of Queen's except for having superior athletes. At no point did it cross my mind this could be close, given that the Mustangs had won the last six matchups by an average of 25.7 points. Lo and behold, the Mustangs found themselves down 11 points with nine minutes left. But they cranked up the interior pass rush to take away Nate Hobbs' time and space in the pocket, while Chris Merchant and the offence clicked with consecutive seven-play touchdown drives, the peak of which was a 49-yard pass-and-run to Malik Besseghieur that was, in MMA terms, a major body blow.
Western should pay a price in the polls for this, since two "playing down" wins are not an anomaly. That's neither here nor there for Queen's, which might have had its best defensive day of the season with the secondary of Nolan Bedard, Ejaz Causer, Blake Cory, Zackary Kealey and Oliver MacKenzie limiting Western to one touchdown for 3½ quarters; they just only had so many stops in them, apparently.

Queen's hasn't been able to touch Western in a few years, so this was a moral victory on some level. Younger readers, assuming there are any — look, there's videos embedded! — might not be aware that the Gaels used to handle the Mustangs on the regular, going 11-4 from 2000 through '12. Suffice to say, the 'Stangs have kicked it up a notch.

Deep-down, I do wonder if they were trying to get someone on Freezing Cold Takes. Thanks?

Guelph 27, Laurier 24 The commonalities between the pick-six touchdowns from Dokun Aketepe and Job Reinhart was pressure, and some serendipitous ricochets right into the hands of both defenders. Reinhart was in the Laurier backfield after a well-timed A-gap blitz when edge rusher Tavius Robinson batted a Tristan Arndt pass, which Reinhart returned 72 yards. On the Aketepe play, Guelph brought seven and it looked as though Laurier had the right pattern and read, with three receivers on shallow crosses, but a harried throw went off of Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and right to Aketepe, going 69 yards the other way.

It might be tempting to put some that down to the Bounces,  but not after the way that three opponents in a row have limited Laurier. The Gryphons gang took down six interceptions and didn't allow a completion longer than 20 yards. McMaster allowed nothing longer than 25. Throw in a solid second half from the Waterloo defence, and the Golden Hawks have scored only 14 second-half points in their last three games.

Arndt has got the hook two weeks in a row, and what's really worrying about Laurier is where the interceptions have occurred. I'm not a football coach so I'm a little more blasΓ© about turnovers. Take fumbles; they come from players over-exerting themselves sometimes, and once the ball is scooting around on the carpet, it's 50/50 whether the defence will complete the takeaway or the offence retains it. Interceptions are bad, but there are some that come on deep balls where the defender just makes the play, or the wind affects the direction of the pass. And there's those second-and-a-click prayers that sometimes work as well as a directional punt.

But all of the six interceptions charged to Arndt came on throws within 12 yards of the line of the scrimmage, according to the play-by-play data. So Guelph really had Laurier figured out.

One who's closer to the situation with Laurier would have better licence to look into the quarterback situation with Tristan Arndt and second-year backup Carson Carusello. Coach Michael Faulds made the switch with 6:28 left, on a changeover at Laurier's own 10-yard line, after the sixth interception. The field position isn't relevant since that doesn't play into the decision, but it would contribute to any intimidation factor Carusello might have felt.

If Arndt needs help seeing the game from another perspective and Carusello can be an asset, why not give the backup a designated series in the second or third quarter? Either way, Laurier has a short week to figure it out before it heads up to Carleton.

York 34, Waterloo 32 — Why did the football Gods point to York's side of the field in this offensive slugfest between brave but determined minnow teams with a penchant for throwing deep and game uniforms that can be worn home or away? Because Warren Craney and the York staff called for a two-point convert when already up 14 points in the first half. Because every little bit counts.

Ultimately, what one would like to take away is that this illustrated that there isn't any quit in either team. Waterloo scored 24 consecutive points when it would have been very easy to give in to checking out of the game. Hunchak answered the 85-yard drive where Waterloo went ahead for the first time by essaying a nine-play, 89-yard march of his own for a three-point lead.

And then it came down to fate, or foot, as it seems to every week. York's Matt Dean got through to block the kick after Waterloo had a sluggish snapback.

Windsor 26, Toronto 24Best. Doughnut. Bowl. Ever. Windsor surmounted a 21-0 deficit across the final 2½ quarters whilst crossing the alumni stripe only once all afternoon, which sounds like a challenge Barney Stinson would have demurred from. Clark Green had a day going 6-of-6 on field goals, including two go-ahead boots from 40-plus.  

Another tip of the cap is due to Lancers defensive end Adam Slikboer, who made back-to-back plays to end the Toronto possession right before Windsor drove for its only touchdown to get within two points. They needed to score a TD since otherwise, Green would have had to go 8-for-8 on field goals to win the game.
The hate flows through you as you relive Laurier's rally in the 2016 Yates Cup. (CHCH)

"Broken Play" will be an infrequent, irregular, hopefully not incoherent series of posts laying out the case for a reboot to the league and national playoff structures of university football. Today, part 1 looks at the Western Mustangs' dominance within Ontario University Athletics, at least before Halloween.
Western isn't just controlling the line of scrimmage, it obliterates it — and we have the receipts.

First and foremost, the glass-half-full take with the current pecking order of OUA is that the league is in a good position for such time when the national brand for university sports, self-proclaimed, institutes an expanded Vanier Cup championship with wild cards and an extra tier or two of playoffs. The latter could happen in 2020, '21, or whenever Toronto actually begins building a new subway line; that Uteck Bowl beatdown last November certainly seems like a tipping point.

The Mustangs are head and shoulders above everyone else, but there are a number of teams with potential to be a credible second team out of Ontario, and maybe even a third. It could be Laurier. It could be McMaster. Carleton and Ottawa each seem to be on the upswing and tradition never graduates at Queen's.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, yes, there is a competitive imbalance in the conference.
Western doesn't appear to be challenged. You probably knew that already since the Mustangs, since the kickoff to the 2015 season, are 31-3 in reg-season and playoffs in Ontario.

The low-hanging fruit is just there, those juicy pregame quotes from the Hopeful Waterloo Warriors — "it's Yates Cup or bust" ... "I think the only way they win is if we beat ourselves" ... — which were drawing fruit flies by the first-quarter media timeout.

That was just youth and inexperience passing through the empty-handed (on this day) vessels of Tyler Ternowski and Tre Ford. The 67-7 win that Western rolled up against the Waterloo Warriors on Saturday simply conveys the black-and-gold Bertoia brigade still has plenty of the latter. We knew going into this Fine Football Saturday that Western was going to beat Waterloo handily, so it should be set aside. Or not. Have at it.

Only those slavish to Media Both-Siding — and look where that has taken the political zeitgeist lately — would have set the scene any differently. Western, as the season develops, is rolling by like an army of steamrollers and the entire Ontario University Athletics season, please prove me wrong, is a perfunctory exercise before they go trophy hunting in November. It would be nice if legacy media could break away from the tired-and-trite storytelling models and convey things more honestly. The Local Athlete Hopes To Win Game story form needed to go 10 years ago yesterday. Increasing understanding of the subject can do wonders for its following. Instead, what was technically a first-place showdown ends up as a 60-point blowout and knees start jerking about lack of competitive balance. They should, by all means, but not just because of that.

We can't blog games like we used, but what we can do is tell long stories that don't go anywhere ... each week, we're keeping a digest on OUA football.

Waterloo should know what its ceiling is, since they haven't come down from it since shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

Or maybe they have, since they have that Expect To Win, We Deserve This vibe. It would truly be a study in moppishness to try to do justice to the catharsis Waterloo exorcised when it defeated Laurier, 34-32, for its win against their neighbours in 16 seasons — or 5,857 days if you really want to hyperbolize with high numbers. It also would probably be a party foul to wonder how they go from that dizzying high to facing Western next week in what's now a first-place battle. On the first count, Adam McGuire's chronicle of the cross-town rivalry conquest does the job so very well, so just pop open a new tab.

Tre Ford, who's now averaging 12 yards per pass and 9.9 per rush — Kyle Quinlan crossed with Brad Sinopoli numbers from a second-year quarterback — emptied the thesaurus of all its superlatives, and one can only wish that the 88-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Ternowski would get some love on broadcast television. There's a pretty impressive talent operating Waterloo's offence.

So what now? Western might be a too-much too-soon deal but Waterloo should be favoured in its other three games. A 6-2 finish is in the offing, with a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage against Laurier (2-1), who could really cause some forelock-tugging in the OUA office by winning at Carleton on Thanksgiving weekend to create a three-way tie for second.

Carleton attained a desirable outcome and Waterloo was faithful to the process — it just didn't show on the scoreboard.

That might be the best way to unpack the Carleton Ravens wresting a last-seconds win against Waterloo which might be the difference between the Ravens (2-1) hosting a playoff game  and being a playoff bubble team. Carleton doesn't evince a lot of flashiness, but this game is about not beating oneself. The Ravens were turnover-free, converted two fumble recoveries into 10 points and cranked up the A/C — quarterback Michael Arruda, feature back Nathan Carter — to consume almost all of the final 2½ minutes before Michael Domagala booted the winning field goal.

The upshot for Waterloo is, true, it could be looking at 2-3 justlikethat with Laurier and Western next up on a three-game gauntlet. But the Warriors are not besotted with issues on both offence and defence, while new mid-table neighbours Guelph and McMaster look like they couldn't put up 30 points running plays against air, or even an AUS team.

Tre Ford has seen a real defence and still has wild rate stats — 11.4 yards per throw, a touchdown every 7.9 attempts and an 80 per cent completion rate, just for you traditionalists. The Warriors played good defence against a big-boy team and could have won had they not left points on the field, most notoriously when normally sure-handed Mitch Kernick dropped a wide-open pass behind coverage in the first half, with a 28-yard single on the ensuing field-goal try completing a six-point swing.

We can't blog games like we used, but what we can do is tell long stories that don't go anywhere ... each week, we're keeping a digest on OUA football.

Somewhere in the internal between Kurleigh Gittens Jr. laying out for a the-rout-is-on-signalling touchdown and Ente Eguavoen Matrix-ing his way inside the end zone pylon as Laurier began to really pile it on on against Queen's on Sunday, there was a twinge of anxiety.

More sophisticated minds can break down why Laurier, which grilled a 40-burger at Richardson Stadium for the second September in a row, has had such a production line on offence. Those concerns about the experience of Tristan Arndt at quarterback might be validated yet — keep telling yourself, it's early — but they have put on a show. The 44-18 scoreline against Queen's really did not do justice to the trouncing of the Tricolour, as Laurier had 621 yards, with 388 in the passing phase. Queen's is holding a Kids' Day promotion next weekend against Toronto, but it was men-against-boys on the other side of the ball too where Laurier limited the Gaels to 226 yards; 86 of that total came on one touchdown drive and a further significant chunk came on some window-dressing drives in toward the end.
The qualm is whether it can last. Could Laurier potentially win a scorefest against that other purple team, the Western Mustangs, on their home field? The Golden Hawks were pumped real good by Western in last year's Yates by a score that resembled the blood-pressure reading of an unhealthy person. They were full value for that comeback for the ages in the 2016 Yates (scoring 24 points in the final eight minutes to win 43-40), but the way that Western exacerbated the collapse does make it look like lightning in a bottle.

There are at least two really good OUA teams. Laurier, though, could be faced with problems at each end of the competitive spectrum: how much of a test will they get over the next five games and will they hold up if their game at Western on Oct. 20 ends up being like the movie we've seen before, where the Mustangs dictate terms with their steady chain-moving, will-imposing ways?

The last paragraph probably makes the bias obvious. As a first-gen stat nerd whose geeklove started with baseball, part of a personal infatuation with the sport, starting around 1990 or so, was seeing the fan-dangled offences pile up points and passing yards; those were the days when the run-and-shoot was being unleashed on the NFL and CFL teams' willingness to explore the possibilities presented by unlimited motion and a 65-yards-wide field made 6,000-yard seasons the norm, collectively laying waste to hoary coach-speak about using the run to set up the pass.

(Are you saying offence sells tickets, Captain Obvious?)

It is unfair to say one purple powerhouse's mode of attack offers more for the mind than the other. The lessons one can take from Western come down to how Greg Marshall often seems to be a step ahead with anticipating when he's going to have another big body or fresh legs and hands coached up and ready to contribute. On the field, they're very creative with using eligible receivers at the point of attack. But it is about the rushing phase at Western, just like it was in 1989 or 1979, and it is tough for a born against-the-grainer such as I to go along with that. 

At Laurier, it comes off as if coach Michael Faulds, who as a Western quarterback set national season and career records for passing yards within that prescribed framework, has taken some of that and combined it with the field-stretching goals of the modern football scientist. They have had more rush attempts than pass attempts through two weeks against Ottawa and Queen's, both teams in the meaty part of the OUA curve. As's Bill Miklas wondered on Sunday night, what does a defence prepare for against Laurier? Future pro Gittens and Eguavoen are a fine 1-2 punch as the outside receivers, while they have a steady-as-rent rushing phase with Levondre Gordon carrying most of the mail behind a blocking group of centre Myles Methner, guards Drew Mairleitner and J.D. Richardson (the two seniors on the unit) and tackles Bryce Bell and Sukhneet Kahlon, plus Cal Taylor and Mario Villamizar as H-backs.

The crux of this is that with an expanded Vanier Cup championship, be it six teams or eight, this Laurier team would be probably be national in November as either a Yates Cup winner or as the second representative from Ontario alongside you-know-who. However it happens, and we know the stakeholders are working on something for 2020 (if not then, 2021; if not then, 2022), it needs to happen.

That preamble might have just served to set up future posts about the playoff talks. That's a lesson from Faulds, one supposes.

Quick hits on the games. Top-ranked Western is the bye team.

Laurier 44, Queen's 18 (Sun.) — Understating that Queen's young secondary got a wee bit exposed will do, Pig, that'll do.

Impressive Laurier moment. The outcome was still theoretically in doubt at 23-7 in the third quarter when Eguavoen stretched out for a sideline catch on a second-and-15 play. That and a third-and-short conversion set up a Gittens Jr. touchdown. On the next drive, Eguavoen collected his just desserts for reviving a penalty-stalled drive by scoring a touchdown of his own.

Was there malice aforethought to get Eguavoen into the end zone? It probably just happened that way. But good teams keep the skill players slaked.

Laurier has a bye before what we full expect will be a 73-70 game against Waterloo on Sept. 15, followed by away at McMaster, home to Guelph, a short week before a Friday-of-Thanskgiving-weekend game at Carleton and Windsor. With the GTA teams off their schedule, that's a bit of gauntlet, eh?

Ottawa 18, McMaster 11 — Another matchup from The Verve division, as in the teams that seem to be "a million different people from one day to the next." It's good for the big picture that the Gee-Gees and Marauders are each 1-1, with a semi-exciting home win and an away loss, after two weeks.

The Gee-Gees' Bryce Vieira can't change his mold, oh no, and all of that was present on his 61-yard touchdown reception that broke the deadlock. Most running backs don't have the peripheral vision to make a one-handed catch. Then he broke through a couple tackle attempts from a young McMaster defence, and had the vision to turn it into a footrace.
Ottawa needed that one be on decent footing in the playoff race. Their itinerary as Guelph-bye-York before the Panda Game. They should be able to come into that healthy; for the last few years it's been a question of whether they can get out of it healthy, emotionally and physically.

The take-home with McMaster is that Andreas Dueck took over for Jackson White at quarterback and looked fairly poised, perhaps in a way not conveyed by the final stat-line on a day when it rained in the nation's capital. (Fun fact: there was rain during Mac's 2014 and '16 visits to Gee-Gees Field, and Ottawa won each of those games, too.) Sometimes when the future arrives, it's not noticed at the time.

Waterloo 41, Toronto 18 — The Tre & Tyler Show will face a legit team when Waterloo (2-0) faces Carleton on Saturday. There is a lot more afoot with the Warriors, though, than, being some world's tallest midget whaling on bottom-feeders. If that was the case, the games would have been close for a while and the Warriors have raced out to huge leads in each game thus far. Tre Ford and Tyler Ternowski, among others, would contribute on almost any team in Ontario.

Ford is averaging 13.5 yards an attempt — some quarterbacks do well to average 13½ a completion, but then again, he's completed nearly every ball — and a touchdown every 5.5 throws. Ternowski has six touchdowns in two games.

Get by Carleton, which will certainly have a seafaring defence but might not be able to win a game that goes into the 30s, and Waterloo will be more of a playoff lock. Perhaps this a sentiment best left back in 2017, but the fact Waterloo and playoffs is in the same sentence, legitimately, is a welcome development.

Guelph 33 York 18 — The unofficial award for Most Improved Webcast and In-Game Tweeting (it's given out right after the award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence) goes to the Gryphons webcast. Highlights and everything. Meantime, while one cannot be sure whether Guelph is very good, they were good enough and then some.

Also, is there anyone more deserving of giving the coach the Gatorade baptismal than linebacker, number 53, Luke Korol? I think not.
If Guelph comes through a four-game stretch of at Ottawa, at Windsor, home to Queen's and at Laurier with a 3-3 overall record, it will be in decent playoff position. It has a Thanksgiving week bye before a homestand against Toronto and Waterloo.

Carleton 38 Windsor 20 — what's more Peak Windsor, the colour commentator big-brain interjecting "good pass protection" a second before a pick-six touchdown given up by the Lancers offence, or the play-by-play displaying an incorrect final score hours after the game? You make the call!!

To be fair on the latter count, it's not often a team misses a field goal and then ends up getting a safety on the same play.

Carleton, one of the five 1-1 teams sharing fourth through eighth place, is also a blank slate. They almost beat Western at home, using home-field advantage to the hilt, but they rolled with having long the cross-province trip and put Windsor away with a decisive second half. An 18-point win after a long trip is still credible.
We can't blog games like we used, but what we can do is tell long stories that don't go anywhere ... each week, we're keeping a digest on OUA football.

Western barely got through its first game as the hunted, which might work for Greg Marshall in the long run.

Football players are never more human than they are in a season opener, which seems like the best reason not to get carried away with the defending Vanier Cup chanpion Western Mustangs — all together now: they only lost three starters — squeaking out a 26-23 overtime win at Carleton.

It was not what was expected, given the way Western stormed through the playoffs last season. But now every team is going to treat a Western matchup like it's the Vanier Cup, even Carleton, which already does that with the Panda Game.

The Ravens had the Mustangs down by 17 at halftime, eerily similarly to how Carleton had a 24-point lead against Western in an early-season home game in 2016 before eventually winning 38-31. Western were fine for the next 7¾ games, until the fourth quarter of the Yates Cup. There was a road loss against the Ottawa Gee-Gees back in 2010, too, before another run to the Yates.

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