OUA notes: Why Western stays No. 1, despite Carleton scare

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.

That trip up to the nation's capital from west of the Gridlocked Traffic Area that is the Toronto region is tough on anyone, man. McMaster has also lost in its last two visits up to Ottawa, too.

So between the first-game jitters, a false sense of security and the travel factor, Western probably deserves some benefit of the doubt clemency for that close call.

There's also the possibility that Western learned something from the last OUA team, McMaster in 2012, that came into the season as the defending national champion. Under Stefan Ptaszek, McMaster really didn't aim to use up all of its A-material in the first few weeks of the season, so sometimes the scorelines were artificially close.

On top of that, with an Aug. 26 opener far from its home base before a Week 2 bye and a Sept. 8 home opener against McMaster, perhaps this was like an exhibition game in terms of the timeline. Western will have a lot of practice days before it faces a game with officials and scorekeepers and everything again, plus Laurier doesn't come up until the final week.

On to the snark:
Western 26, Carleton 23 (overtime) — It's not often Western gets held to 4.2 yards per tote, as Carleton's athletes limited the purple ponies to 38 for 167. Given the recent history in that matchup, it's not a total surprise. On the other side of the ball, Carleton's Michael Arruda had 166 of his 297 passing yards on three completions. That came from two touchdowns — one on a third-and-1 where presumably the entire Mustangs defence was gulled — a 53-yard Hail Mary in the final seconds of the fourth quarter that set up Mike Domagala's 50-yard field goal with one second left that forced overtime.

McMaster 16, Guelph 15 — Sending Gabriel Ferraro, a good kicker at this level, out for a 56-yard field goal with 30 seconds left makes my brain bleed. The options Guelph interim coach Todd Galloway had on third-and-10 were not great. The Gryphons offence and quarterback Theo Landers had exactly two completions longer than 10 yards on the day; they and were only across midfield thanks to a rush and a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Ferraro's kick fluttered down around the 10-yard line. It was a game effort from the fifth-year senior who hit a 51-yard field goal last season and has traded pressure boots with Ottawa Redblacks rookie sensation Lewis Ward in the past. But there was a slight wind in his face, and he was kicking toward the same posts he had missed twice already. Maybe Guelph should have tried a draw play.

McMaster, whose young defence made a one-point lead stand up over the last nine minutes, got better and steadier as the day went along. Jackson White was off the mark early, then began fitting some second-down throws to Tyson Middlemost into tight windows, found Middlemost on a 56-yard pass-and-run in the third quarter, and dropped in a 36-yard pass to Tommy Nield — after being trusted to throw deep on second-and-2 — on the go-ahead touchdown drive.

It's hard to say how much stock should be put in Mac pulling out a one-point win at home. Guelph seems like an enigma. With mid-30s Celsius humidity it was probably wise to rotate three running backs and Jamal Hooker and Kwame Osei had their moments when they found the holes very quickly behind guards Ben Petrie and Coulter Woodmansey. There just wasn't a lot of sustain, but fair is fair, the passing game is never going to be on all eight cylinders this early in the season.

Queen's 42, York 21 — It was Lions 9, (Golden) Gaels 3 at the three-minute warning in the first half. One could only imagine how 2006 Neate, or 2007 Neate would have reacted to that — probably in a far from heroic fashion.

First game, slow start, yadda-yadda-yadda. Peak Nate Hobbs showed up and Queen's scored 39 points across the next 30½ minutes. But with Pat Sheahan teams, one learns to be patient until they figure it out and start hitting the deep shots. Putting up 40-plus is a fitting way for Sheahan to get his 100th overall coaching win at Queen's, given some of the offences the Big Yellow Guys have run out over the last two decades.

Queen's gets a much truer test against Laurier at home on Labour Day.

Laurier 39, Ottawa 21 — Speaking of which, an assured performance from Tristan Arndt as the Golden Hawks took care of business.

Waterloo 53, Windsor 37 — Did the Warriors just become a 2018 version of mid-aughts Windsor, meaning they can be counted on to pile up yards and points against the bottom third of the conference, while the rest of the chips fall where they may? Not really, since that happened last year, but they are at it again. Make all your "could not do that in NCAA 14" jokes about TNT, quarterback Tre Ford wide receiver Tyler Ternowski, had conference record-tying four TD receptions. Regardless of where the Warriors finish or how well they hang in with the unofficial top flight, at least they're giving brain candy to the stat nerds.

So, go for it, Waterloo ... have a 200-yard receiver next week against Toronto. Maybe even have two, that hasn't been done. A circle should be drawn around their Sept. 8 game against Carleton, who will be trying to avenge a home loss to the Warriors last season.
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