OUA Football, Week 8: Waterloo takes inside track on first playoff spot in 15 years, Western (shocker!) clinches first, and four-way and five-way ties are in play? Great, and Carleton clinches

SUNDAY AFTERNOON TIEBREAKER APOCALYPSE

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.


I invite the readers to take it from there:


CarletonGuelphLaurierMcMasterOttawaWaterlooQueen's
5-34-34-34-35-24-33-4
Carletonxx6x11-3-3
Guelphxx-312??1
Laurier-63x1-182-26
McMasterx-1-1x718-3
Ottawa-11-218-7xx??
Queen's3-1263??xx
Toronto1233x33322333
Waterloo3??-2-18xxx
Western-3x??-33-33-33-3
Windsor18615??x16x
York1515xx26-221
x-non-combatant

??-Week 9 opponent

Oh boy, is this great!
Without benefit of a crystal ball, it is worth reviewing the schedule byes for all the potential 4-4 teams, with the combined record of their "non-combatant" teams in brackets.
  • Guelph — Carleton, Western (13-3)
  • Waterloo — Ottawa, Queen's (8-6)
  • McMaster — Carleton, York (7-7)
  • Queen's — Waterloo, Windsor (5-9)
  • Laurier — York, Toronto (2-12)
The scheduling guidelines are giving us a nice distraction before we remember how this movie ends in November, and refill our soda to wash away the bile. Laurier, Mac and Queen's are purportedly prestige programs and shouldn't be counting on wins against the bottom three to get into the playoffs. I wouldn't advise trying to tell them that in person, though.

Waterloo-Guelph is the game to follow. The Warriors still have at second place if they win, but a loss could end their season. It's a win-and-in for Guelph, but a loss sets off a scramble for the spreadsheet. At least everyone can have their own copy of the spreedsheet, unlike the U.S. Senate with a FBI report.

Also, thank goodness for Adam McGuire.)



Oh yes, we kept notes on the game.

SATURDAY

Editor's note: For sake of chronology, Saturday's digest and Friday's are separate, due to OUA having a split schedule with multiple games on each day. Happy weekend after Thanksgiving.

Cheap imitation of John Facenda: On a brisk autumn day where a cruel wind is either friend or foe, depending on the nature of one's team, the spirit of the Warrior kingdom flowed through the gifted passing arm of Tre Ford as surely as God spoke through Tolstoy's pen —

Western Mustangs: Helllllllllo, undefeated No. 1-ranked defending champion who just clinched home-field advantage through to the Mitchell Bowl — with a shutout road victory — within earshot!

Scriptwriter: Well, you see, you're a juggernaut that's on another planet, and really should be playing Laval or MontrΓ©al in the regular season. Waterloo controls its destiny with one game left, and is likely headed to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years—

Alex Taylor: But I had 225 yards and averaged 17 a carry today!

Scriptwriter: Yes. And you should be very proud. Now get on the team bus.


Waterloo, if one might get so flowery about it, is the place to go for the person whose mental coordinates make them change the game if they don't like the settings for the current one. The way that Tre Ford and Tyler Ternowski, et al., took over in the second half against McMaster was perfectly characteristic of how the Warriors have tilted the odds during their turnaround.

Over the span of two scoring drives, they converted three sizable third downs that weren't gambles at all. Increasing their edge helped them run off 25 consecutive points over five possessions whilst exposing some gaps in the learning curve of that young McMaster defence, which has given up close to 500 yards two weeks in a row.


With Waterloo winning in what really should not be viewed as an upset, OUA is set up for a frenetic finale, with four 4-3 teams vying for three playoff berths, while Queen's (3-4) is also a going concern.



Waterloo 34, No. 9 McMaster 16 — The wind helped, but the Waterloo defence, with Tyrese Brissett and Devon Hinsperger each notching 1½ sacks among a total of five on the day,  had its best afternoon of the season. They limited McMaster to one touchdown and 346 yards. It averted disaster by holding the Marauders to a field goal after a botched punt led to a turnover on downs at the nine-yard line in the third quarter. Waterloo got the points back immediately with a 13-play drive and took over the game shortly thereafter.


No. 1 Western 33, No. 5 Ottawa 0 — Oh, don't look so shocked. Western is heads, shoulders and sternum above the rest of this conference, and the difference this time around is that separation is balanced between offence and defence. Ottawa's longest gain of the day was 18 yards. Not much more need be said, other than to speculate about how Greg Marshall will handle what is now a nothing game for the Mustangs.

Western has the opportunity to knock Laurier out of the playoffs, and it will have the bye week before its OUA semifinal on Nov. 3. There is a lot of risk management for the team that has first place wrapped up a week in advance, as was the case for McMaster in 2014, Western in 2011 and Queen's in 2008 and '09. Hazarding a guess based on nothing, if he's healthy quarterback Chris Merchant probably plays a half, while Alex Taylor and Cedric Joseph will also have their touches rationed.

There could be a torrent of emotions on Laurier's side of things if the score gets out of hand fast and a realization sinks in that a promising season is going to end earlier than anticipated. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves.

No. 10 Guelph 46, Toronto 8 — The outcome wasn't in doubt for long, as the Gryphons gained 500-some yards, gave up fewer than 300 and had a touchdown in third phase through a punt-return touchdown from Kiondre Smith. Shout-outs to Gryphons special teamers Jared Beeksma and Anthony Hall for opening some lanes for Smith to house that one.
Guelph hasn't done anything to lose control of its destiny. I like that.  

FRIDAY


Laurier rejoined the living, after borrowing from the Bank of Peak Windsor, the OUA's finest lending institution.

Ontario University Athletics football is at its best when the bottom three, or four, is showing up and representing well. Windsor, buttressed by having the wind in the second quarter, was doing that football and even had a halftime lead against Laurier. Then Windsor did Windsor things and the Golden Hawks quickly assumed a three-score lead en route to a 39-24 victory.

Early in the third quarter, the Lancers defence, thanks to Dan Stirling stripping the ball from Levondre Gordon, had sent the Golden Hawks away empty-handed from a red zone visit for the second time on the day. Then the Lancers immediately had a shotgun snap sail over the head of quarterback Sam Girard, who had to cover the ball for a safety.


Laurier scored on the next possession, and then on the ensuing kickoff ...






In fairness, that kind of entropy is going from egregious to everyday in a lot of pointy-ball precincts across U Sports, as the football's decline at the high school level begins to catch up to the university level and the put-upon university coaches. That's the macro stuff, best saved for the off-season, or later in the season when there are fewer games to offer a distraction.

In the here and now, Laurier (4-3) has not done enough to put the "y-" for a clinched playoff berth next to its name. Their fate is going to come down to who joins them at 4-4, presuming the chalk holds against the Purple Ponies down in London in the regular-season finale.

Laurier's avian antagonists in the 613 did so. Carleton, 35-20 winners at York, breasted the five-win tape and its seeding will depend on how many teams join them at 5-3. There's a good possibility of a four-way tie for the 3 through 6 seeds, even a five-way split from 2 to 6 if Ottawa loses each of its remaining games.




No. 7 Laurier 39, Windsor 24
The potential for chaos lessened considerably on the final drive of the first half, in all honesty. Windsor took an end-zone shot on first down in the red zone and Daishane Johnson closed for the breakup, then Trevaughn James got a sack that induced a field-goal try. So the Golden Hawks went into the break trailing 19-15 instead of 23-15, and figuring it out became easier.

Laurier's career scoring leader Nathan Mesher is place-kicking after getting hurt at Carleton last week. A hand injury has led to Laurier using rookie Max Sherwood for kickoffs and punts. Sharing that for all you bottom-of-the-roster management enthusiasts. Laurier could have to leave a depth guy off the travel roster to accommodate the extra specialist!









Carleton 35, York 20Two-touchdown margins in wind-whipped games was the theme for Friday. Writing this blog when work commitments negate live viewing is like being a 1940s baseball announcer re-creating games by reading a ticker tape. What happened? 

By the look of it, 50 of the 55 points were scored by the team going with the wind, and Carleton, like it seems to most weeks, lived on the margins. Get outgained by 100-some yards? Well, four of their five sacks came after York and Brett Hunchak had driven to within scoring range, which supports the theory that nothing really matters in Canadian ball until your opponent is inside the 30-yard line. The takedowns, including two from Kene Onyeka, gave Carleton a conference-leading 24.

Further to that margins narrative, kicker Michael Domagala should be on Property Brothers with the way he flipped the field (go ahead, boo that reference). In a season where Guelph, Queen's and Waterloo have all had gutting missed field goals, Domagala has the distinction of having both the longest field goal and longest punt of this season.

The latter came just inside of the 14-minute mark, with Carleton up by three, and it was a 70-yarder that went into touch at the Lions' three-yard line. A two-and-out and a short York punt set up Carleton its second short-field touchdown drive of the afternoon. York never got close than seven over the duration.

The red flag with the Ravens remains, well, penalty flags — 14 accepted for 115 yards on Friday. The rub with that comes back to a more auspicious figure, the totally made-up Disruptions mega-stat that combines sacks, fumble recoveries and interceptions. Carleton has 37, or 4.6 per game, which ranks third in the conference after Ottawa (36, 6.0 per) and Western (32, 5.3).

So Ottawa and Carleton are first and third at The Good Thing, and happen to be 1-2 in penalty yards per game. It is not clear whether there is some cost-of-doing-business correlation there, but if it's a crude calculus of an extra takeaway per game against one extra major foul, most coaches would probably take it. (Western is fifth in penalties.)

York, meantime, drops out of Worst-Case Ontario. The Lions, to channel Nigel Tufnel, just needed more sustain. Warren Craney's charges stayed within two touchdowns of Carleton and Guelph. They were in a one-possession game against Queen's at three-quarters time. And there was that breakthrough in the nation's capital where they led Ottawa for 2½ minutes before Jamie Harry restored the natural order by housing an interception return.

Worst-Case Ontario

It is a just a matter of what slot Carleton will fill in the bracket. The Ravens should not be able to finish any higher than third, since they lost to Ottawa, which already has five wins.

  1. Western (best-case 8-0, worst-case 8-0). Talking point: with an expanded national playoff, Western would have to play it out to work for that No. 1 seed. That is something else to keep in mind.

    As it stands, it's hard to imagine Greg Marshall punting one away to Michael Faulds — the master always makes the protege earn it. Western also has a 19-win overall streak extant and it has won 21 regular-season games in a row, dating back to a loss at Carleton in Week 2 of 2016. Those are luxury items and the Yates and Vanier are staples, but it's only a competitor's nature to want to be deprived of those things in a straight-up open competition.
  2. Ottawa (best-case 6-2, worst-case 5-3). At Queen's in Week 9. The math is pretty simple for the Gee-Gees: beat Queen's, which they haven't lost against since 2013, and they host a semifinal on Nov. 3. Please let that be the one that CHCH broadcasts even though London is closer to its Hamilton base.
  3. McMaster (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). That Windsor game isn't looking like such a sure thing after successive shreddings of the secondary. A playoff spot isn't assured
  4. Carleton (5-3). To use a Horsin' Around joke construction, I've heard of bend-don't-break, but this is fairly ridiculous. Carleton kept only one opponent under 20 points, but it's got an inside track on a top-5 finish. And even then, that one under-20 game owed to Waterloo leaving points all over the field.
  5. Guelph (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). If the conditions allow for a scorefest, Waterloo does that a bit better than Waterloo. The Gryphons might rate the edge in the old-school elements of the game, but after seeing how Waterloo controlled the line of scrimmage in the decisive stages at McMaster, that's a bit more open to debate.
  6. Waterloo (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). Is their win against Laurier going to be a hole card in a tiebreaker scenario? Win at Guelph and they won't have to find out.
  7. Laurier (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). At Western next week. There was a gap between the teams when the Golden Hawks pulled the upset in the 2016 Yates, but right now it looks like a chasm.
  8. Queen's (best-case 4-4, worst-case 3-5). Host Ottawa in what might ultimately end up being their de facto playoff game. They could win and still lose the numbers game.
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