Four years after their last Yates Cup appearance, Queen’s will again face off against the archrival Western Mustangs in the OUA championship game.
Little else but the two teams involved remains the same from the 2009 Yates Cup, which had the Gaels defeat the Mustangs 43-39 in a thriller at Richardson Stadium.
Tomorrow’s game will be played in London, with Billy McPhee and Will Finch having replaced legendary quarterbacks Danny Brannagan and Michael Faulds.
Everything went according to script this year — the OUA final four featured the top four seeds, and the Yates Cup is a matchup of the two best squads in Ontario.
In their only meeting earlier this season, Western jumped to an early 23-0 lead and never looked back as they cruised to a 50-31 victory.
“This will be another round in which has been an ongoing battle between these two schools,” said Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan.
The number one ranked Mustangs are favoured to win tomorrow — and with good reason. Led by Finch under centre, the team features one of the country’s most explosive offences.
Western averaged an impressive 57 points per game, and was held under 50 just once.
Finch capped off his second CIS season by breaking the all-time single season passing record, throwing for 3,047 yards and 21 touchdowns, with only six interceptions.
Playmakers at the skill positions, like running back Yannick Harou and receiver George Johnson, make Western a threat to score every possession, regardless of their starting field position.
The Mustangs are ruthless with their rush game, rarely facing second-and-long, and forcing opponents to stack the line of scrimmage as they run Harou downfield.
Finch benefits from all the high-percentage passing situations, taking his shots at single coverage when the opportunity arises.
“If they can hold onto the ball and run 75 to 80 plays on you, there’s no defence that’s going to stop a team that many times — especially a team with that many weapons,” Sheahan said.
“The best thing to do against a great offensive team is to keep them on the sidelines for as long as possible.”
To achieve this goal, feature running back Ryan Granberg will have to continue his excellent regular season.
Granberg and fellow backs Jesse Andrews, Daniel Heslop and Jonah Pataki combined for almost 200 rushing yards in the teams’ first meeting, a figure they’ll need to surpass if they hope to beat the Mustangs.
Despite an obvious necessity to use their rotating backfield, winning the game will still fall into the hands of quarterback McPhee.
The opportunity to have the standout game of his career isn’t coming at a better time for McPhee, who’s been on a tear over his previous 12 quarters of football.
In that time span, he’s thrown for 799 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception.
Taking shots downfield will be necessary, but the game will be decided on the Gaels’ short-to-medium passing game.
If McPhee can unload the ball to go-to receivers Justin Chapdelaine and Scott Macdonell, Queen’s should wear down the Western defence.
The Gaels’ defence will have their work cut out for them, and will need to win the battles in the trenches to slow down Western’s offensive juggernaut.
Defensive linemen John Miniaci and Derek Wiggan will need to disguise their pass-rushing looks and get Western’s massive offensive line to second-guess assignments.
“We always talk about making the [offensive lineman] move and see how he does against the speed rush,” Miniaci said.
Though the task ahead is arduous, the Gaels have the ability to win this football game.
Long, sustained drives that keep Western’s offence off the field are a necessity, and if the front seven can goad Finch into difficult passes, Queen’s voracious secondary will get its opportunities for turnovers.
When the dust settles, one team will come away as the Yates Cup champion. For all those involved, the opening kickoff can’t come any sooner.
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