It’s the OUA playoff finale, and only two remain standing. The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks and the Western Mustangs meet for a chance to compete for the 2016 Yates Cup. Both teams, who finished the regular season with a stellar 7-1 record, will clash for one last time this season, to determine which team moves forward on their quest for the Vanier Cup.
2016 Yates Cup Preview — the Laurier Golden Hawks battle the Western Mustangs
The Mustangs and Golden Hawks, seeded first and second in the OUA respectively, are battling it out to take the next step towards the ultimate goal — the Vanier Cup. For the Mustangs, this is their 31st Yates Cup appearance in the program. The last time the Golden Hawks were at the Yates Cup was back in 2006, and are looking to return back to glory under head coach Michael Faulds.
The two teams have met in the Yates Cup 14 times in their programs’ history. For Laurier, four of their seven Yates Cup wins have come against Western, while the Mustangs look to hoist the cup for the first time since 2013. The Mustangs are returning to the final in back-to-back years, but this time, they hope to avoid a potential upset.
Here are three keys to the game.
Keys to the Game
Balanced attack — the Western Mustangs have the tools necessary to move the ball through the ball and the air, especially with quarterback Chris Merchant coming in to his own. They also have Stephenson Bone, who could be substituted into the game to help move the ball on the ground. If Laurier is going to win this game, they need to limit Western’s explosive offence. Western has a tendency to run away with the game with an unrelenting attack — it’s in Laurier’s best interest to keep the Mustangs offence at bay.
Shutdown the Run — Both teams have strong running games, with Western’s Alex Taylor and Laurier’s Eric Guiltinan manning the reins. But since Guiltinan is a game-time decision, Laurier could resort to their running depth, including Levondre Gordon and Osayi Iginuan to help generate offence. That being said, Laurier and Western have two of the strongest defences in the league, with Laurier only allowing 15.8 points per game and Western allowing 18.5 points per game.
Western’s defence placed second in the OUA regular season in rushing yards allowed per game with 107.3 yards, while Laurier placed third with 115.4. Those numbers have since dropped, as both teams have shut down the run in their semifinal matchups. With Laurier being a run-first team and Western adapting to that style of play, this game could boil down to which team shuts down the run better.
Battle of Inches — the last two times these two teams met in the postseason, the games were extremely close, and only broke open in the final quarter. Last year, Laurier only trailed by three, holding the high-octane offence of the Mustangs to 18 points before they ran away with the victory. In 2014, the two teams were tied at 10 before the Mustangs pulled away again in the fourth quarter. With postseason football bringing out the best of these two teams, expect this game to go down to the wire.
Main photo courtesy of Drew Yates.