Even though it’s only the third game of the regular season for both teams, Saturday’s clash between the Western Mustangs and the McMaster Marauders at TD Waterhouse Stadium has some serious playoff implications.
If Western (1-1) wins, they’ll draw even with the Marauders (2-0) atop the OUA and, should these two teams finish the season tied for first or second, the Mustangs would hold the tiebreaker.
If the Marauders win they’ll take a commanding hold of first place in the OUA and all but secure their playoff spot and possibly a first round bye. McMaster plays four of its final five regular season games against Guelph, Windsor, York and Toronto — the OUA’s four worst teams.
“Admittedly, you do sneak a peek at the playoff format,” Marauders head coach Stefan Ptaszek said. “The top two teams get first round byes and get to lick their wounds before they get into the second season. It’s something you want to compete for.”
Of course, Mustangs coach Greg Marshall knows his team just needs a win — period. After an inspiring 46-1 victory over the Laurier Golden Hawks in week one, the Mustangs dropped their next game to Ottawa 20-19 on a last minute touchdown.
“We played very well against Laurier and we played okay against Ottawa,” Marshall said earlier this week. “We want to play well this week and we want to win. It’s a big game for us.”
Now, playing their third game in 11 days, the Mustangs need a victory over the Marauders to stay in the hunt for a first round playoff bye. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The Mustangs haven’t beaten McMaster since 2006 and dropped the only 2009 matchup between the two teams 42-35 at Western’s homecoming.
Here are a couple keys for the Mustangs on Saturday:
Start your own run
The Mustangs were so successful against Laurier in week one because they were able to balance their passing game with a strong rushing attack. But Western’s offence sputtered in week two when Ottawa’s stingy defence all but shut down the Mustangs ground game.
It sounds simple, but strong rushing can have a huge effect on a game — especially in the OUA where momentum is everything. If Western can move the ball on the ground with both tailback Jerimy Hipperson and speedy quarterback Donnie Marshall, they’ll be successful.
Of course, McMaster will be ready for it.
“[Donnie Marshall] is an integral part of the running game,” Ptaszek said. “He’s multifaceted and an absolute nightmare. It means our defensive ends and the guys on the edge have to play differently. They have to play safe.”
Stop the other guys’ run
No doubt, McMaster likes to run the football. Tailbacks Jordan Kozina and Joseph Nemet are third and fourth in rushing in the OUA and quarterback Kyle Quinlan is eighth. Expect this Saturday to be no different.
“You want to take some pressure off the quarterback position,” Ptaszek said. “We have to establish the run to have balance and make it tough on this talented defence.”
Mustangs defensive tackle Scott Fournier won’t dress for the game because of a hand injury, meaning the team will rely heavily on Mike Van Praet to plug up the running lanes. Defensive ends Zander Robinson and David Lee will be leaned on to stop Quinlan from scrambling outside of the pocket.
Avoid number 53
Ryan Chmielewski, a fourth-year linebacker and former OUA rookie of the year, is having some kind of season. In just two games he’s made 19 tackles, intercepted three passes, forced a fumble and recovered two others. Quarterback Donnie Marshall has to keep his whereabouts in mind whenever he’s looking to move the football.
“We’re going to have to make sure we have him accounted for in our blocking schemes and get up on him,” Mustangs coach Greg Marshall said of Chmielewski. “He’s an outstanding player.”
Gotta strike while the iron’s hot
Marshall hit the nail on the head in an interview earlier this week — when two good, evenly-matched teams meet, it’s often the big play that makes the difference. Look for Marshall to grind the Marauders with the run game early and try a long pass or trick play if he can get McMaster on their heels.
“McMaster is a good team and they’re well coached. They aren’t going to give you anything — you’re going to have to earn it,” Marshall said. “Sometimes it’s the big plays that you catch them on. If you can get a big run or a big reception that sways the momentum.”