The Western Mustangs hit hard and hit early on Saturday afternoon at TD Stadium.
It was obvious from the kickoff that this game was personal to every single player wearing purple and white on the sideline. The Mustangs were too fast, too physical and too dynamic for the Carleton Ravens to handle in their Ontario University Athletics semifinal duel, as the Mustangs earned a 51-24 victory.
The game may have been over right off the bat, as Marshall Ferguson intercepted Ravens quarterback Jesse Mills' first attempt of the game 47 seconds into the matchup. The Mustangs scored on that drive to go up 7-0 early.
Or maybe the game was done when Cedric Joseph ran in the first of his four touchdowns to put the Mustangs up 14-0. But if the Ravens tailspin was not complete by then, a 41-yard bomb from Chris Merchant to Harry McMaster to go up 21-10 certainly ended all hope for Carleton.
Amidst the combined 34 penalties and the palpable animosity between the two teams on the field, the Mustangs emerged victorious.
One more win and this team will be atop the province and on its way to a national semifinal meeting with the champion of Quebec.
The Ravens beat a very different Mustangs team in the second week of the season than the one they met on an uncharacteristically warm November afternoon.
This Western team was dominant on the offensive line. This Western team had its running backs punishing the Ravens defense, punishing their resolve to make a real comeback. And this Western team had a quarterback it could trust to make plays when it needed.
This Saturday's version of Western quarterback Chris Merchant had a first half to remember, completing all nine of his passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Combined with his handling of the ball and running prowess, the Mustangs quarterback proved impossible for the Ravens defence to stop.
"In the first half especially I felt really good," said Merchant about his performance. "I thought we executed really well and everything kind of fell into place for our game plan. Over the past couple of weeks I've been learning the offence more vividly and thoroughly. I felt way more confident and my teammates helped me out today."
The Mustangs pounded the ball time and time again. The sheer dominance of the Western run game broke the Ravens' will in the first half. Alex Taylor led all rushers with 109 yards, Cedric Joseph had 107 yards and Chris Merchant added 97.
"When a running back has a great day at the office you got to give it up to the o-line," said Joseph on his four touchdown performance. "I really thought the o-line stepped up today and took on the challenge head on. All my credit to the five guys up front and the full backs doing the extra blocking."
Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall did not appear as happy as most Yates Cup-bound coaches would after the game. His team committed 23 penalties for 287 yards. The lead they earned could have been larger if the team played a more disciplined game.
"Too many penalties, but I am happy that we won," said Marshall on his team's lack of discipline. "[Carleton] are a very good team and I am happy with the way we controlled the line of scrimmage. Just sloppy, but when you play good teams sometimes that happens. The number of holding penalties is an issue, but the number of undisciplined penalties is something that will be addressed."
While the Mustangs weren't perfect in all aspects of the game, the revenge was sweet. And with seven straight wins, the demons of that early season loss to Carleton have been exorcised.
"It was real personal," Cedric Joseph said on how it felt to avenge their early season loss. “They took the lead, we came back and then unfortunately lost. It was a long ride back. We definitely had a chip on our shoulder."
Next Saturday the Mustangs host the Laurier Golden Hawks in the Yates Cup game. The Mustangs will be the overwhelming favorite to win the game after having previously beaten Laurier 45-26 on Oct. 1.
"It feels awesome," said Chris Merchant on how it feels to be heading to his first career Yates Cup. "It's what I came here to do. We are going to take that next step and focus on next week. We're going to come into practice with really focused minds."