The last time the Western Mustangs and Guelph Gryphons met on the gridiron, the elements didn't cooperate.
In the Mustangs home opener on Labor Day, after the lightning ceased to strike and the rain stopped falling, the Mustangs and Gryphons slugged it out in an epic tilt, the kind of game that, when played early in the season, metaphorically puts hair on a football team's chest.
The game went into overtime, where the Mustangs won 41–34. It was the closest this Western team came to losing all season.
The two teams will meet again on Saturday, with a trip to the Yates Cup on the line.
It's the greatest ultimatum in sports. Win and move on. Lose and go home.
The Mustangs have been the best team in Ontario without question. Their offence, both on the run and the pass, has been consistent and dynamic late in the season. Thanks to a dominant offensive line that has owned the push throughout 2017, the Mustangs stable of running backs has been nearly unstoppable.
And then there's the defence, which has been as hard-nosed as any in the country. The Mustangs defence pounced in their final regular season meeting, sucking the life out of an Ottawa Gee-Gees offence that was not able to match the Mustangs physicality and explosiveness.
But the Gryphons are not the Gee-Gees. This Guelph team showed that they could handle the Mustangs in TD Stadium, a hefty feat considering the other three home games Western played were won by 38, 37 and 53 points respectively.
While revenge will be on the minds of the Gryphons, the last two playoff meetings between the two programs are sure to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the fourth-year Mustangs and the coaching staff.
In 2014, the Gryphons clobbered Western 51–26 in the OUA semifinals. The Gryphons ended the Mustangs season in 2015 as well, winning the Yates Cup with a 23–17 victory.
While the Gryphons wouldn't admit it, they're playing with house money. They're the fifth seed in the Ontario University Athletics playoffs, playing the number two team in the nation on the road. They also don't have the weight of last year's Yates Cup collapse on their shoulders like the Mustangs do.
But the Mustangs welcome the pressure. They're a different team than the 2016 edition of Western football that let the provincial title slip out of their fingers. The Mustangs have the best offence and defence in the OUA. They have arguably the best offensive line in Canadian university football and a defensive line that stifles opponents' rushing attacks. They also have a kicker in Marc Liegghio. A kicker who doesn't miss.
And, maybe more important than all the stats and positional advantages, the Mustangs showed that they were the closers in that rainy Labor Day matchup two months ago. They showed grit and tenacity in winning that game in overtime. And then, from Sept. 4 onwards, they ran the rest of the OUA out of the building.
The Mustangs have had a target on their back for much of the season, as they do most years. Although the Laurier Golden Hawks won the Yates Cup last year, the Mustangs were the team to beat throughout the 2017 campaign.
Guelph could be a formidable semifinal opponent, with their talented receiving corps and versatile quarterback. But the Mustangs have faced good teams and bad teams, offensive juggernauts and defensive stalwarts.
They've beat them all. There's no reason why Saturday won't be the same.