It was the game that will live on in infamy. The Western Mustangs had the Yates Cup in the bag. Up 40–19 on the Laurier Golden Hawks with eight minutes left in the game, all the Mustangs had to do was hold the ball and run the clock out and the program would lay claim to their 31st provincial title.
But the final eight minutes were apocalyptic for the Mustangs. The Golden Hawks stormed back, capping off the historic comeback with a field goal in the final seconds of the game to steal the championship from the hands of the Mustangs.
The crowd of 4,000 went silent, a hush surrounding TD Stadium. Some Mustangs players fell to the ground, in shock and in mourning, while the Golden Hawks celebrated their near-impossible feat.
The Mustangs had the off-season to ruminate over the loss. It motivated them throughout training camp as they looked ahead to this season. And now they have their chance for redemption.
While their fellow Western University students take to Broughdale to celebrate FOCO on Saturday, the football team will board their buses and travel down the 401 to Waterloo to take on the only other undefeated team in Ontario University Athletics.
Both teams are coming off statement wins this past weekend. The Mustangs dismantled the Queen's Gaels 48–10 while the Golden Hawks crushed their crosstown rival, the Waterloo Warriors, 71–24.
Now it's time for Hawks-Mustangs part two. But Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall isn't focused on what happened in the past.
"We’re going to put last year behind us and concentrate on winning it for the 2017 team,” Marshall said.
The Hawks are, without question, the toughest team the Mustangs will have to face all season. They're formidable on offence, ranking second in the OUA in both points per game (47.0) and yards per game (574.3). Quarterback Michael Knevel leads the OUA with 353.5 passing yards per game and ranks second in the conference in passing touchdowns. Running back Levondre Gordon ranks second in the province in both yards per game (119.8) and rushing touchdowns (5).
The Laurier defence has allowed only 19 points per game and 341.3 yards per game. In short, they're an elite squad on both sides of the ball. Western will need to be as good as they were against Queen's if they want to leave Waterloo with a 6–0 record.
“Obviously, our motto this week was ‘Best Week’, but if this week was our best week then next week has to be even better," said Mustangs running back Alex Taylor after Western's win over Queen's. "Queen’s is a good football team, but Laurier is undefeated right now. We’re going to take everything we did this week and build off it and definitely have our best week next week.”
Taylor will be one of the key factors in the Mustangs offensive attack on Saturday. After sitting out the Mustangs' game against Windsor two weeks ago, Taylor shredded the Queen's defence for 184 yards and three touchdowns. He's the prototypical workhorse running back, punishing defences one down at a time.
The Mustangs will also need efficient production from quarterback Chris Merchant, who ranks second in the OUA in passing yards per game (283.6) and has the ability to make plays with his feet. In a game that is poised to be a shootout between gunslinging quarterbacks and smash-mouth running backs, the offences will decide the outcome.
For Taylor and the Mustangs, what happened in 2016 still stings. But it's the catalyst for what happens on Saturday. And it provides all the bulletin-board material the Mustangs need to come out firing on all cylinders.
“I’m OK with talking about it,” Taylor said. “I think that we’ve got to use that, and I recognize what happened last year and ... use that as a driving force for us to play our best football.”