It wasn't always pretty; it wasn't always easy. But after another dominant defensive performance in a 29–14 win over the McMaster Marauders on Saturday afternoon, the Mustangs football team remains perfect on the season.
The Mustangs offence had a tumultuous afternoon at Ron Joyce Stadium in Hamilton, with Chris Merchant and Stevenson Bone combining to throw three interceptions. Even the running game, which has been dominant throughout the season, stalled in the first half, compiling only 29 yards. Without the help of an undisciplined Marauders squad that committed 12 penalties for 110 yards, the Mustangs could have dug themselves into an early hole.
In a game that was poised to be a fight in the trenches between an overpowering Mustangs defence and a McMaster offence built around the run game, Western came out on top. The Mustangs stopped McMaster three times on third down, recovered two fumbles and contained McMaster quarterbacks Andreas Dueck and Jackson White to 138 combined yards passing.
The Mustangs defence looks championship-ready, but the offence needs some tweaking after Saturday. Although the second half saw a major turnaround for the Western rushing attack, finishing the game with 162 yards, the game got off to a slow start, with a conceded safety from McMaster providing Western a 2–0 lead in the first quarter.
The Mustangs offence answered quickly: Merchant connected with Alex Taylor on a 44-yard bomb and extended the Mustangs lead to 9–0 three minutes into the second quarter.
Western's special teams unit provided the next points for the Mustangs as a blocked punt from Fraser Sopik led to Adam Preocanin recovering the ball and taking it back for a touchdown with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter.
The inconsistency of the Mustangs struck again as the Marauders picked off a pass from Merchant, leading to a one-yard run from Jordan Lyons on the ensuing drive cutting Western's lead to 16–7 at halftime.
The Mustangs changed heading into the second half, replacing Merchant with Bone to start the third quarter. Bone led the Mustangs to an impressive opening drive, taking them 75-yards downfield before Marc Liegghio made a 27-yard field goal putting the Mustangs up 19–7.
In the fourth quarter, Bone threw an interception that resulted in White making a touchdown on the next drive to cut the Western lead to 19–14. The Marauders wouldn't make the score any closer as Western broke away with a touchdown and a field goal to cap the game off with the 29–14 win.
The win proved again that the Mustangs can overcome adversity and come away with wins in close games, but the fact that the game was close at all raises questions about the team. After a slow start against Guelph last Monday, the Mustangs offence sputtered in the first quarter again. Against a Yates Cup contender like Ottawa or Laurier, poor early starts might be impossible to come back from.
Next up, the Mustangs head to Windsor to take on the Lancers on Saturday, Sept. 16. The Lancers are currently 0–3 and have given up 155 points so far this season. The Mustangs offence should have every opportunity to return to form against the porous Lancers defence.