The Western Mustangs and Queen's Gaels first met on the football field nearly 90 years ago, on Oct. 19, 1929.
According to Mervin Daub, a former Queen's University football player and author of Gael Force: A Century of Football at Queen's, the men from Kingston won that game 25–2. From that point on, one of the greatest rivalries in Canadian college sports was ignited.
However, the term rivalry implies a two-sided, competitive affair; the meetings between the two football programs have been anything but since 2012. In 2013, the Mustangs won both contests with the Gaels, beating them 50–31 during the regular season before taking home the Yates Cup at Queen's expense, winning by a score of 51–22.
The Mustangs won the regular-season matchup again in 2014, beating the Gaels in dominating fashion en route to a 43–12 win. More of the same came in 2015, when the Mustangs obliterated the Gaels once again, this time by a score of 48–25.
In 2016, the Gaels christened the newly renovated Richardson Stadium with a game against Western. The Mustangs spoiled the party with a 27–13 victory.
This Saturday, the two teams will rekindle their rivalry. On the surface, it would appear that the Mustangs are poised to dominate Queen's once again. At 4–0 this season, Western looks like a Yates Cup contender. The Gaels sit at the opposite end of the standings, currently 0–3 and coming off a 40–17 loss to the Laurier Golden Hawks. Mustangs head coach, Greg Marshall, still expects it to be a good test for his team.
"At the beginning of the year, I thought Queen's would be one of the top three or four teams in the conference," said Marshall. "They're really good on defence — they might be the best defence we've seen so far — and they have a quarterback who can throw and a couple dangerous receivers."
The Mustangs offence will have an opportunity to measure themselves against one of the elite defences in the province. Despite their winless record, the Gaels defence has looked tenacious so far, holding Carleton University to 22 points and the University of Ottawa to 14 points.
On the other side of the ball, the Mustangs defence looks to continue their domination of the OUA against a mediocre Queen's offence. The Gaels ranked sixth in the conference in passing yards per game (253.7) and eighth in rushing yards per game (116.0).
The Mustangs defence has allowed only 172 passing yards per game and 80 rushing yards per game. Queen's will need to prepare for a fight in the trenches if they hope for any chance of leaving London with the upset.
As Marshall points out, the Mustangs defence has been so dominant largely due to their experience. Their success through the first four games of the season hasn't surprised Marshall at all.
"We only lost a couple starters on defence — a couple good ones mind you, in John Biewald and Rupert Butcher — but we really thought that our linebacker core would be experienced and really strong," said Marshall. "We had a couple really good players coming back in the defensive secondary as well."
Despite the on-paper disparities between the two teams, a rivalry game is a rivalry game. The animosity between the two schools, however abstract it may be, is palpable on gamedays. The Gaels will be hungry to shock the Canadian college football world.
For Marshall however, it's just another game — albeit a significant game — but just another step for a team that hopes to compete for a national title in November.
"We've always had a great rivalry with Queen's," said Marshall. "But we have rivalries with everyone too, so it feels like every week it's a big game with someone."
The game kicks off on Saturday at 7 p.m. at TD Stadium.