The Western Mustangs football regular season is inching to a close. The toughest games on the Mustangs schedule are in the rear-view mirror. With two games left against middling opponents the Mustangs are gearing up for a Yates Cup run.
Up next on the schedule are the Carleton Ravens, a team that is coming off an emotional double overtime win over their crosstown rival, the Ottawa GeeGees, in the Panda Bowl on Saturday.
The Ravens sit in seventh in the Ontario University Athletics with a record of 2–3, in the midst of a late-season race for a playoff spot. Five teams could technically earn the sixth and final playoff position. Every game counts for the Ravens here on out.
The Mustangs football team is in a much different situation. This Western team is the best squad in the province, with a perfect season on the horizon. The Mustangs are clicking on both sides of the ball.
It's in this context that the Ravens and Mustangs meet on Friday night at TD Stadium. Two teams, at different positions in the standings, playing for much different things.
The Ravens are playing for a playoff spot. They won't compete for a Yates Cup. This game against the top team in the OUA is an opportunity to shoot for in the future.
The Mustangs are playing for the number one seed in the playoffs. This game is a tuneup for what is to come down the road; a potential rematch with the Laurier Golden Hawks in the Yates Cup and a chance at redemption.
But the Mustangs can't look at this game like that. Because as the Ravens schedule shows, they could very well be a 4–1 team. They lost 38–35 to Laurier. They lost by less than a field goal to the University of Waterloo.
So when the Mustangs take the field on Friday night, their minds can't be on the Yates Cup on Nov. 11. Their focus must be on Carleton. Last season, the Ravens beat the Mustangs in a stunning upset. The same can't happen this year.
The Mustangs will have watched film of the Ravens near-upset of Laurier to analyze what Carleton brings to the table.
The Hawks allowed Ravens quarterback Michael Arruda to throw long-range bombs downfield, picking apart the Laurier secondary. Arruda's three longest throws measured 68, 67, and 55 yards in distance.
The Mustangs secondary will need to stick with the Carleton Ravens, and the defensive line will need to pressure Arruda to take away his time to make big throws.
While the Ravens passing attack will be a crucial aspect of making the upset possible, the Ravens also rely heavily on running back Nathan Carter. Carter is a workhorse back who leads the OUA in rushing attempts and yards.
Carter and Mustangs running back, Alex Taylor, are two of the top running backs in the province, and their battle in the trenches will be an interesting wrinkle to an otherwise pass-happy offensive matchup.
On offence, Mustangs quarterback Chris Merchant will have the opportunity to pad his stats against a porous Ravens pass defence.
The Ravens have allowed 286.4 passing yards per game, good for second-last in the OUA. Merchant only threw for 106 yards against Laurier last week. Mustangs offensive coordinator Steve Snyder should make a concerted effort to go to the air to take advantage of the Ravens weak pass defence.
Maybe revenge will be on the Mustangs' mind after their loss to Carleton last year. Or maybe their perfect season will be front-and-centre. But the Mustangs should look at this game as a stepping-stone. More important games are coming this year. The Mustangs have room for improvement.
A big win against Carleton could go a long way to move the Mustangs closer to an OUA championship.