football home opener

Goal line stand as the Mustangs look to run the ball into the end zone in overtime. Sept. 4, 2017.

After a two-hour weather delay and five hours of hard-fought football, the Western Mustangs remain undefeated on the season.

With lightning strikes illuminating the sky and football fans huddling under everything from umbrellas to food stall awnings on Monday night, the skies cleared around 9 p.m., and an epic game between two Yates Cup contenders kicked off. Overtime was needed to decide the winner, but the Mustangs eventually came out on top, improving to 2–0 on the season.

It was a tale of two halves on Monday night as the Mustangs came out sloppy and uninspired. The Gryphons scored 16 unanswered points in the first half, heading into the third quarter with a 16–6 lead. Blown assignments by the Mustangs secondary led Gryphons quarterback James Roberts to find receiver Zeph Fraser downfield.

But the game changed in the second half as the Mustangs transformed into a tough, physical juggernaut on the defensive side and a well-oiled machine on offence.

"He said you don't win the game by yelling," said fourth-year linebacker Jean-Gabriel Poulin on head coach Greg Marshall's words to the team in the locker room at the half. "So stay composed, stay focused and stay locked in. It was quiet in the locker room as everyone was going over what they had to do, and that's why we came out in the second half ready to go."

The Mustangs defence, anchored by Poulin, took advantage of the Gryphons' insistence on sticking to their inside run game. Time and time again, Guelph handed the ball off to running back Jamal Hooker, and time and time again the Mustangs-run defence shut him down.

The Mustangs offence also started clicking in the third quarter as quarterback Chris Merchant exhibited his dual threat capabilities, throwing for 348 yards and a passing touchdown while adding 140 rushing yards and finding the  twice on the ground.

With the game tied 24–24 early in the fourth quarter, Guelph running back Johnny Augustine broke off an 81-yard touchdown run to put the Gryphons up 31–24. The Mustangs responded with a long drive that culminated in a Marc Liegghio field goal to cut the Guelph lead to 31–27.

Guelph kicker Gabriel Ferraro hit a 42-yard field goal to put the Mustangs up by a touchdown. But again, as they did all night, the Mustangs answered with a four-yard touchdown pass from Merchant to Malik Besseghieur to tie the game and send it to overtime.

In extra time, the Mustangs scored first with backup quarterback Stevenson Bone breaking through for a one-yard touchdown run to go up to 41–34. After James Roberts went down with an injury, the Gryphons were unable to answer the Mustangs' touchdown. 

"We made a lot of mistakes; we blew assignments; we had too many men on in that short yardage that they ran the ball on us; we had pass interference calls; we took dumb penalties," said Marshall about his team's performance. "We had the chance to close it out on them so many times, and we didn’t. But it was a gritty, gritty performance. I am so proud of our team."

The last time the Mustangs played on the field at TD Stadium, they collapsed in epic fashion to hand the Yates Cup to the Laurier Golden Hawks. This time around the Mustangs came out of a tight game with the win. 

"We’re still pretty emotional," said Poulin. "It was emotional in there. I think the one thing that came out was effort. All the guys worked so hard all game. The effort was with us all game. We worked so hard."

The Mustangs will have a short break before their next game when they travel to Hamilton to take on the McMaster Marauders on Saturday. 

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Mike is a sports editor for Volume 111 of the Gazette. He is currently a fourth year history major. Contact Mike at mike@westerngazette.ca.

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