Playoffs begin with opener rematch

Defence key to victory

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western men's football against Queen's

Jonas Hrebeniuk

HOPEFULLY HE REMEMBERED TO PUT ON SOME STICK-EM. Western wide receiver Jesse Bellamy and his teammates will have their hands full this weekend as they take on the Queen's Golden Gaels in quarter final playoff action.

The Ontario University Athletics football playoffs officially begin tomorrow, but don’t tell the Western Mustangs that.

“We’ve been kind of in playoff mode ever since Homecoming,” fifth-year defensive back Nick Kordic said. “We’ve definitely been playing on a week to week basis like it’s do-or-die.”

Western takes a four-game winning streak to Queen’s on Saturday for its first playoff game of the season. Their season began 0-4 but a 4-0 finish to close out the 2007 campaign has the Mustangs in the playoffs for the 24th consecutive year.

Western begins the playoffs the same way it kicked off the regular season, battling the Queen’s Golden Gaels. In their first meeting, Western lost an overtime heartbreaker 26-22 to the Golden Gaels in front of 9,000 plus at TD Waterhouse Stadium.

In their single meeting against Queen’s this season, the Western defence did not look as dominant as it did later in the year, giving up an uncharacteristic 328 yards of offence to the Gaels. Queen’s fourth-year running back Mike Giffin pounded out 156 yards on the ground, including a 22-yard gallop in overtime to give Queen’s the win.

Giffin’s 1,157 rushing yards is tops in the OUA and his 12 rushing touchdowns are good for second in the country, behind Western’s Randy McAuley.

“One thing our defence takes pride in is stopping the run. [Queen’s] ran the ball in overtime and in the fourth quarter to beat us,” Western head coach Greg Marshall said. “We have to stop the run. If Giffin has a big game, it’ll be a long afternoon for us.”

“You don’t want to have to adjust your defensive game to a certain offence,” Kordic said. “You want to have confidence in your defence that regardless of what scheme you play, you can stop the offence. But you do pay attention to guys like Giffin.”

Defence wins championships, and the Mustangs are hoping their defenders can carry the squad to the school’s first Yates Cup championship since 1998. Western’s D ranks first in Canada against the pass and is the OUA’s top defensive unit. The last touchdown Kordic and company allowed came on Sept. 22 against Guelph.

“We’ve come together as a defence, every defence takes time,” Kordic said. “There are a lot of new guys on this team so it’s hard to expect your defence to be great in week one, but you always expect it to be great going into the playoffs.”

On the offensive side of the ball, McAuley has run for over 1,000 yards on the season and pivot Michael Faulds’ passing numbers put him in the top three in Canadian Interuniversity Sport standings. However, Faulds’ 15 interceptions makes the Mustangs’ field general the OUA leader in that category too.

Coupled with the most turnovers of any playoff team, Western needs to be more careful with the football if it wants to walk out of Richardson Stadium with a victory.

“We need to protect the ball and make sure we throw good, high- percentage passes, but we hope that we can throw the ball on Queen’s,” Marshall said.

Saturday gives the ’Stangs a chance to make amends for their earlier loss to Queen’s. More importantly, the Mustangs hope their season doesn’t end the way it started.

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