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Hamilton — It was the Nightmare on Sterling Street, where all quarterbacks seemingly go to die.
Saturday’s Ontario University football game at McMaster featured a carousel of quarterbacks as both the Western Mustangs and host Marauders looked to find someone that could generate some offence.
The teams used four quarterbacks between them with the Mustangs getting just a little more out of their duo of Chris Merchant and Stevenson Bone to come away with a 29-14 win over the Marauders.
The Marauders used first-year starter Andreas Dueck to start the game, but his inability to move the Marauders saw him yanked and had another first-year player, Jackson White, take over.
It was a little better, but only just.
White’s father Greg played for former Mustangs coach Larry Haylor.
The Marauders cold only generate 264 yards of offence, 138 of them in the air. The Mustangs put up 370 yards but even their passing numbers were down. The combined pair of Merchant and Bone had 262 yards.
Merchant was benched to start the second half after throwing a bad interception with 40 seconds left in the first half that allowed the Marauders back in the game. The Mustangs were leading 16-0 when Merchant overthrew a receiver and Jacob Heathcote ran the ball deep into the Mustang end.
Jordan Lyons one-yard run cut the lead to 16-7.
“We were actually talking about making a change in the second quarter (before the interception). We also talked about it last game; have Chris come off the side and see it,” said Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall. “Stevenson brings a spark. He’s like another coach. He sees things on the sideline. That was time to get him our there to see some things.”
Marshall was adamant that there is no controversy about who is going to start.
“There is no quarterback controversy,” Marshall said. “At some point somebody’s got to step up and play.”
Marshall wasn’t going to focus on his quarterbacking.
“I’m not going to lay that on them,” he said. “We did not block the run well enough early in the game. That takes us out of some of our stuff. Give Mac credit. We knew they were going to be good on defence; we were just too inconsistent on offence. That’s not on the quarterbacks.”
Merchant was 11-of-19 for 189 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Bone was 9-of-15 for 73 yards and an interception.
“Obviously I didn’t play the way I wanted to,” Merchant said.
He said the benching didn’t affect him.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I understand coach’s decision. I wasn’t playing well and I threw that pick at the end of the half. It swung the momentum and a change needed to be made.”
Despite the Marauders’ low-octane offence, they were still in the game, especially when they switched to White in the second half.
White was able to throw the ball downfield and create some pressure on the Mustangs. The Mustangs only led by five in the fourth quarter when Merchant came back in the game and led the Mustangs down the field.
The Marauders appeared to have stopped the Mustangs to force them into a field-goal try but a roughing the passer penalty allowed the Mustangs to continue the drive.
They scored on a Cedric Joseph one-yard run.
The Marauders took 12 penalties for 110 yards.
The other big play came from the Mustang special teams. Those teams have provided numerous key plays early in the season.
Fraser Sopik broke through and blocked an Adam Preocanin punt. It bounced around and Sopik managed to pick it up for a touchdown to give the Mustangs a 16-0 lead.
“(Special teams’ coach Adrian Kaiser) especially wants you to make plays and you aren’t going to get hurt if you go for it,” Sopik said. “Full speed . . . it’s how we always are. We’re all gunning for it.
“We put a lot of time in the special teams unit and we’re probably the best special teams unit in the country. Teams have to put a lot of time into stopping us or we’re going to make them pay a little bit.”
Sopik is also a member of a destructive linebacking group that played well yet again. It’s been the Western defence that’s given the Mustangs’ the boost to being 3-0.
The Mustangs are undefeated but they are horribly inconsistent.
“It’s my job to figure out the inconsistency,” he said. “I have to figure it out. We were missing blocks; we couldn’t run the ball in the first half. Again you have to give Mac’s defence credit. We have a full week and we’ve got to run the ball better than we did today. For me, that’s Job 1.”
The Mustangs play the winless and beat-up Windsor Lancers in Windsor on Saturday.
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