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There truly is no way to explain in a concise fashion the Western Mustangs home opener Monday night . . . or was it Tuesday?
The fact that the game started on Monday at 7 p.m. and didn’t finish until 12:30 on Tuesday morning is a pretty good hint that it wasn’t your normal Ontario university football game.
It began with a 2½-hour delay because of lightning and thunder. There was torrential rain for a couple of hours.
As if the night wasn’t long enough, the game went into overtime before the Mustangs won it 41-34 over the Guelph Gryphons.
There were five lead changes and three times the game was tied.
No one was quite sure which team would show up at any particular time in the game.
The Gryphons scored 16 points in succession to go up by 10; then the Mustangs scored 21 points in succession to go up by six before the Gryphons hit back for 14 straight to go back up by seven.
When you toss in almost 1,000 yards in total offence and 30 penalties, you wind up with a soup that everyone enjoyed even though for a fine cooking point of view, it wasn’t the best looking soup.
Perhaps Mustangs’ coach Greg Marshall explained it best in a long soliloquy he delivered sometime around 1 a.m.
“As I said to our team it wasn’t our prettiest win that I’ve been a part of,” Marshall said. “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. We had the chance to close it out on them so many times and we didn’t. But you know what . . . gritty, gritty performance. I am so proud of our team. I told our defensive line ‘you guys are undersized and they are going to try and run’ and they kept trying to run. Who played better than our defensive line?
“Things were kind of going sideways for us but (as a team) they battled back. They didn’t get down. They stayed with it. On the sidelines we stayed positive. I was a proud of that win today as I’ve been in any football game in a long time.”
Marshall’s explanation was a lot like the game; all over the place but accurate.
The teams took turns going at each other all night but as the game progressed the Mustangs took over physically especially their defensive line and linebackers.
The Gryphons played tough. They dominated the game at times.
But the Mustangs managed to tie the game with five minutes left in the fourth quarter when quarterback Chris Merchant hit Malik Besseghieur on a four-yard touchdown pass. From that point on the Mustangs shut down quarterback James Roberts and the rest of the Gryphons.
In overtime the Mustangs took the ball first and with the help of two major penalties on one play, moved the ball to the one-yard line. Quarterback Stevenson Bone snuck it in from there.
The Gryphons needed to match the touchdown but didn’t come close. The Mustangs pressured Roberts on the first play, knocking him out of the game. His backup Theo Landers didn’t have a chance on the final two plays.
Roberts was 20-of-28 for 286 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
Despite the win, the Mustangs continue to show inconsistent play. They would look in total control and then suddenly make a stupid play, take an unnecessary penalty or their offence would disappear.
Merchant wound up with big numbers on the ground and through the air but he wasn’t very good in the first half. Then again neither were the rest of the Mustangs either. Both were much better in the second.
Merchant finished with 348 yards on 25 completions. He also threw for a touchdown and ran for two more. He damaged the Gryphons repeatedly with his read-option runs running for 140 yards on 12 carries.
“It took me a game and a bit to get going,” Merchant said. “I’m still not super happy about my performance. I’m just going to take each week and try and improve.”
Linebacker Jean-Gabriel Poulin though was the poster boy for the boys in the trenches. He was all over the field leading his defensive mates. After the game he was still wound tighter than a banjo.
“We’re still pretty emotional. It was emotional in there,” he said talking like he’d just had a quadruple espresso. “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 emotions are still up. I’m very proud of everyone on the team. Yeah, that’s the one thing that came out . . . effort. That’s why we came out on top.”
The loss had to be devastating for the Gryphons. They went to overtime in their first game this year losing in double overtime to Ottawa.
The Mustangs meanwhile, won a game against a tough opponent. They won a game they looked like they would lose. That can only help them going forward.
“I think it was a good team win and as a young team, and we are a young team, it’s a win we can build on,” Marshall said.
The Mustangs travel to Hamilton to take on the McMaster Marauders on Saturday.
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