Burlington, Ont. (by David DiCenzo) – The challenge for any athlete is to perform at their best when the lights shine brightest. In Ontario University Athletics (OUA) football, that stage is the Yates Cup. And the 114th edition of the showcase OUA football game features many of the same faces from the previous season, all trying to secure a championship banner for their schools. The undefeated Western Mustangs host the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday, November 12 at Western Alumni Stadium, in a rematch of the 2021 title game.
When: Saturday, November 12 (1:00pm)
Where: Western Alumni Stadium
Participating Schools (2): Queen’s Gaels; Western Mustangs (host)
Stream: oua.tv / cbcsports.ca / CBC Gem
Defending Champions: Western Mustangs | ALL PAST CHAMPIONS
The Gaels (7-1 in the regular season, 2-0 in the playoffs) have shown great resolve in getting back to the championship and they enter Saturday’s game determined to erase the bad memory from last November. University football returned after a lost pandemic year and Western got back to the summit by defeating their Kingston-based rival 29-0, securing the school’s third Yates Cup victory in the previous four seasons of competition.
Motivation hasn’t been lacking for Queen’s in 2022. Head Coach Steve Snyder’s team produced a number of impressive performances throughout the schedule, the only blip coming against the Mustangs in a 35-11 road loss back on September 10th. The Gaels have been efficient in all aspects of the game, ranking second in the league in both offence (37.5 points per game) and defence (allowing just 15.9 points per game). Queen’s consistently moved the ball down the field this season and topped the OUA in first downs.
Rookie quarterback Alex Vreeken (Kingston, Ont.) took the reins of the offence on September 24 and led the team to a 62-11 demolition of the Guelph Gryphons. They haven’t lost a game since. The Kinesiology student has been extremely efficient and has limited turnovers. In the Gaels’ playoff opener against the Toronto Varsity Blues, Vreeken completed 15-of-22 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. He did the job again a week later when Queen’s eliminated the Ottawa Gee-Gees with a convincing 35-13 win in the OUA semifinal.
Vreeken was happy to hand the ball off to the Gaels’ dominant ground attack this season led by second-year man Anthony Soles (Pointe-Claire, Que). Soles paced all OUA players with 11 rushing scores in the regular season on 105 carries for 717 yards, while running the ball into the end zone twice against Ottawa last week. Masters student Jared Chisari (Naples, New Hampshire) has also emerged to handle the majority of the rushing work in the postseason. Chisari rushed for 180 yards and two scores against Toronto and followed that up with 17 carries for 125 yards and another touchdown against the Gee-Gees.
While the rushing game is critical to the Gaels’ hopes of a Yates Cup win, they also have clear threats in the passing game. OUA first-team all-star Richard Burton (Ottawa, Ont.) has built on his standout regular season by catching 10 balls for 190 yards combined in the two playoff games. The Queen’s kicking game is safe with OUA first team rookie Tyler Mullan (North Bay, Ont.), who not only was perfect on every field goal and extra point he attempted in the regular season, but has also nailed every kick in both playoff games.
The Queen’s defence has a massive responsibility Saturday. The unit is tasked with limiting Western’s powerful offence to have any chance at the banner. There is plenty of talent throughout the D, including linebackers Liam Sutherland (Ottawa, Ont.) and Walter Karabin (King City, Ont.), as well as first team all-star defensive tackle Darien Newell (Brampton, Ont.). The Gaels also feature the league’s lineman of the year in Silas Hubert (Hastings, Ont.), a second-year pass-rushing specialist, who racked up six sacks in the regular season (tied for the second-highest total in the OUA) and has successfully downed the quarterback in each playoff game the past two weeks.
Western (8-0, 1-0) has a definitive understanding of what it takes to win a championship. They’ve been in that position several times and have come out as Yates Cup winners on 33 occasions, 10 more than Queen’s. There is depth throughout the roster and with OUA coach of the year Greg Marshall at the helm, the Mustangs have the true belief they can keep winning trophies.
The 2022 edition was a juggernaut again, leading the conference in both team offence (45 points per game) and defence (14.4 points per game allowed). The offensive prowess begins with a line that had three members feature on the OUA first team – fourth-year centre Elliot Beamer (Bowen Island, B.C.), fourth-year tackle and local product Zack Fry (London, Ont.), and third-year guard Phillip Grohovac (Victoria, B.C.). That group helped pave the way for a multi-faceted attack, led by quarterback Evan Hillock (Hamilton, Ont.), who threw for a league-high 16 touchdowns and remarkably, no interceptions.
Combine that precision with the skills of OUA MVP running back Keon Edwards (Toronto, Ont.) and fellow first-teamer Savaughn Magnaye-Jones (Hamilton, Ont.) and it was no surprise to see the Western offence hum. The former was, in a word, unstoppable, leading the league in rushing yards (1,032), while adding nine touchdowns. The latter, meanwhile, finished on top of the league in receiving scores with nine of his 33 receptions ending in six points for the purple and white.
If the Western offence put opponents in danger, a ruthless defence can finish them off. The Mustangs had three first team selections on the defensive side of the ball, including veteran defensive tackle Malcolm Hinds (Brampton, Ont.) and the exceptional secondary tandem of Daniel Valente Jr. (London, Ont.) and Rob Panabaker (London, Ont.). Valente Jr, who received the conference Stand-Up Defensive Player of the Year Award, along with Panabaker finished one-two in interceptions this season, with five and four, respectively. Western’s defensive end Bruce Maas (London, Ont.), linebacker Riley MacLeod (Hamilton, Ont.), and cornerback Richard Aduboffour (Toronto, Ont.) were all named to the second team and display the incredible depth on that side of the ball.
The Mustangs earned a well-deserved bye after a spotless 8-0 regular season. Rested and hungry, they dismantled a good Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks team 45-9 last week in London. Hillock didn’t have to do too much, completing 12-of-19 passes for 139 yards. Edwards, who put up three touchdowns in the 2021 Yates Cup, led the backfield with 24 carries for 136 yards and two scores. Edouard Wanadi (Saint-Jerome, Que.), Troy Thompson (Châteauguay, Que.), and Jackson White (Cambridge, Ont.) each added a rushing touchdown. True to form, the defence also did its part, creating four turnovers, one of which was a Panabaker pick.
The question now is, who can execute best on game day? Queen’s has the ability and motivation to get back to the winner’s circle. Western relies on elite talent and invaluable championship experience. It all sets up an intriguing rematch to see what storied program gets the honour of lifting another Yates Cup.