The Western Mustangs reign atop the OUA football world came to an end on Saturday with a 29-13 loss to the McMaster Marauders in the 112th Yates Cup at TD Stadium.
Western entered the game as two-time defending champions, having won in 2017 on their way to a Vanier Cup championship and then again in 2018 as part of a return to the national final.
An injury that ended the day of Mustang starting quarterback Chris Merchant at halftime and a superlative effort by the McMaster defence made them OUA champions for the first time since 2014 in what was the third title in four years for the Marauders.
Western gained 178 yards on the ground but were unable to get the passing game going. Merchant left the game after just four pass attempts and backup quarterback Kevin John went 6-of-14 for 73 yards in the second half and was intercepted twice.
The game rolled Western’s way almost right off the bat. McMaster turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions.
On the first play from scrimmage, Myles Manalo knocked to ball out of the hands of Marauders running back Justice Allin and it was recovered by David Weldon. Four plays later, Western was in the end zone.
After the teams exchanged punts, Manalo recovered a Jordan Lyons fumble and that led to a 44-yard Marc Liegghio field goal and a 10-0 Western lead.
Mackenzie Ferguson of the Mustangs intercepted an Andreas Dueck pass on the fourth McMaster possession but the Marauder defence held.
That gave the Mustangs excellent field position.
It was about that time that Chris Merchant began to limp. He had been injured in the Yates Cup semi-final against Waterloo.
The limp didn’t go away and Merchant appeared to injure his shoulder on a late second-quarter sack and did not take another snap.
It was in that second quarter that McMaster began to do their damage. Two Marauder drives ended in touchdown rushes by Matt Krason and Allin and had Mac ahead 14-10. Western gave up back-to-back safeties on consecutive possessions and the Marauders ended the first half by blocking a Western punt and connecting on a 40-yard Adam Preocanin field goal.
The second half belonged largely to the defences. Krason scored the only major. Liegghio kicked a 37-yard field goal and the final Western points came courtesy of a safety.