However, following a 29-11 loss to the Laurier Golden Hawks in the 98th Yates Cup provincial championship, the Mustangs’ championship drought continues.
Western has not brought home championship hardware since 1998, and since the Mustangs dominated in the 1980s and early 1990s, many Western fans — students and alumni alike — have high expectations for the storied football program.
Ultimately, Western is still a well-respected program, even if its reputation is based on past success. In 1994, the Mustangs won the Vanier Cup national championship. Although they have not mirrored this level of success recently, Western fields competitive teams every season.
While other Ontario programs seem cyclical, Western always seems to be near the top of the standings. For instance, the University of Toronto was long a football powerhouse, but it has not won a single game in the last five seasons. Laurier, the team that bested the Purple and Silver last Saturday, was an abysmal 1-7 three seasons ago. McMaster was a football program in the doldrums until it hired Greg Marshall, a former Western assistant coach and superstar player. These teams always seem to pull together effectively enough to slightly out-do Western.
Should Western’s be considered an elite program any longer? Although the team wins often, as of late it has seldom won big games and has not reached anywhere near its glory of 10-20 years ago. Expectations remain high, as alumni remember dominant, Mustangs squads.
Regardless, the Mustangs made great strides this season. While mostly maintaining the offensive firepower that has been a Western characteristic in recent seasons, the team went far to bring its defence up to speed with its always-strong offence. The team even recorded a huge comeback win over McMaster. Above all, Western ended its regular season with a respectable 6-2 record and finished second in Ontario University Athletics.
Considering Western’s past successes, it is easy to blame head coach Larry Haylor since, comparatively, the Mustangs are not as good as they were 15 years ago. However, Western has not had a losing season in many years under Haylor. It is better to be known as a consistently talented, competitive school than a school that wins big one season and cycles back to mediocrity. Compared to most other Ontario schools, Western is still among the leaders in recruiting talent, while maintaining prestige and reputation on the gridiron.
Life at the top can be hard, as a team faces high expectations and unforgiving fans. This year’s Mustangs took it all in stride, entertained along the way and returned to a championship game. Haylor’s boys have nothing to be ashamed of. After all, there’s always next year.