As opposed to the Mustangs’ usual home field, Saturday’s championship game took place at the pitch belonging to the London St. George’s Rugby Football Club. The change of venue didn’t seem to bother the Mustangs as they came out with a tight 12-10 victory over tough competition from McMaster.
An early try by Mac’s Steve Shortly and the ensuing convert gave the ‘Stangs a tough uphill challenge to overcome. They were able to regroup and stick to their style of play, with some well-designed plays on offense and some excruciating tackles on defense.
At the tail end of a Mac penalty, following the visitor’s second warning for head tackling, Western player Sam Jenkins — the OUA’s leading scorer — was able to bust out an amazing 70-yard dash through a lazy Mac defense, putting the purple and white on the board and, more importantly, tying the game at seven before the half.
The previous two matches between these teams were split with Western winning in the regular season and Mac winning the OUA championship last year. The match-up Saturday was again closely contested and both coaches were quick to point out that the past results didn’t affect their play.
“Neither team had a distinct advantage today,” Western head coach Scott Stewart said after the game. “The guys competing against each other today have played together at other points in their careers, so there was a great deal of respect out on the field.”
The second half treated the fans to the same intense action as the first. Mac was forced to play with only 14 men due to an early penalty, but this didn’t seem to affect the players’ rhythm. A converted penalty kick with 25 minutes left in the game gave Western another opportunity to stare adversity in the face. Again, they were able to respond.
With Mac back on its heels and Western pushing closer to the try line, the ‘Stangs wore down the defense and swung a pass out to the left flank to Dean Van Camp. He made good on the possession and slid in for the score uncontested.
Van Camp’s try ended the scoring and ensured the Mustang victory. However, if it wasn’t for a solid defensive effort by Western as it was hemmed deep in its own zone, Mac would have again pulled into the lead.
“We had to dig deep and make some huge tackles in the final minutes to keep Mac from regaining the lead,” Van Camp commented. “We felt more confident this year than we have in the past. Our team gelled together this year, and today we felt our 15 could take their 15.”
The final 10 minutes of the game showcased why Western was deserving of being in the final. The Marauders could not find a crack in the Western wall with a barrage of designed plays that were too well-read by the defense to allow any more points on the board.
“Our game was repetitive of what we were able to do in the past two OUA championships,” Mac coach Phil White noted after the game. “You really have to hand it to Western — they played great defense all game, but particularly in the last 10 minutes they weren’t giving us anything.”
Those in attendance at the game knew they could expect hard-hitting, fast-paced action as a combined seven players were on the Canadian under-21 team this past summer.
The player of the game was Jenkins, whose explosive running started a sleeping Mustang offense. He also converted the kick on Western’s first try of the game.
“We count on Jenkins and Van Camp to provide the scoring, but the whole team works to put points on the board,” Stewart said. “We’re really pleased with the effort our boys put up today and all the hard work they put in throughout the season. We weren’t going to let Mac walk out of here with a victory today.”