Greg Marshall is in his sixth season as head coach of the Mustangs. (Corey Stanford/Western Mustangs)Greg Marshall isn't afraid or hesitant to admit where his Western Mustangs stand heading into McMaster this weekend. Taking the field against the 8-0 Marauders in the OUA semifinal Saturday, Marshall knows his team is the underdog. However, taking on an undefeated opponent doesn't mean you prepare any differently.
"You prepare like you would prepare for anyone else," Marshall said in a phone interview Thursday. "Try to limit the things they do really well and it starts with there offence. They're a pretty confident group and that in itself makes it difficult because you're playing against not just good athletes, but athletes who believe they're going to win no matter what happens
The Mustangs-Marauders playoff rivalry has heated up over the past couple of years. Last season, McMaster stunned Western in a 41-19 blowout on the road in the Yates Cup, and in 2010 it was the Mustangs who defeated the Marauders in the playoffs, a 34-28 victory in the OUA semis. Western went on to win the Yates Cup that year.
"There certainly is [a rivalry] and it has to do with the records in the last couple of years," Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall said in a phone interview Thursday. "They're a good team and any time you have two teams that have good talent, are very competitive and have the tradition of football now that we both have, you're going to have a rivalry that will develop."
The game this weekend holds a special significance for Marshall personally as well. He spent seven years as the head coach at McMaster between 1997-2003, won four straight Yates Cup titles and reinvigorated the school's football program.
"I had a great experience there," he said. "I have friends for life there. Kids I coached, people I worked with, it was a great experience but it's time to move on. We're going to go down to Hamilton and compete against that same alumni who I care about and the same coaches who are some of my best friends."
It was just over a month ago, that the Marauders and Mustangs met in the regular season, and judging by McMaster's undefeated record you can assume what the outcome was. A McMaster victory, 33-27.
But unfortunately it wasn't just the game the Mustangs lost. Starting quarterback Donnie Marshall suffered an ankle injury and fifth-year defensive back Aaron Handsor left the game on crutches with a knee injury in the second quarter. Both have been out of the lineup since, and though there have been rumors of Marshall's "possible" return, the media has been kept in the dark and for now it has to be assumed that backup quarterback Will Finch will get the start Saturday.
And it's then that the Mustangs will be playing for there spot in a sixth straight Yates Cup.
"There's an expectation that the team perform well and at a high level," Marshall said. "It's not good enough to just make the playoffs. People in our community and at the university expect to have a championship team so it creates some extra pressure, but the tradition we've built here is also pretty special."