Saturday's CIS matchup between the #5 Western Mustangs and #6 Queen's Golden Gaels was always going to be an intriguing one; the teams are old rivals with a long, reasonably-even history, they'd both looked good in their two opening games and they were both seen as potential Vanier Cup contenders in what looked like a wide-open year. However, there were real questions about if both these teams were as good as the hype; their early wins came over York and Laurier (Queen's) and Waterloo and Toronto (Western), teams that were a combined 2-6 heading into this weekend, and both the Gaels and Mustangs had prominent areas of weakness. In the end, Saturday's game finished as an 18-11 home victory for Queen's, but both teams can take some positives from it; sure, they didn't completely answer all of the questions about them, but in their first real competitive match of this season, each of these squads looked like a team that could potentially challenge for a Yates Cup as Ontario champions and perhaps even a national title in the Vanier.
The Gaels finished ahead on the scoreboard, and they also did well in the box score. They picked up 254 passing yards to Western's 109, and quarterback Billy McPhee posted a reasonable 19 completions on 31 attempts (61.3 per cent) with one touchdown and one interception. While they didn't compile quite as many rushing yards as the Mustangs (191 to 244), they only needed 24 attempts to do so, giving them a stunning 8.0 yards per carry average. Veteran running back Ryan Granberg was arguably the star of the game, collecting 169 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries for an 8.0 yards per carry average of his own. The Queen's offence would obviously like to pile up a few more points, and they had some less-than-stellar moments (including Granberg's first-half fumble on a third-and-one conversion), but they had a solid day by the numbers, and the strong showing of their defence paved the way to a victory. With the win, Queen's is up to 3-0 on the year and should move up in the poll this week.
Yet, this wasn't a terrible result for the Mustangs either. Sure, their passing offence still needs some work, but their ground game's still strong. Running back Garrett Sanvido collected 137 yards on 26 carries, a respectable 4.8 yards per carry average, and quarterback Donnie Marshall proved remarkably effective when taking off with the ball, collecting 77 yards on eight carries. The Western defence also had a strong night, and although they frequently bent, they didn't break. The passing game does have to get better: Marshall completed just seven of his 19 attempts (36.8 per cent) for 109 yards and threw two interceptions, and that's not going to get it done even in a ground-based offence. However, the Mustangs were in this game all the way to the end, and that's not bad at all in a road game against a rival when your passing offence doesn't show up.
Does this make either team a Vanier Cup favourite? Hardly. There were plenty of impressive performances Saturday from other contenders, including top-ranked McMaster thumping Ottawa 45-16 (the Gee-Gees' double wing didn't work well Saturday, and there are still big questions about the direction of that program), second-ranked Calgary tearing apart seventh-ranked Manitoba 33-12 and fourth-ranked Montreal downing Bishop's 45-15. (Third-ranked Laval's in action Sunday against eight-ranked Acadia). Queen's likely won't rise above any higher team apart from Western unless Laval falls flat, and Western will likely lose a couple of spots in the coming week's FRC-CIS poll. Still, both the Gaels and Mustangs delivered strong showings Saturday and showed that they may just have the ability to make something happen this season. Both programs still carry some questions, but they're very much in the national title discussion, and they'll be teams to watch as the season goes on.