The Western University Mustangs extended their dominating 2013 football season off the field in the Ontario University Athletics conference awards.
Of the six major honours handed out in Hamilton on Thursday, three went to the Mustangs, including the MVP award to Will Finch, their record-setting quarterback.
Western head coach Greg Marshall was also recognized as the OUA coach of the year after leading the Mustangs to an undefeated 8-0 record over the course of the regular season.
The recognition, while nice, remains the secondary focus for the nation’s No.1-rated CIS football team.
Hardware the Mustangs truly covet will be handed out Saturday, when the 106th edition of the Yates Cup, emblematic of Ontario university football supremacy, will be contested on Western’s field in London, Ont.
The game will pit the Mustangs against No.4 Queen’s Gaels – two storied institutions with rich football traditions that will, surprisingly, meet for just the third time in the Yates.
“It does mean a lot [winning the award] and it’s a great accomplishment,” Finch said during a telephone interview. “I can’t really say enough about the worth of this award without mentioning my teammates and the big part they played. “But our main goal right now is the Yates Cup.”
The Burlington, Ont., native practically rewrote the OUA record book in his sophomore season, setting conference milestones for passing yards (3,047) and completion percentage (69.7 per cent). Finch’s prowess helped the Mustangs set an OUA team scoring record, with 458 points. He is the OUA nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy, awarded annually to Canada’s most outstanding university football player.
The other nominees are Calgary Dinos running back Mercer Timmis (Canada West), Mount Allison Mounties running back Jordan Botel (Atlantic) and Bishop’s Gaiters quarterback Jordan Heather (Quebec), who set a single-season CIS record with 3,132 passing yards.
The other Mustangs player to be honoured Thursday was linebacker Pawel Kruba, who was selected as the OUA standup defensive player of year.
The lineman of the year award went to Ettore Lattanzio of the Ottawa Gee-Gees; receiver Daniel Vandervoort of the McMaster Marauders was named rookie of the year; and receiver Aaron Gazendam of Queen’s was selected as the recipient of the Russ Jackson Award to the player who best exemplifies the attributes of academic achievement, football skill and citizenship.
The first Yates Cup meeting between Western and Queen’s was in 1979, when Western prevailed 32-14 in London.
The last time was in 2009, when the Gaels, led by Danny Brannagan, outlasted the Mustangs 43-39 en route to the school’s fourth Vanier Cup national championship.
The Gaels finished 7-1 this year, their only blemish was a 50-31 loss to the Mustangs on Sept. 28 – a game Western cannot afford to dwell on, Finch said.
“The first game was pretty big because it was our homecoming so there were good feelings for sure,” he said. “But right now, we’re not looking back at that. We’re just looking forward to Saturday.”