#CFCOVFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Jr. Mustangs head to Niagara armed with confidence & resiliency

ALL PHOTO CREDITS: LONDON JR MUSTANGS

The one thing that has been the guiding force for the London Jr Mustangs during the 2015 Ontario Varsity Football League (OVFL) season has been the team’s resiliency in the midst of obstacles.

Last week was a clear example as the team has to endure unfavourable weather conditions which resulted in a two hour delay in their wildcard postseason battle against the visiting Mississauga Warriors at TD Waterhouse Stadium.

The Jr. Mustangs overcame an early deficit to down the Warriors 48-35 on Saturday to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

In his assessment of the game, Jr. Mustangs Head Coach Jordan Haylor said one aspect of their game was exposed by the Warriors.

“We did give up some points to Mississauga but I think the thing that really hurt us in terms of points was our special teams,” evaluated Haylor.  “Mississauga really came out with a really good game plan.”

“They short kicked it a few times and they managed to recover it as well so they really got their offence on short field position in their first two possessions.  That got us down 20-7.  It wasn’t really a case of our defence not playing well.  We were put in a bad spot because of our special teams.”

London Jr Mustangs special teams

This has prompted the team to make some key adjustments the past few days.

“We have kind of gone back to the drawing board a little bit with our special teams and made a real plan of that this week in practice,” elaborated Haylor.  “We feel that our offence is playing well and our defence is playing well.”

“If we can get the special teams there too then we will be good in all three facets.”

The Jr. Mustangs are hoping the tinkering will pay off this weekend, as the team is on the road to visit the Niagara Spears for their quarterfinal matchup.  Earlier this season, the two teams battled at TD Place and the Spears came out on top with a 43-40 win.

Despite the disappointment of losing the previous contest by a close margin, the Jr. Mustangs came away from it with a key lesson learned.

“I think the big one there is that we have to finish,” recalled Haylor of the Week 4 game.  “It was a pretty heart wrenching loss for us. “

“We had suffered a tough one against Essex the week before.  Against Niagara, we took the lead kind of back and forth we took the lead on them really late and then they came and then they had the ball on their own 10 yard line and marched down the field and scored on us.  There was a bit of a controversial pass interference call there and it put the ball at the 1 yard line for them.”

Niagara vs London 2015 OVFL

Moreover, the Jr. Mustangs learned from that game how to overcome adversity.

“One of the things that I said to our team after the game is that we’re not going to look for excuses as to why we lost,” continued Haylor.  “There’s always going to be bad calls and bad breaks that go against you.”

“Championship teams have to find a way to overcome those obstacles.  The bottom line is that Niagara had the ball at their 10 and we had all kinds of chances to stop them and we didn’t get it done so we’re not going to point fingers at anyone else.  We’re just going to internalize the defeat and just work to get better.”

London Jr Mustangs 2015 Mississauga

However, Haylor said that redemption is furthest from the mind of the Jr. Mustangs going into this rematch against the Spears. Rather, it is a chance for the Jr. Mustangs to prove how much they’ve improved since that game.

“From a coaching staff perspective, we are certainly not emphasizing that revenge angle,” explains the Jr. Mustangs Head Coach.  “It was still pretty early in the season – Week 4 for both teams in the season.”

“What we’ve already preached to our team is that each week gives us an opportunity for us to get better. Even though we lost that game, we learned lessons from that loss.  You have to be careful with that revenge angle.  It might give you a short term energy or boost but ultimately, that is not going to necessarily change the outcome of the game.”

London Jr Mustangs defence Mississauga 2015

On Saturday night, the Jr. Mustangs know they have to bring their best performance of the season as they will be facing a tenacious and relentless defence.  Furthermore, the Spears offence is creative when it comes to their playmaking abilities, headed by Ontario Prospect Challenge pivot Blair Robertson.

“They’re physical,” assessed Haylor of the Spears.  “The thing that kind of jumps out at you when you look at the film is that they’re a pretty big, pretty athletic defence.”

“They like to get after it and they like to hit.  They’re aggressive.  We have to match that.  We have to be better actually.  There are a lot of good players on the defence and on the offence.  Their quarterback throws the ball well, stays in the pocket and makes good throws.  Offensively, they’re pretty dynamic too.  They do a lot of different things, lots of different ways of attacking so we’ve got our hands full with the whole team really.”

Tristan and Cole

Last week, the team’s confidence was reinforced with their defence.  Haylor said the team needs to once again have success on both sides of the ball like they did against the Warriors, if they have any chance of advancing even further in the postseason.

“I think the most encouraging thing is that really the last five weeks has been the performance of our defence,” commented the Jr. Mustangs Head Coach.  |I really thought against Mississauga, they were outstanding.”

“We need to continue that against Niagara on Saturday. They’re a good offence.  For us to be successful, we got to limit what they do on offence.  Then in terms of our offence, it’s kind of a broken record for us of what we want to do.  We want to run the football at people. We are pretty committed to that. Also with Tristan [#CFC100 Arndt], we are going to take advantage of his arm and our receivers talent and get the ball downfield with those guys too.”

Brentyne AndersonBrown 1

On offence, the team got a major lift last week as Noah Olynyk returned back to the lineup after being sidelined the bulk of the season with a knee injury.  His return was a successful one as he racked up 67 yards on five receptions.  While he has been around behind the scenes, his presence and leadership during games was sorely missed by the Jr. Mustangs.

“Noah’s awesome; not only is he an outstanding football player but he’s a great, outstanding team guy,” expressed Haylor of Olynyk.  “One of the best I’ve ever been around.”

“He got hurt Week 2, Week 3 and it looked like he might be out the whole season.  He’s going to Laurier in the fall so he’s a CIS commit. I think a lot of kids in that situation might say “the heck with it, I’m not going to rehab my knee and get ready for my fall CIS season.” But to Noah’s credit, while he was still injured, he was at every practice, still helping out with the receivers. From what he brings from a player’s standpoint, he’s such a great team guy and he’s such a great role model for our other players. He exemplifies everything that we want, everything we expect him to be.  We’re thrilled to have him on the team.  He’s been great for us.”

Cole Kussmann Mississauga

In last week’s victory over the Warriors, OVFL Rushing King Cole Kussmann scored two touchdowns and had 118 yards on 14 carries.  While many may view that as an off performance for Kussmann based on his weekly stats in 2015, Haylor disagrees with that notion based on a few key factors.

“That’s the spirit of how Cole is helping out if he’s rushing 120 yards and it’s a bad week for him,” explained the Jr. Mustangs Head Coach.  “It’s a good problem to have for Cole and our team.”

“I don’t certainly think he had a bad week.  He ran really hard for us and made some really good runs for us.  We just had an opportunity to get Brentyne [AndersonBrown] in and it was hot too. The heat was a big factor. It was probably 30 degrees at kickoff and I don’t think you want to be giving any one running back the ball 30 times in those conditions because they’re just going to wear down.  It was hot and I think Cole may have gotten a little tired and we had an opportunity to put Brentyne in and he played really well.  With Brentyne, he’s a really outstanding player too. He’s a Team Ontario running back. We consider ourselves pretty fortunate to have two guys like that on our offence.”

Cole Kussmann Mississauga 1

While Kussmann has undoubtedly been viewed as an individual star on the Mustangs, Haylor said it is truly a team effort when it comes to wins, especially on offence. For his part, Kussmann acknowledges that his success this season would not have been possible without his offensive teammates.

“As great of a season as Cole has had, he may the OVFL MVP this season that the kind of season he’s had, Cole would be the first guy to tell you that he can’t do it without everyone else around him,” said Haylor.  “It starts with our offensive line, they’re big physical group.”

“They do a great job opening holes for Cole. As special as Cole is, he realizes he can’t do it without the support of the supporting cast -all those guys, the offensive line, the receivers, the quarterbacks, the coaches so it’s very much a team effort.  Cole, to his credit buys into that 110 percent.  When Brentyne’s in there, Cole’s standing up right there on the sidelines cheering him on.  It’s the same when Cole’s in there too. Both are great team guys and there great kids and great young men we’re lucky to have them.”

London defence 2015

With their focus centered on Saturday’s battle against the Spears, the Jr. Mustangs ultimate hope their confidence and resiliency will be their guiding force in earning a ticket to the OVFL Semi-Finals.

“We’re excited,” expressed Haylor.  “We’re a confident football team right now.”

“The last five weeks we’ve been really resilient.  Against Mississauga, we demonstrated our resiliency too.  We were down 20-7 early on and there was no panic on our football team.  Going into the Niagara side, we are a very confident football team, it’s going to be a great football game and we’ve have a great chance to be successful.”

(twitter: http://twitter.com/vohra_ameeta)

 

 

 

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