On any other day, the Homecoming reunion of the 1981 Yates Cup champion Western football team would’ve been legendary.
But Greg Marshall — the Mustangs head coach and star running back on that fabled 30-year-old squad — was in no party mood.
His son Donnie, Western’s starting quarterback, was knocked out with an ankle injury early in the second quarter of the Mustangs’ 48-23 win over the York Lions before 9,441 Saturday afternoon at TD Waterhouse Stadium.
Marshall spent the second half with his right foot in a support boot and on crutches. He went to the hospital for X-rays after the game and the nationally No. 2 ranked Mustangs (5-0) are holding their breath that his season isn’t over.
“The doctors don’t think it’s broken,” Greg Marshall said, “but we’ll see what the X-ray says. I couldn’t see it (from the other side of the field), but it looked like he got grabbed from behind and went down (on the track).
“There isn’t a lot of room (about a yard) before the turf runs out (onto the track). It’s tough because I’m the head football coach here but that’s your son who got hurt.
“It’s hard to separate from that.”
Donnie Marshall wasn’t the only casualty. All-star offensive guard Matt Norman was injured in the first quarter and spent the rest of the game on crutches, too.
“We lost our quarterback and our best offensive lineman,” Marshall said. “Our plan was to give (rookie backup Ben Rossong) the second half. He did a fine job, but we put him in a tough spot there.
“You pin your team to a player and Donnie takes 80 percent of the snaps during the week.”
Defensive lineman Mike Van Praet was a late injury scratch. Impressive rookie Daryl Waud couldn’t play, either.
If they knew beforehand how they would come out of the day, would the Mustangs have rather opted to decline their popular Homecoming game this time around?
“Yeah,” Greg Marshall said.
Rossong, a 6-foot-2, 206-pounder from Sackville, N.S., fumbled his first snap in relief of Marshall and the Lions recovered. But he led a pivotal 28-point second quarter the Mustangs needed after a shocking 10-0 deficit 14 minutes into the first quarter.
Nathan Riva scored three of his four touchdowns in just over five minutes to turn the tide. The veteran running back, ravaged by injuries the past year, doesn’t feel like a forgotten man for a Western offence where almost all the attention has been focused on 13-touchdown rookie Tyler Varga.
“Not at all,” Riva said. “I don’t think any particular thing turned it for us in the second quarter. We just knew we had to get our s--- together, to put it bluntly.
“The rest of the year, we can’t wait until the second quarter to get going. We have to come out right from the start of the game.”
The Lions (1-4) were expected to be Western’s Homecoming pawns, but it didn’t happen that way early on. Instead, they know they may have seriously derailed the Mustangs’ march towards another Yates Cup berth.
“It was good for our team to come out the way we did here but we have to learn to sustain it,” York senior receiver William Austin said. “I hope Donnie (Marshall) is all right. You never wish for anyone to get hurt. The thing about a team like Western though, they have many great players.
“They’re deep and they can overcome some injuries.”
Marshall, for example, never got to play at Western until Michael Faulds, now a second-year York offensive co-ordinator, was injured.
“You hope Donnie’s going to be OK and it’s not a long-term thing,” Faulds said. “Ben (Rossong) did a good job (in relief). For us, we were coming off a huge loss at our Homecoming (63-3 to Queen’s) last week and we could’ve come out two ways here.
“It was nice to come out and get the lead. It’s a step for our team.”
The Mustangs made a series of blunders and committed a number of penalties to fall behind. Varga, who finally reached the end zone in the fourth quarter, had trouble holding onto the ball earlier.
Facing a stiff first-quarter wind, the Mustangs didn’t get into scoring position until Ben Roberts returned a punt 43 yards to the Lions’ 15. On the next play, Donnie Marshall found his younger brother Brian in the end zone.
It was the first time the crowd had something to cheer.
“Bennie’s return was a big play,” Greg Marshall said. “We needed that. It did give us some energy. We were going to get him in at running back late but he got banged up (on a return).”
Western kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, the 2010 Yates Cup hero, had a tough game. His first extra-point attempt was blocked and he also missed two field goals.
Then, Marshall got hurt.
And suddenly, what was a promising march to another title for Western is littered with a lot of questions.
Mustangs 48, Lions 23
Western touchdowns: Nathan Riva (4), Tyler Varga, Brian Marshall
York touchdown: William Austin, Emerson Morassutti
Next: Western faces the Guelph Gryphons on Saturday, 1 p.m. at TD Waterhouse Stadium.
Queen’s 13, Toronto 6
Friday night in Toronto, Boris Isakov blocked a third-quarter Varsity Blues’ punt and returned it 18 yards to erase a 6-0 deficit and give Queen’s (3-2) all the points they would need. Gaels kicker Dan Village booted two field goals and Craig Rushon ran 109 yards on 16 carries in the rain.
McMaster 46, Waterloo 20
In Hamilton, McMaster (4-1) scored the game’s first 43 points and handed the Warriors their fifth straight defeat. Marauders quarterback Marshall Ferguson threw three touchdowns on 284 yards while Chris Pezzetta and James Hill combined for 255 yards on the ground.
Laurier 51, Ottawa 16
In Waterloo, Laurier quarterback Shane Kelly threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, including two to Shamawd Chambers, and the improving Golden Hawks (2-3) hammered the Gee-Gees (3-2) before 9,262.