The Western football team is finding some increasingly unbelievable ways to lose.
First, the Mustangs frittered away a late two-touchdown lead over Queen's and fell in overtime. Then, their various comeback attempts against McMaster in Hamilton last week ended in interception, a fumble, a controversial punt return fumble and a turnover on downs.
Now, Western is 0-3 for the first time since 1970 largely because Ottawa's 340-pound offensive lineman Frank Spera fell on a ball jarred loose after Mustang Cory Watson tried to escape the end zone on a missed field goal to avoid giving up a single point in a game his team led by two.
The 35-30 loss contributes to three defeats by a grand total of 18 points -- less than one major score per contest.
"Every game, it's one or two plays that get us," said Mustangs receiver David Clayton, who rebounded from a fumble at the one-yard line against Mac to catch four balls for 104 yards and a touchdown.
"We're right there in every one, but we have to play four quarters. Take away the first quarter (where Western trailed 19-0 to the Gee-Gees) and we win that game easily."
Western head coach Greg Marshall knows there's plenty of work to do, especially on offence and special teams.
The beleaguered offensive line showed some heart against a physical and fast Ottawa defensive front seven, but the Mustangs' ground attack was non-existent (Randy McAuley fumbled his first carry and finished with a season-low 60 yards) and quarterback Michael Faulds can't remember ever throwing five interceptions in a game.
"Mike threw a lot of great balls, but he didn't always have the time you need to make a play," Clayton said. "We need to take advantage when we have a team, especially one ranked No. 3 in the country, when we have them on the ropes.
"We had the lead and gave it back to them," Clayton said
Marshall attributed Western's slow start on offence to defending Yates Cup champion Ottawa's quickness on defence.
"They're a fast team and I think that took us by surprise," he said. "You watch film all week and you can see they're fast, but when you get out on the field, it's a whole different thing and that took us a while to adjust."
Western actually moved the ball in reverse. On their first possession, they conceded a safety. The next two, McAuley fumbled his first carry and Faulds threw his first interception. Both led to touchdowns for a team that felt it nearly gave the game away.
"Western has their struggles right now, but they're going to get better and if we don't, we're not going to win in the playoffs," Ottawa head coach Denis Piche said of his unbeaten team.
At least Piche knows his team is going to the playoffs. Marshall hasn't lost hope on that goal, although he knows the third loss means Western has likely surrendered the chance to play a post-season game at home.
"Forget rebuilding -- we're not giving up on the playoffs, we're going to keep fighting and there's nothing good about being 0-3," he said. "But the way we played in the last three quarters against a strong football team could be a spark for the rest of the season and I told the guys that after the game. We dug ourselves a big hole and didn't give up. That shows a lot of heart and we have a chance in our next few games, if we keep improving, to climb out of this."
Backup quarterback Mark Howard, who was coaxed out of retirement by Western, had been scheduled to see some snaps in the second quarter and warmed up on the side line. But the Mustangs' two touchdowns kept Faulds on the field for the remainder of the game.
"We told Mark we'd get him in there and we will," Marshall said. "We weren't able to and I'll talk to him about it. We want him to go in scripted and we couldn't do that the way the game fell."
Western rookie safety Craig Butler's first career interception was erased on a roughing the passer penalty late in the second quarter. Butler, a London Aquinas grad and London Falcons star, shared free safety duties with converted linebacker Nick Kordic in the on-going absence of all-star Matt Carapella.
Marshall said earlier this week there is a possibility Carapella's knee could be rehabilitated to the point where he could play on Saturday in Guelph. The same can't be said for unlucky tight end Ryan Clutterbuck, who suffered a leg injury and was carried off the field in the second quarter.