Blasting out of the gate
TORONTO, Ont. — It took a while for them to find their legs, but once they were found, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks were a team possessed.
The football squad demolished the York Lions 46-7 during their Labour Day opening game of the season in front of 4,300 at York Stadium on Monday.
Second-year MBA quarterback Shane Kelly looked like a different QB than the one he was at this time a year ago, finding himself way more comfortable with a year of experience of the Canadian game under his belt.
Kelly completed 26 of 43 attempted passes, throwing for 339 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Kelly wasn’t the only one more comfortable with his confident play.
“It sets a familiarity with Shane,” said fifth year Burlington-native Mark Surya, one of Kelly’s favourite targets of the day.
Surya received for 59 yards, second only to Laurier star receiver Shamawd Chambers who racked up 137 yards on seven catches.
The players appreciate a sense of continuity and hope the quarterback’s health keeps up. Last season, quarterbacking duties were split between Kelly and Evan Pawliuk after Kelly was hurt.
“It’s just good knowing 13 (Kelly)’s back there throwing the ball,” said Surya.
But it wasn’t all peaches and cream for the Hawks.
With the game barely five minutes old, and the Hawks already spotting a 12-0 lead off a 35-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to fifth-year receiver Dillon Heap, the team fell into coasting territory, never threatening to score until the fourth quarter where they exploded for 31 points.
The Lions came as close to closing the Hawks’ lead with a 15-7 margin after three quarters – unheard of for the talented Golden Hawks up against a young Lions team.
“Obviously we’re pleased with the result,” said head coach Gary Jeffries. “I think we were slow offensively coming out of the gate, but we got better. The defence was outstanding, and we put up 31 points in the fourth quarter, and that’s more of what I think our offence will look like this year.”
“We came in too light,” said rookie safety Chris Ackie who took over for former quarterback Luke Thompson late in the second half. “The defence played awesome but the offence was kind of slacking.”
Ackie wasn’t the only first-year to get a taste of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) football.
Kelvin Muamba received his first catch in the third quarter and first-year running back Dillon Campbell recorded his first touchdown as a Hawk late in the game, and he wasn’t even sure what exactly he had accomplished.
“It felt great, it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had scoring a touchdown in my life,” said an exuberant Campbell. “I wasn’t sure if I got it in at all so I was just laying on my back trying to see the ref.”
Even linebacker Mitchell Bosch got in on the scoring. Bosch forced a Lions’ fumble, recovered it, and ran for 30 yards to the end zone, in the (you guessed it) fourth quarter.
Chambers wanted to play well, as his crowd was a partial one.
“Hopefully this is the last time I play at home, and not a lot of people will see me play again in person, so I wanted to really put on a show for everyone,” said Chambers, a native of nearby Markham, Ont.
Chambers succeeded as the 2012 top-10 Canadian Football League prospect’s magnificent wheels were on display in the last 10 minutes of the game.
After a scare on the field that saw Chambers stay down after a play, an event that he attributed to cramping (“I didn’t drink enough water or eat enough bananas”), the receiver caught a pass from Kelly and took off for a 45-yard touchdown.
Russ Jirgens also reached the end zone for the Hawks just 48 seconds into the final quarter.
Rookie kicker Ronnie Pfeffer had a strong game as he never missed a field goal or the extra touchdown conversion point, and his punts were strong. He punted for 222 yards.
Second-string quarterback Steven Fantham also saw some action after the game was locked up for Laurier.
Dillon Heap added to his punt returning record with 74 yards and had 41 receiving yards.
Fifth-year Samuel Aird recorded a huge sack on York quarterback Nick Coutu that was called back due to numerous penalties on the play.
The Hawks now welcome Windsor in their home opener on Saturday at 7pm.