Coach Faulds and Carusello optimistic about the future despite early playoff exit
“Apart from one team out of 27, no one is truly happy. Everybody wants to win their last football game of the year and play in the Vanier Cup, but at the end of the day, only one team gets to do that,” Head Coach Michael Faulds said.
The Golden Hawks football team saw their season and Vanier Cup aspirations come to an end last weekend following a tightly contested quarter-finals loss against the Guelph Gryphons. While Laurier ultimately would have hoped to make a deeper run in this year’s playoffs, the team broke a two-year playoff drought and hosted their first playoff game in four years.
“Obviously we fell short of our end goal, which has always been winning it all, but if you look at its bigger picture, there’s some silver lining there and we did some really good things this season,” starting quarterback, Connor Carusello said.
Despite the playoff loss, the always optimistic, Faulds shares his quarterback’s mindset and was happy with the team’s competitiveness level and how they had fought in their return to the field.
“I told the guys, I’m proud of how they battled all year. At 1-2, heading into the bye, we could have felt sorry for ourselves or packed it in right there, but we didn’t.”
“We kept battling and earned our way into the playoffs, which was exciting,” Faulds said.
Like many teams across the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference, the Golden Hawks had an up-and-down season. After 700 days removed from the gridiron due to the OUA cancellation, Laurier didn’t miss a beat in their opening game – defeating the York Lions, 37-6.
Starting quarterback, Connor Carusello injured his shoulder in the first quarter of the opening game, which gave way to rookie quarterback, Taylor Elgersma. Elgersma was tasked with starting his first two OUA games against nationally-ranked Waterloo and Western.
“The shoulder ended up being pretty bad,” Carusello recounted. “When I got hurt, I took it as an opportunity to focus on what Taylor could improve on and trying to teach him that he’s going to have ups and downs and that it’s going to be a roller coaster.”
“I promised him that he was going to have more ups and I was really proud of how he handled things. I’m really excited for him,” the veteran quarterback said.
While Laurier dropped both of those games and finished the first half of their season under 0.500, the Golden Hawks got healthier, gained momentum and turned their season around after the thanksgiving bye.
“We definitely gained momentum and it was also at a point where we were super injured early in the year,” Coach Faulds said. “I think we used the Western game as a confidence booster and coming out of the bye, beating a quality team like McMaster gave us a lot of confidence heading into the Windsor game.”
Following the bye, Laurier was able to shut out the defending Yate Cup Champion Marauders, 22-0, while holding Windsor off the scoreboard until the last minute in their 33-8 victory on senior’s day. The two victories propelled Laurier to a winning record as they earned their way back into the national USPORTS rankings and gained the second seed in a talented OUA West division.
Given the extended time off, the Golden Hawks like many schools, relied on a mix of veterans and fresh faces for production this year. On special teams, Dawson Hodge earned OUA all-rookie honours, with an OUA best 92% success rate on his field goals. In his first year, Hodge was an asset in the punt and kick game, filling in nicely, to replace the graduated Nathan Mesher – Laurier’s all-time leading scorer.
Defensive veterans and 2021 OUA All-stars, Tommy Bringi and Will Amoah were all over the field this season, helping lead the opportunistic Laurier defense to 25 takeaways this season – first in the nation. Finishing as a top-five scoring defense in the province, Laurier also saw contributions from newcomers, Luke Brubacher and Ife Onyemenam who combined for 5.5 sacks in their first year with Laurier.
“We got to see so many young players flourish,” Coach Faulds said. “It’s very promising for the future and definitely motivating for the [coaching staff] in recruiting.”
“That’s what excites you as a coach, listing off so many names that are all returning and are going to be future leaders with Laurier,” he continued.
On the offensive side of the ball, the team was led by Carusello and superstar receiver, Ente Eguavoen, who was also named an OUA first-team All-star. The two have developed quite the connection over their three years in the purple and gold and that was more than evident in the senior’s day victory against Windsor.
“That’s my guy,” Carusello said of Ente. “Me and Kurleigh were roommates for three years when I first came in and then Ente solidified himself as that number one guy… we just built a connection and it’s been a connection since playing on scout team in my first year and getting reps with him.”
Eguavoen had a career day against Windsor, recording 222 receiving yards and scoring two touchdowns. The 222 receiving yards are good for second all-time in Laurier history and fourth-most in an OUA game.
“I knew exactly how he was going to throw the ball and I knew that I was going to catch them,” Eguavoen said after the victory against Windsor.
Outside of the experienced veterans in Carusello and Eguavoen, Coach Faulds noted that much of the offense was players stepping into starting roles for their first time. Rookie running back, Quentin Scott became a workhorse for the offense near the end of the year, while Ben McAlpine in his first year, was able to score two majors. The offensive line also featured some rookies and new starters, who Coach Faulds thought did a great job.
“That’s what’s kind of amazing when you look at our offense. Connor, Ente, Braden Noll and Cal Taylor had been starters before, but everyone else was kind of a role player and just hadn’t started quite as much,” Coach Faulds said.
While the Golden Hawks finished their season 3-4 and didn’t make it as far as they would have liked, Coach Faulds was impressed with how the OUA season was played, while Carusello was happy to be back on the field with his teammates.
“I think everybody would agree playing eight games would be that much more fun and playing more teams would have made the season even better, but at the same time, I keep reminding ourselves that last year at this time we weren’t playing at all,” Coach Faulds said.
“It was just amazing to be back with those guys, especially all of our seniors who didn’t know if we were going to have a last year,” Carusello echoed.
With a program including over 100 players and 25 staff members, the Golden Hawks did not have a single Covid case all year, which has Coach Faulds optimistic on the prospects of the next OUA season and a potential loosening of many restrictions.
Coach Faulds and his staff will be conducting in-person exit meetings with each player on the Golden Hawks team this year, while the staff is already hard at work, scouting high school games and looking for the next crop of Golden Hawk players. The team will continue to practice once a week until the Vanier Cup, before ramping things up once again in the winter/spring term.
Amoah and Eguavoen may have their sights set towards the CFL, while Carusello will take the holidays to decide his next move, also hoping he receives an invite to the upcoming CFL combine.
“It’s kind of just a waiting game to see if I can get into the combine… I’m going to take the holidays and think about some things, and we’ll see what’s next after that,” Carusello said. He does have one year of eligibility left if he chooses to return to Laurier next season.
Despite the early exit this year, there are plenty of positives that Coach Faulds and his starting quarterback have mentioned about the past unique OUA season. The team will hope to build on these positives and take another step forward when they return to University Stadium next fall.
“It’s a motivated group that got the taste of a little bit of success this year, with a couple of big wins and making the playoffs. It’s also a team that wants to take it even a step further next year and that’s exciting as a coach,” Coach Faulds said.