Coach Faulds and his football team focused on improvement with three games left in the season
Following consecutive losses in the past two weeks, the Laurier Golden Hawks football team dropped to 1-2 after the first half of their schedule. Teams across the OUA will only play six games this year, compared to the usual eight, after the OUA decided on a reduced schedule. These changes took place due to the pandemic.
Coach Michael Faulds and the Golden Hawks know that they have little room for error as they enter their bye week and the final three games of the season. In an ultra-talented OUA West division, featuring five of the top teams in the country, Laurier will need to regroup quickly before their matchup against McMaster in Hamilton next Saturday.
After a dominant 37-6 victory against York in the season opener, Laurier has struggled in recent weeks against tough competition. Laurier’s homecoming was spoiled after an incredible performance by star quarterback, Tre Ford. Ford led his Warriors to a 36-12 victory over Laurier last weekend.
While Laurier fought valiantly against the third ranked Mustangs this past weekend, it wasn’t enough. Laurier allowed 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, losing to Western in a brutal result of 36-16. A score not entirely indicative of the game itself, after two Western touchdowns in the final two minutes.
“All together, I’m pleased with how we have battled, but at the end of the day, you got to play four quarters,” Coach Faulds said after this weekend’s loss.
The Golden Hawks put together a great game, leading the Mustangs 7-0 and 15-7 late in the third quarter. A Western punt return touchdown and a stagnant Laurier offense allowed the Mustangs to grab all the momentum and drop Laurier to 1-2 on the year.
The Golden Hawks entered the year with high expectations after missing the playoffs in the previous two seasons. As a result of the stacked division and the schedule they were dealt, Laurier faced two of the top five ranked teams in the nation over the past two weeks. Two teams who employ the two best offenses in the OUA and three of the top four rushers in the conference- as well as the most productive passer.
“The [OUA] west division is kind of wild right now,” Faulds said.
The division features six teams in total, including the defending Yates Cup champions in the Marauders and four teams ranked top ten in the nation – not including Laurier, who dropped outside of the top ten after their loss to the Warriors.
Through the first half of the season, no teams are undefeated in the division and the competition has been fierce. With parity throughout the OUA – Windsor defeating Guelph, Guelph defeating Western, Western defeating McMaster and McMaster defeating Waterloo – Faulds notes that “everyone controls their own destiny.”
After 37 points in week one, the Golden Hawks offense has scored only 28 combined points in the past two matchups. While the difficult schedule has been one reason, it is also worth noting the injury to veteran quarterback Connor Carusello. Carusello was slated to start his second full season with Laurier before injuring his shoulder in the first quarter against York He had not played since this incident.
Rookie quarterback Taylor Elgersma was thrown into the offense and asked to start his first two OUA games the past two weeks — facing tough competition. Despite some mistakes, Elgersma has played well. He has worked to establish a connection with Petermann, Romy Simpson and Ente Eguavoen. Eguavoen is sixth in the league in receiving yards and second in the OUA in all-purpose yards with 383 through three games.
Coach Faulds points to many of the self-inflicted mistakes made by the entire offense as a result of the inconsistency.
“It’s just the mental errors that we got to clean up. It is more so the errors that we are making ourselves rather than the other team necessarily stopping us,” Faulds said.
As a coaching staff, we have to figure out what areas we need to improve on and what we must focus on, to make sure that our players are ready for the next game.Michael Faulds, Laurier men’s football team coach
Recalling the first play of the game this past weekend where Elgersma made a great throw to Nick Petermann for a 30-yard catch, only to see the play nullified by an illegal formation.
“It’s a good example of the many times we are getting in the way of our own selves,” Coach Faulds said.
Laurier has committed 27 penalties throughout it’s first three games, while having not converted a third down yet this season (0-8). Two points of emphasis for Coach Faulds as they enjoy their bye week.
“We got to clean it up. We know we are going to face a good McMaster team next,” Faulds said.
“As a coaching staff, we have to figure out what areas we need to improve on and what we must focus on, to make sure that our players are ready for the next game.”
Despite back-to-back losses, Laurier has seen some impressive performances throughout the first half of this season. Rookie kicker, Dawson Hodge leads the entire OUA in scoring with 29 points, as the kicker has begun his Laurier career with a perfect performance.
Hodge has made all seven of his field goals attempts to lead the OUA and is 5/5 on extra point attempts. Replacing Laurier’s all-time leading scorer in Nathan Mesher, Hodge leads the OUA in field goals made and punts over 50 yards after the first three weeks.
The Golden Hawks defense has also shown great potential this year, despite allowing some big plays. Laurier’s defense leads the entire country in takeaways, having recorded eight interceptions and seven forced fumbles. Three players have recorded a pair of interceptions including veteran linebacker and leader, Tommy Bringi.
“There have been lots of contributions on the defensive side of the ball and it’s been great to see them create all those turnovers,” Faulds said.
Against one of the top offenses in Ontario, Laurier was able to shut out the Mustangs in the first half. As York did in the first game, Western made a quarterback switch in the second half due to Laurier’s ability to create turnovers.
While leading the league in takeaways, Laurier has given up the largest rush play and largest pass play of the OUA season thus far. Coordinator Ron VanMoerkerke, and Faulds will hope to limit the big plays throughout the upcoming bye week.
“There are two things you try to do during a bye week. One, is to get as healthy as you can… It also gives you a chance to get better and more efficient,” Faulds said.
“What are we going to do this bye week to get ourselves ready, to be more prepared and to execute at a higher level so that we can win a tough road game in Hamilton … that is going to be our sole focus,” he continued.
Laurier will enjoy the week off and pay close attention to the action this weekend, which features three teams behind them in the OUA West. Guelph (1-1) will face the only undefeated team in the conference as they play the Queen Gaels, while Windsor (1-1) and McMaster (1-1) will face each other in Windsor.
The results of their final three games will most certainly decide the Golden Hawks’ playoff fate in an ultra-competitive OUA west division.
The schedule does not get any easier for Laurier as they prepare to play the defending Yates Cup Champion, Marauders. Laurier is 5-4 against McMaster under Faulds’ tenure and will need to earn a victory to avoid a 1-3 start and keep their hopes of a winning season alive.
Following their bye week, the Golden Hawks will begin the second half of their season in desperate need of a win. The Golden Hawks travel to Hamilton on Saturday, Oct. 16, where they hope to flip the script on their 2021 season.