Football Hawks drop heart-breaking semifinal

OTTAWA, Ont. — Could there have been a more fitting way to end this season of Golden Hawk football?

After a year dominated by questions and guessing — everything from “how good is this team, really?” to “how long will they keep that win over Toronto?” — the Hawks kept everyone on the edge of their seats for 60 minutes longer in Saturday’s Ontario University Athletics (OUA) semifinal versus the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

In an instant classic that came right down to the wire, the Gee-Gees, who were the OUA’s number-one seed, squeaked out a 32-31 win, ending the season for the purple and gold.

“You can’t ask for anything better than playing in a game like that,” said Laurier quarterback Evan Pawliuk. “It’s what every football player dreams of, but sometimes in the end it just doesn’t work out.”

Pawliuk would be forced into action in this one, taking over for Shane Kelly who suffered a concussion just before half time. Prior to his injury Kelly had led the Hawks to what is likely their best offensive performance of the season, racking up 197 yards to lead the game 24-16 at half.

However, for the third time this season, Kelly would need to be replaced by Pawliuk after sustaining another unlucky injury.

“[Kelly] was concussed, he didn’t know where he was for awhile and as much as he wanted to go back in, it just wouldn’t have been safe,” said manager of football operation and head coach Gary Jeffries. “But Evan did a great job. We have great confidence in him and he went in and moved the team. I have great admiration for any one of them.”

After vaunted Gee-Gees quarterback Brad Sinopoli brought his team back within a point mid-way through the third quarter, Pawliuk would answer, leading an almost flawless six-play drive and scoring a three-yard touchdown run. In the process, bucking one of the trends that haunted the Hawks all season — at least temporarily — second-half let-downs.

However, in the fourth quarter, the Hawks’ late-game demons would return.

After stopping the Gee-Gees on second down in the red zone, linebacker Giancarlo Rapanaro would be called for a pass interference penalty, in the endzone, giving Ottawa the ball on the one-yard line. Runningback Franck Ngandui would punch it in and the powerful Gee-Gees were once again less than a field goal behind.

Matt Falvo would hit a field goal with four minutes left to put the Gee-Gees on top by the eventual final score of 32-31.

“At times we had absolute brilliance, at times we had a couple of let-downs,” said defensive tackle Steve Cormack of the defence’s effort. “They got two scores off tipped balls, there were a couple of pass interference calls that we didn’t really agree with, but those are the ins and outs of football and you just kind of have to go with them.”

In the nail-biting final four minutes, two attempted game-winning drives fell short for the Hawks, despite a timely interception from defensive back Scott McCahill and a partially blocked punt that gave Laurier the ball inside the Ottawa 50-yard-line.

“I just have the utmost respect for our football team,” said Jeffries. “They just kept battling and battling right to the last second on the clock. They’re a great football team and it’s a damn shame that we’re not moving on.”

In the end, this game provided a perfect fitting to one of the most up-and-down seasons of Laurier football in recent memory. Very few expected the game to be this close, few even expected the Hawks to make it this far, after the events that transpired early in the year.

But the team showed its growth and as Cormack put it, “went down swinging.”

“You just talk about resilience, it’s unbelievable to see what we’ve done to turn it around,” added Cormack who along with players such as Rapanaro and receivers Jeff Emberley and Vince Luciani played his last game in a Golden Hawks uniform.

“You start 0-2 and everyone’s against you and you just keep clawing back and then you get a win taken away, so you keep clawing and you get to the semis and we just came that close; sometimes you just don’t get the bounces…. I couldn’t be happier with the group of guys I got to spend the year with.”