Football team drops heartbreaker in Ottawa

OTTAWA, Ont. — It wasn’t until Evan Pawliuk’s third down pass hit the turf in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter that Saturday’s provincial semi-final was decided.

In a contest that came right down to the wire, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team fell 32-31 to the Ottawa Gee-Gees, spelling the end to the purple and gold’s season.

“There were 90 kids out here just playing their guts out,” said Laurier manager of football operations and head coach Gary Jeffries. “There were kids making plays back and forth and we just ran out of time, that’s all.”

The Hawks took the lead early in the first quarter when Pawliuk hit Dillon Heap for a 30-yard touchdown. Shane Kelly got the start at quarterback but offensive co-ordinator Ryan Pyear had a special package drawn up for Pawliuk to throw something different at the Gee-Gees’ defence.

However, Pawliuk would be forced to take over the quarterback duties full-time when Kelly went down with a concussion shortly before half-time, with the Hawks up 24-14.

“I got hit pretty good and as soon as I got up I knew I felt a little fuzzy,” said Kelly. “I remember us scoring on the next play but after that there’s a five or ten minute period that I just can’t remember. It’s unfortunate but that’s football, it happens.”

Kelly and the offence continued their hot streak of the past few weeks through most of the first half as the American pivot matched Ottawa quarterback Brad Sinopoli — the top passer in the nation this season — throwing a pair of touchdowns, giving the purple and gold a 24-16 half-time lead.

“We had a really good scheme to attack their defence and we were moving the ball well,” said Kelly of the offence’s first half performance. “And then Evan came in an played great. It’s never easy to get thrown into the game like that, but he kept the offence going and we had a chance to win the game right up until the final seconds.”

Both defences clamped down in the second half with the only scoring being a 53-yard touchdown pass from Sinopoli to Ezra Millington mid-way through the third quarter. Pawliuk would answer three minutes later with a three-yard touchdown run. Early in the fourth quarter, Franck Ngandui would punctuate a 10-play Ottawa drive with a one-yard touchdown run, bringing the Gee-Gees within two points.

The teams would trade possessions without scoring until Ottawa kicker Matt Falvo put the Gee-Gees on top with a 31-yard field goal with just over four minutes left in the game.

That 32-31 lead would prove to be insurmountable for the Hawks, as two game-winning drive attempts — largely made possible by a clutch interception from defensive back Scott McCahill — fell short, ending with Pawliuk throwing an incomplete pass intended for Dustin Zender.

“It’s what every football dreams of, to play in a game like this,” said Pawliuk. “Sometimes in the end, things just don’t work out for you.”

Along with ending the Hawks’ season, this game also provided a conclusion to the university careers of Golden Hawks such as defensive tackle Steve Cormack, linebacker Giancarlo Rapanaro, and receivers Jeff Emberley and Vince Luciani.

“It’s been a pleasure playing with these guys,” said Rapanaro. “I love them all… If I could do this every Saturday I would.”

Pick up The Cord on Wednesday for more coverage.