Gaels prevail against Golden Hawks in overtime thriller

James Fracas eludes a sack during Saturday's game. (Photo by Heather Davidson)
James Fracas eludes a sack during Saturday’s game. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

KINGSTON, Ont. – For the second week in a row, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks tested the hearts of the Homecoming fans, the coaches and the opponent.

In another overtime game against the home No.6 nationally-ranked Queen’s Gaels, the Hawks forced overtime on the final possession on a touchdown from second-year Greg Nyhof. However, on another irregular play with a blocked field goal attempt and a punt into the endzone, the Hawks failed to complete the comeback, losing 40-34.

“We said at the start of the season, regardless of what our record is going to be, we’re going to be the toughest team,” Nyhof said after the game. “And we’ve worked hard to earn that reputation and I think we have earned that reputation. We came into this game knowing that this team didn’t really respect us and I think it’s safe to say they do now.”

The Hawks held Queen’s star quarterback Billy McPhee to merely ten completions on 29 attempts and only 204 yards in the entire game. Laurier quarterback James Fracas finished 23 for 35 and 359 yards and four touchdowns.

The game — which was Queen’s first Homecoming game since 2008 — began with a touchdown from Queen’s leading rusher Ryan Granberg four minutes into play. Dillon Wamsley’s kickoff would also gives a single to the Gaels, who led 8-0.

The Hawks would respond before the end of the quarter as third-year kicker Ronnie Pfeffer hit an 8-yard field goal to give the Hawks three points.

The Hawks, who put up two consecutive touchdowns, dominated the second quarter. First, Nyhof would get his first of the game on a 22-yard pass five minutes into the frame, before second-year Scott Campbell caught a beautiful 56-yard pass deep in coverage to put Laurier up 17-9 at the half.

“Our emotion is amazing,” said head coach Michael Faulds. “It’s been like that all year from the first practice to our last game. Our guys are fighting. They’re never going to give up. They’re always going to show heart, they’re always going to show toughness.”

Dillon Campbell runs with the ball during Saturday's game. (Photo by Heather Davidson)
Dillon Campbell runs with the ball during Saturday’s game. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

Into the third quarter, three scoring positions happened in the final three minutes. First, after good movement down field, Laurier wasn’t able to get the touchdown and settled for a 20-yard field goal by Pfeffer. Less than a minute later, Daniel Heslop – who stepped in for an injured Granberg – converted a 75-yard pass from McPhee to draw within four of the Hawks.

But the Hawks weren’t done.

With less than two minutes left in the quarter, first-year William Pitt-Doe would return the kickoff from Heslop’s touchdown 71 yards down the field, giving Laurier excellent field positioning.

Pitt-Doe breaks the Laurier record for single-season kick return yards with 560, and is now fourth all-time in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference.

He was four behind Dillon Heap coming into the game.

La Touche would sneak in a 19-yard pass from Fracas to spread the lead to 27-16 before the end of the third.

Leading going into the fourth, the game became interesting. Queen’s put up three consecutive scoring plays starting with a 17-yard field goal from Wamsley, and two touchdowns to follow. With three minutes left to go and trailing by eight, Scott Mcdonell caught a 12-yard pass to put Laurier within one, and then Giovanni Aprile would make the two-point conversion to tie it up at 27.

With 1:37 left on the clock, Jesse Andrews ran in another touchdown to put Queen’s up by seven.

So, with one possession to go, Laurier marched up the field with consecutive first downs. With 15 seconds left on the clock, Fracas would find Nyhof in the endzone, and Pfeffer’s point after would be good and the Hawks and Gaels were headed to overtime.

“It’s exciting,” Nyhof said of his game-tying touchdown. “It’s what you dream of at a really young age. You’ve got us and a minute on the clock and you’re trying to score and tie it up and send it into overtime. It’s every guy’s dream.”

After a faulty snap and a fumble by Fracas in the extra minutes, Laurier was forced to kick a 42-yard field goal attempt, but Pfeffer’s kick was short. On Queen’s possession, the Gaels went for the kick on second down, but the kick was blocked by Laurier. Aaron Gazendam would pick up the ball and punt it into the endzone before running after it and recovering it for the touchdown.

“The defence did a great job,” Faulds said.” They were flying around. William Pitt-Doe had another great return for us, unfortunately he got hurt on the play. And offensively, we just made some timely plays …

“Still a couple times we had penalties that really cost us, but I’m very proud of how our guys fight. They really do fight. And again, shaking hands with coaches at the end of the game, that’s what they keep saying.”

Laurier drops to 1-6 now on the year and is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The final game of the year will be at home against the McMaster Marauders, who sit 3-3. Game time is 1 p.m.

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