Golden Hawks football season comes to an end following 31-18 playoff loss to Guelph
Connor Carusello and the Golden Hawks offense just didn’t have enough this past Saturday as the Guelph Gryphons jumped out to an early 17-0 lead and Laurier saw their 2021 football season come to an end with a 31-18 loss against the Gryphons in the OUA West quarterfinals.
Coach Michael Faulds and the Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team had high aspirations heading into the season, starting the year, ranked as high as eighth in the nation. After a 3-3 regular-season record, Laurier was able to end their two-year playoff drought and host their first playoff game in over four years.
On a cold and windy day at University Stadium, with over 1,000 fans in attendance, the sixth-ranked Gryphons capitalized on the Hawks’ special team errors and dominated through the air to advance to their second straight OUA semi-finals, while the Golden Hawks saw their season end far earlier than expected.
“The game didn’t get out of hand until late,” Coach Faulds said. “I’m proud of how they battled. It would be very easy, down 17-0 to turtle and it would really get out of hand,” he continued.
It was a closely contested, defensive battle for most of the game between both 3-3 teams. The Golden Hawks were within five points to begin the fourth quarter against a talented Guelph team but could not muster a meaningful touchdown drive in the second half, as the Gryphons led from wire-to-wire.
Shawn Lal and the Guelph passing attack was highly efficient through the air with 261 yards and three passing touchdowns. Lal completed 20 of his 24 attempts, good for a rate of 83%, while the Gryphons had 355 total yards of offense compared to Laurier’s 318.
“In the end, give credit to Guelph. They were the better team and that’s why we’re going to be at home next weekend and they’re going to still be playing,” Coach Faulds said.
The Golden Hawks, who lead the country in takeaway’s, took only five minutes to record their first takeaway of the game after Guelph running back, Kwame Osei fumbled at Laurier’s one-yard line on the Gryphons opening drive. Third-year lineman, Brandon Omonuwa forced the fumble for Laurier.
The Laurier offense struggled to move the ball down the field throughout most of the first half as Guelph opened the scoring on their ensuing drive, following a poor 21-yard punt by Dawson Hodge. Lal hit first-year receiver, Keegan Dicks on an 18-yard touchdown pass to give the Gryphons a 7-0 lead.
Hodge’s next punt was blocked by rookie defensive back Ethan Monaghan, who recovered the football in the endzone, scoring the major, and giving the Gryphons their second touchdown in a span of just over two minutes.
With both top-five scoring defenses dominating for the majority of the game, the special team’s touchdown by Monaghan – who went on to win OUA special teams’ player of the week – was a pivotal moment of the game as the Gryphons jumped out to an early 14-0 lead.
Eric Stranz added a 27-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-0. A 17-point margin for Guelph in a span of six minutes, sparked by two consecutive scoring possessions on offense, and a special team’s touchdown.
Laurier’s passing offense continued to struggle, while their defense kicked into gear and held Guelph off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter following that Stranz field goal.
First-year sociology major, Quentin Scott, who scored his first touchdown just three weeks ago against Windsor, was the driving force of the Laurier offense all game. Finishing the game with 162 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, the rookie running back was the spark that the Golden Hawks needed on offense, pulling Laurier back into the game with a late first-half touchdown.
“He’s going to have a really bright future,” Coach Faulds said of Scott, calling him a “super rookie.
“In practice everyday we were seeing that there was something special in Quentin. We gave him the nod today and he made the most of it… he’s special.”
After a rouge point, Scott carried the Golden Hawks on an important possession with under two minutes left in the first half to bring Laurier back into the game. Scott brought the Golden Hawks down the field, accounting for 57 of the team’s 67 yards on the drive and rushing the ball on seven of eight Laurier plays, capping the drive off with a 15-yard touchdown run.
A creative two-point conversion saw veteran receiver Nick Petermann throw the ball to quarterback, Connor Carusello as Laurier cut into the lead, making it a one-possession game, trailing 17-9 at halftime.
“We made it 17-9 going into the half. We felt really good, we felt like we had the momentum,” Coach Faulds said.
The game remained a defensive battle before Nico McCarthy recovered a muffed punt by Clark Barnes and set the Golden Hawks up at the 10-yard line midway through the third quarter. Guelph’s dominant defense held strong, while Laurier had to settle for a chip shot 14-yard field goal by Hodge, to cut the lead to five.
A decisive moment in the game, as the Golden Hawks were not able to score a touchdown and settled for three points. “We had a chance to score a touchdown there, but had to settle for a field goal,” Coach Faulds said.
“It would have been nice at some point to take the lead,” he continued.
With their defense continuing to stop the Gryphons offense, the Golden Hawks could not capitalize on three separate drives in the fourth quarter as Guelph’s tenacious defense and league-leading defensive line, recorded three sacks on Laurier to stall many of their drives.
With five minutes left in the game, Guelph broke through with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Clark Barnes to put the Gryphons up 24-12. On their next drive, Lal connected with Dicks for their second touchdown on the day, proving to be the ultimate dagger into the Golden Hawks season.
While Scott added a late touchdown, the Laurier season ended with consecutive losses to Waterloo and Guelph, while Coach Faulds continues to struggle against the local rivals. The Golden Hawks have lost three straight games against Guelph and are 1-6 against the Gryphons under Coach Faulds’ tenure.
Guelph’s receiving trio of Barnes, Dicks and Kiondre Smith propelled the Gryphons to victory, while their offense averaged 7.1 yards per play. Lal is second in the province, with 11 touchdowns on the season, only behind MVP front-runner Tre Ford.
The Golden Hawks punted 11 times on the day, while Carusello was 14 of 31 for only 194 yards and no touchdowns. Ente Eguavoen who played his final game with Laurier, recorded his third game of over 100 receiving yards on the season, much of the yards coming in “garbage time.”
Coach Faulds was optimistic about the overall result of their season and noted the seniors, who played their last game with the Golden Hawks.
“I’m pleased,” Coach Faulds said of the overall season. “I’m just proud of our guys. I am thinking of our fifth-year seniors, Christian Hutter-Coppin, Cal Taylor, Eguavoen and our fearless leader Will Amoah,” he continued.
Amoah admitted he cried with about a minute left in the game as he realized it would be his final game with the purple and gold, following six-plus years at Laurier.
The Gryphons will play the second-ranked Western Mustangs in the OUA West final, while the Ottawa Gee-Gee’s will battle the third-ranked Queen Gael’s in the OUA East finals. The two winners will meet in the 112th Yates Cup on Nov. 20.
Despite the early exit in the playoffs, the Golden Hawks took a step forward this season and will look to build on that during the off-season to get back on top of the Ontario football mountain top come next fall.