Golden Hawks host Gryphons in first playoff game at University Stadium in over four years
The Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team will prepare for their first playoff matchup since 2017 after ending their two-year post-season drought last weekend against Waterloo.
While the Warriors were able to defeat Laurier 36-8 last weekend, Laurier played well enough near the end of the season and turned their season around with crucial victories over McMaster and Windsor to earn the second spot in a tightly contested OUA West division.
“The nice thing about the playoffs is that no matter what seed you are, the regular season as this point does not matter… It’s do or die football now,” Head Coach, Michael Faulds said of the upcoming matchup.
Coach Faulds and the Golden Hawks – like many other OUA schools – have had an up-and-down season. They finished the first half of the year at 1-2 as they headed into the bye, after tough losses against Waterloo and Western. Since the bye, Laurier was able to shut out the defending Yate Cup Champion Marauders, 22-0, while holding Windsor off the scoreboard until the last minute in their 33-8 victory on senior’s day.
Although the team suffered a setback in the “Battle of Waterloo,” last weekend, Coach Faulds has been impressed with his team’s fight and performances since the bye week.
“We’ve had four really good weeks of practices and play, outside of ten minutes of game time. We can’t look at the last month and not feel about ourselves, not have confidence based on a ten-minute span of the fourth quarter of the last game,” Coach Faulds said.
Laurier battled a desperate Waterloo team last week who needed a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. While Waterloo won by a 28-point margin, the final score was not at all indicative of the matchup itself, an 11-8 game entering the fourth, before Tre Ford and the Warriors took over and scored 21 points in a matter of 92 seconds.
“The sample size of good practices, good workouts and good meetings is much larger than the negative ten minutes,” Coach Faulds said.
Despite the loss, the schedule broke in favour for Laurier and the second seeded Golden Hawks were granted a home playoff game, giving another opportunity for their seniors to play at home.
After two consecutive 4-4 seasons in 2018 and 2019, just barley missing the playoffs in each year, this Saturday against Guelph will be Laurier’s first playoff game since the 2017 Yates Cup, a 75-32 loss against eventual Vanier Cup winners, the Western Mustangs. It will also be the Golden Hawks first home playoff game since defeating McMaster in the provincial semi-finals that same year to advance to the Yates Cup.
“I know our guys will be excited! They’re excited that we are playing at home and family, friends, some of the community members we’ll be out… It should be a very exciting atmosphere,” Coach Faulds said.
Guelph was the only team from its division that Laurier did not play this year. The Golden Hawks and Gryphons have not met in three years, with Guelph winning the last contest, 27-24, in week six of the 2018 season.
While the two teams have been evenly matched throughout the last decade, the Golden Hawks are 1-5 against Guelph in Coach Faulds tenure, losing their last two contests. Laurier’s last win against Guelph came almost five years to the date of this Saturday’s playoff game, during their memorable provincial championship season in 2016.
“Guelph is a good football team. They’re led by their defense much like us,” Coach Faulds said.
The two 3-3 teams will be evenly matched this weekend, playing a similar brand of football, both relying heavily on their top-five OUA scoring defenses. Guelph is second in the entire country with 24 sacks this season, while Laurier is first in USPORTS in takeaway’s, leading the country in both fumble recoveries and interceptions.
While both offenses have been inconsistent at times this year, they have been able to carry their weight and compliment their defense’s performances nicely. The passing game has been important for both schools, with Guelph and Laurier relying on their playmakers out wide at receiver to generate points this season.
“Offensively, [Guelph] has some of the most explosive weapons, including a couple of really good receivers who are their returners on special teams also” Coach Faulds said. Making note of both Kiondre Smith and Clark Barnes who have their names atop many of the OUA and USPORTS offensive leaderboards.
Smith leads the nation with over 1,000 all-purpose yards this season, the only player to eclipse that mark. He is also second in the OUA with 35 catches, third in the OUA with 472 receiving yards to go along with four touchdowns. Hist teammate, Clark Barnes is tied for first in the OUA with five receiving touchdowns.
Gryphon’s quarterback, Shawn Lal has been one of the top performers at his position in Ontario with eight passing touchdowns this year, including a 393-yard, four touchdown performances against Toronto two weeks ago. Barnes and Smith combined for 293 yards and five touchdowns during Guelph’s 48-0 drubbing of the Varsity Blues.
Laurier will rely on their opportunistic defense and veteran secondary to hold Guelph’s dynamic receivers in check, while the Golden Hawks have one of the best weapons in the league on their side as well.
Senior receiver, Ente Eguavoen had a great season himself, finishing second in the OUA in receiving yards and fourth in all-purpose yards behind Smith and two MVP-candidates in Keon Edwards and Rasheed Tucker. Eguavoen also had a dynamite performance two weeks ago, finishing with 222 receiving yards against Windsor – the second most ever by a Golden Hawk in a game.
“Much like us, being 3-3, [Guelph] has had some games where they’ve looked like world breakers and then some games where they haven’t looked so good,” Coach Faulds said.
“All of the 3-3 football teams have had the good, the bad and the ugly this season.” Four schools; Guelph, McMaster, Laurier and Waterloo finished 3-3 this year, with Laurier earning the highest seed based on the common opponent’s tiebreaker.
Given the cancellation last year and two years away from the post-season, Laurier only have a handful of guys on their roster with playoff experience. Eguavoen, Tommy Bringi, Christian Hutter-Coppin and Will Amoah to name a few, were a part of the 2017 Yate cup finalist team.
“We’re looking at that as a good thing. We’re going to be excited, but not too high,” Coach Faulds said.
“The key about the playoffs is obviously limiting mistakes and executing. We’re 3-3, they’re 3-3. We’ve both played high at times and low at times, whichever team is going to execute the best on Saturday is going to be victorious,” Coach Faulds said. The Warriors will meet the Mustangs in the other OUA quarter final, with the two winners facing off for a chance to make the provincial championship. The Golden Hawks and Gryphons will play a tightly contested matchup this weekend, as Laurier looks for their first playoff win in over four years. Kickoff is set for 1pm at University Stadium. Tickets can be bought through https://laurier.universitytickets.com/.