Golden Hawks narrowly defeat Guelph Gryphons
Nakas Onyeka of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks was here through the worst of Laurier Football.
In his rookie year, the linebacker played for the Hawks in head coach Michael Faulds’ first year as Laurier’s coach, where they finished the season with a handful of close games and a 1-7 record.
Flash forward three years and the roles are reversed—the Hawks are now one win away from beating the most amount of wins they’ve had in a season since 2009, after defeating the Guelph Gryphons 27-25 last Friday afternoon.
“We said to the guys this week, [Guelph’s] not a 2 and 4 football team and they showed that today. They took us right down to the wire but I’m proud of how our guys battled,” Faulds said. “24-6 you’d like to put them away. We let them hang around just long enough, but in the end we made enough plays to get the win.”
The defence came in strong in the final minute, shutting down Guelph’s attempt at a late rally and stopping their two-point conversion that could tie the game. In a last ditch effort to keep their playoff dreams alive, Guelph attempted an onside kick, only to be recovered by the Hawks.
The Golden Hawks are now 6-1.
“If I remember correctly, the ball got tipped, I’m not sure I couldn’t tell you, and then Johnny Augustine recovered it, Brandon Calver put a hit on him and he lateraled the ball to James [Robert] and I just saw it and tried to react,” Onyeka said, recounting the final few plays of the game.
“Fortunately we got ahead on them … when you see a tip ball, a catch, a lateral, thank God it turned out the way it turned out.”
All year, the defence has come through, whether it was Onyeka, who recorded 12 tackles last game, bringing his career total tackles to 146, fourth-year defensive back Kwaku Boateng finding holes in the offensive line and sacking the quarterback, or second-year defensive back Malcolm Thompson picking off his opponent, including a one-handed catch last game that brought his interception count this year to five—fifth-best in a single season in school history. The defence works as a unit and they have been through it all with this team.
Even though Onyeka feels that the defence took a step back against Guelph, he has seen the progression the defence has made over the time he’s been at Laurier.
“I remember vividly in my second year, Western put up 63, or 67 points and it comes down to our work ethic. Our coordinators, coach [VanMoerkerke], coach [Cameron], they work us and we feel like it’s been paying off and if not this year, then what,” Onyeka said.
“And that’s the mentality we come through every single game.”
Faulds said that Onyeka continually impresses him with the way he raises his game and the way he raises the game of all the players around him.
“Nakas is truly our emotional leader out there. He gets our guys going on both sides of the football and he backs it up with his play,” Faulds said. “He’s our biggest talker, but he backs it up and that’s why we love him.”
And now, with a chance to close out the season and secure a first round bye, the Hawks must do what they haven’t done before in Faulds’ tenure—beat the Windsor Lancers.
Last year, the Lancers spoiled Laurier’s Homecoming, defeating the Hawks 22-18. The year before that, after leading 33-16 coming into the fourth quarter, the Hawks dropped a 39-34 decision to the Lancers.
Currently, Windsor is tied for seventh place, two points behind the Queen’s Gaels.
A win could place them in a two-way tie for sixth and a chance to come out on top in a tiebreaker scenario.
Head coach Faulds knows that desperation will be a key factor in Windsor’s game-plan, as they also face elimination from playoff contention.
“We have yet to beat Windsor in my time here and they’re a desperate football team too, fighting for a final playoff spot,” he said. “They’re in a similar situation to what Guelph was in today, so you know we’re going to get their best effort and them being the home team it makes it even tougher.”
The Hawks will wrap up the regular season with their season finale on Saturday, October 22, in Windsor. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Alumni Field.