Hawks down Gryphons

The Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks’ men’s football team faced a daunting task in Saturday’s road game against the Guelph Gryphons. Led by star quarterback Justin Dunk, the Gryphons’ offence had not been held under 20 points all-season; they had even scored 49 on the undefeated Queen’s earlier in the year.

However, the Hawks proved to be up to the challenge, limiting the Gryphons to just 14 points on their way to a 21-14 comeback victory.

“That really shows you the character of this football team,” said manager of football operations and head coach Gary Jeffries.

“I said before the game that today would define us and I think we showed that we’re ready to put it all together…. We knew we had to make plays today and these kids definitely did that. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The story of the game was the incredible play of the Hawks’ defence. The coaching staff made a few line up changes, moving linebacker Giancarlo Rapanaro to halfback and safety Courtney Stephen to linebacker, with a specific plan in mind to shutdown Dunk and the high-powered Gryphons offence.

“The group we had out there [on defence] is just an outstanding group of kids,” said Jeffries. “We made those changes specifically for this game, but as well as they played, we might see some of those changes stay.”

That plan worked to perfection as the Hawks held Dunk – who came into THE game third in the league in touchdown passes – to six completions, no touchdowns and only 76 yards.

They also intercepted the two-time all-star three times, and he came into Saturday having thrown only two interceptions the entire season.

“Our first priority was to contain Dunk,” said Stephen. “He’s really effective on the ground and he can throw the ball deep so we had to make sure that the playmakers on their offence were accounted for at all times…. We all made plays today and when you do it against the best, it means a lot more.”

While the Hawks were dominant on defence for the entire game, their offence struggled, particularly in the first half.

Quarterback Evan Pawliuk threw three interceptions in the opening 30 minutes, including one that was taken back for a 111-yard touchdown by Gryphons’ cornerback, and former Hawk, Mark Durigon.

“We didn’t come out the way we should have [on offence],” said Pawliuk. “We were making mental errors and we were off just that little bit and that made the difference in the first half.”

The Hawks’ ineffectiveness on offence led to a 14-3 Gryphons lead at halftime, and things didn’t get much better in the third quarter.

Pawliuk threw his fourth interception of the day, and all the Hawks could muster was a field goal from Chris Mamo. The defence remained impenetrable, however, and the Hawks were still within reach with the score 14-6.

In the fourth quarter, the purple and gold finally came alive on offence. Pawliuk engineered a pair of impressive drives that both culminated with the third-year quarterback running the ball in himself, giving the Hawks a 21-14 lead that their defence would not relinquish.

“That really speaks to our ability to handle adversity and not get down on ourselves,” said Jeffries. “Pawliuk was able shake off the interceptions and make some big throws for us. The kid’s got a ton of courage.”

The win puts the Hawks at 5-2 and in a four-way tie for second place in the provincial standings with Western, McMaster and Ottawa. The Hawks have another tall order on their hands next week when they host the undefeated Queen’s Gaels at University Stadium in the final game of the regular season.