Hawks find first breakthrough of 2012


(Photo by Kate Turner)

It was just a matter of time until they found a way to break free. And by defeating the York Lions 24-20 in a nail-biting finish, the Wilfrid Laurier University men’s football team escaped a dreadful 0-3 start to their season.

“When we had to get it done, the kids got it done,” head coach Gary Jeffries said. “We’ve been talking all year about making plays at significant times during the football game.” Backup quarterback Steven Fantham found Lance Freeman with just over a minute left in the game to secure the win for the Hawks.

“Once we have some success, your confidence builds, and this will help us a great deal,” Jeffries said. In what was considered a must-win game, the Hawks came out with a higher level of intensity, picking up their first lead of the season with a minute left in the first quarter.

Rookie quarterback Travis Eman rushed one yard for his first rushing touchdown in his CIS career and Ronnie Pfeffer made the conversion to put Laurier ahead 7-0. The Hawks continued to push throughout the second quarter with Freeman scoring his first touchdown of the game and Pfeffer adding a 26-yard field goal. Leading 17-3 at the end of the second quarter, the Hawks had scored more points against York than their first two games combined.

It seemed like the Hawks finally found the remedy to their slow start, but inconsistency got the best of them again. In less than two quarters, Laurier saw a well-constructed lead diminish. An interception, a field goal and two touchdowns later, the Lions went ahead 20-17 with five minutes left in the match. “For a while there we were kind of in the same mode that we had been for the first two games of the season,” Jeffries said. “We were making errors, keeping them in it.

“Second half we wanted to come out and manage the football. First play, we turn it over.”

“I was on the sideline, praying to God, that I get the last play,” Freeman said about his game-winning touchdown. “I’m not going to lose this game, I’m not going to lose this game. And you know, scoreboard says it all.”

Fantham, who replaced Eman with five minutes left, went 4-for-8 with his passes, connected with Freeman at 1:11 in the fourth quarter.

Anthony Petrucci then picked off Lions quarterback Myles Gibbon’s pass to defend any chance for York to produce a final-play miracle. Jeffries also said that he is unsure which quarterback will get the start on Saturday against the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

“We’ll have a good look at it,” he said. “I won’t say exactly this second, but [Fantham] did a hell of a job [today].”

Fifth-year linebacker Mitchell Bosch also made history Saturday, as he topped the all-time tackles record at Laurier. With 4.5 tackles against York, Bosch sits with 181.0 tackles in his five years as a Hawk. He surpasses Kevin MacNeil who had 180.5 tackles in five years.

“Phenomenal kid. Phenomenal athlete,” Jeffries said of Bosch. “I told him out there I’ve had the pleasure over forty-odd years of coaching some great linebackers, but he’s top of the class right now. He’s outstanding.

“He’s just a super athlete, and a big heart. And fearless. Fearless. Great combination for a linebacker.” Although Laurier found a way to produce offence, Jeffries believes that the team’s consistency must be fixed in order to move ahead in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings.

“It’s just a matter of consistency. Consistency and not turning it over and that’s just about it,” he said. “We have to run the football. We have to be able to move some people up front. We have to get better.”

But they will certainly use the momentum as they go into Saturday. “I think, because of the success, it’s going to help us a great deal,” Jeffries said. “You know, they’ll be revved up to be right out here [on the field]. We’re excited to be going down to Ottawa.”

Freeman agreed. “We just needed the monkey off our back, we just got to carry on fixing the mistakes in practice and hopefully we are able to sustain a lead.”

And their next game this Saturday in Ottawa will be another must-win if the Hawks hope to keep their postseason dreams alive. “This is a playoff game,” Jeffries said. “In fact, every game we play for the rest of the season is a playoff game. We’re just starting six games early.”

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