Hawks look for revenge

Over the past year, the Western Mustangs have handed the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks’ men’s football team a lot of heartbreak. First the Mustangs ended the Hawks’ season in last year’s Ontario University Athletics (OUA) semi-final, winning 36-28, with a Laurier comeback falling just short.

This season the Hawks were embarrassed by their rivals from London, losing 30-7 in week two, likely the low-point of the season for the purple and gold.

On Saturday, the Hawks will have a chance for revenge as they take on the Mustangs in the OUA semi-final for the second year in a row.

“We’ve talked about what that felt like down in London as we walked off the field and on the ride home and it didn’t feel good at all,” said manager of football operations and head coach Gary Jeffries. “We have that experience and we’ve learned from it, and of course we’d like to get them back.”

A lot has changed for the Hawks since that week two match-up where the Mustangs shut them out until the game’s final minute. The most obvious is the quarterback.

Luke Thompson was the starter for that game, which was his final game of the season before tearing his ACL the next week against Waterloo. Back-up Evan Pawliuk – who interestingly enough threw the Hawks’ lone touchdown in week two – has since taken over and will be the one leading Laurier’s offence into the playoffs.

Pawliuk – who had never even dressed for a game before this season – has had his share of problems since being thrown into the starter’s role, but has shown improvement every week, culminating in a near flawless performance in the Hawks’ upset of the undefeated Queen’s Gaels in the regular season final.

“Evan has grown immensely. Both in his own confidence and the confidence the rest of the offence has in him,” said Jeffries. “Every practice, every game he got better and better and you could see the confidence grow, I just love his mental toughness.”

Injuries hit the Hawks on defence as well. With starters such as Chima Ihekwoaba and Kyle Ardill missing extended time, players like Daniel Bishop and Paul Hancock have made significant contributions.

Another player who has stepped in and played well is safety Scott McCahill, who got into the starting line-up after the coaching staff re-arranged the defence before the game against Guelph. The new-look Hawks’ defence shut-down two of the best quarterbacks in the league – Guelph’s Justin Dunk and Queen’s Dan Brannagan – in the final two weeks of the season and will have to take another elite signal-caller this weekend in Western’s Michael Faulds, who became Canada’s all-time leader in career passing yards this season.

“Our defensive coaching staff does an outstanding job of scheming for specific opponents and I know we’ll have a plan for Faulds,” said Jeffries.

“Getting pressure on Faulds will be huge and with our speed off the edge, we have a good opportunity to do that.”

The Hawks’ team that takes the field this Saturday at University Stadium will be far different than the one that dejectedly left London back in September. Since that game, the Hawks have gone 5-1, beating both teams – McMaster and Queen’s – that had handed the Mustangs their two losses. They have handled difficulty and now head into Saturday’s game full of confidence from a strong finish to the season.

“Your character is measured by how you deal with adversity and based on that, our character is incredibly strong,” said Jeffries. “We’ve been through some adversity, we’ve had good and bad experiences, and all those things made us a better team. To be where we are now is really a tribute to a group of kids that wanted to pay the price to get better.”