Hawks make a statement

For the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team, the first half of the 2010 season was defined by questions.

After starting the year 0-2, many questioned the team’s pre-season hype, with numerous predictions of a Yates Cup appearance.

When the team did get in the win column, their triumphs were downplayed because they had only beaten the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and the York Lions, two teams who consistently finish at the bottom of the league.

Then when it seemed as though things were getting simple, with the Hawks sitting at 2-2 heading into a crucial game versus Guelph, they were faced with questions surrounding the eligibility of defensive end Dave Montoya which could result in a forfeit of the win over Toronto.

But Saturday afternoon, despite the Montoya situation hanging over their heads, the Hawks answered their critics with a 36-2 win over the 3-1 Gryphons.

“I think we just showed the league that we’re a team that can compete with anybody,” said Laurier quarterback Evan Pawliuk. “A lot of people outside this team didn’t see what we were capable of, but today in front of that Homecoming crowd we really showed them what we can do.”

The rain-soaked Homecoming crowd of over 7,000 were given plenty to get excited about early on as after the Hawks’ defence forced a quick two-and-out, Pawliuk hit Dillon Heap for a five-yard touchdown. Pawliuk would go on to throw another touchdown pass to Heap, adding a rushing major, as he retained the starter’s role despite Shane Kelly returning from injury.

The Laurier offence would rack up 34 points in the first half alone against a Guelph defence which came into the game ranked second in the nation, with Pawliuk only missing four passes. The teams would trade safeties in the second half, as the Hawks simply ran out the clock.

“I said it the last two games, I don’t care who we play, I knew we were getting better,” said manager of football operations and head coach Gary Jeffries. “This was a test against a very good football team and we came out firing on all cylinders and the second half was just efficient.”

An inspired Hawks’ effort on defence held Guelph running back Nick Fitzgibbon –Ontario’s leading rusher – to just 53 yards on 18 carries, forcing the Gryphons to lean on second-year quarterback Luke Nangle, who was making his first career start. Nangle would complete just 11 of his 29 passes, leading to several two-and-outs and just 11 first downs, compared to the Hawks’ 21.

“We knew coming in that if we stopped [Fitzgibbon] we would win the game,” said defensive tackle Steve Cormack.

“You can’t have a prolific rusher like him and not recognize his talent, so we knew that if we shut him down, we’d have the game in hand.”

Overall, there was a level of intensity in the Hawks on Saturday that hasn’t been seen all year.

And part of the credit for that intensity can be given to the Homecoming crowd, who despite the rain and the game essentially being over at half-time, largely stayed until the final gun.

“The energy coming off that crowd, we could hear it in the dressing room before the game, it was outstanding,” said Pawliuk. “If we get crowds like that at every game, we’re going to win every time.”

“Part of [the intensity] was the eight or nine thousand people out here, the spirit of homecoming, we played for every Hawk that ever played here and we went out and we did it for them today,” added Jeffries.

The crucial win moves the Hawks to 3-2, however that record may not last the rest of the day. Later today, a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) committee will announce their ruling regarding the eligibility of Montoya. Should the fifth-year be declared ineligible, the Hawks’ 37-6 win over the Blues will become a forfeit and the purple and gold would fall to 2-3.

In that event, the Blues would actually move ahead of the Hawks in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings after their shocking 40-35 upset over the conference-leading Ottawa Gee-Gees on Saturday.

The Gee-Gees, fresh off their first loss of the season, will be the next opponent for Laurier and despite last week’s upset, the Hawks aren’t taking the nation’s sixth-ranked team lightly.

“They’re obviously a really talented team,” said Cormack.

“They’ve got probably the best quarterback in the country in Sinopoli, so we know we’ll have our work cut out for us, but we’re going to get in the film room, get to practice and we’ll be ready.”

The Hawks travel to Ottawa this Saturday to take on the Gee-Gees. There they will either be looking to move two games above .500 or fighting to even their record at 3-3.