Hawks stun Gaels

The Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks’ men’s football team shocked the undefeated Queen’s Gaels on Saturday, beating the number two nationally-ranked team from Kingston 25-13. With this win, the Hawks jumped ahead of Western, Ottawa and McMaster, finishing second in the province and granting them a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

“After this game, I think we’ve proved that we can beat anyone,” said quarterback Evan Pawliuk. “We know that if all three phases of our team are working, we’re going to win no matter what, and it all definitely came together today and you can’t ask for anything better going into playoffs.”

Coming into the game, much was made about Gaels’ quarterback Danny Brannagan’s chase of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) career passing yards record. Brannagan entered the game just 31 yards shy of the record and achieved the mark in the second quarter. However, by the end of the day Western’s Michael Faulds – who passed for over 500 yards against the University of Toronto – had moved ahead of the Gaels’ star.

Brannagan was able to set the record, but the Hawks’ defence didn’t allow him to do much more. Not only did the Gaels’ offence not reach the end zone until a fourth quarter run by running back Ryan Granberg, but the purple and gold also held Brannagan without a passing touchdown and intercepted him three times.

“It was great game-planning once again,” said safety Scott McCahill of the defence’s effectiveness. “We’ve got great athletes on our defence and we can all make plays. The d-line played well, everyone kept their coverage in the secondary; it was a real team effort.”

McCahill, who was making his second career start, made a game-changing play in the second quarter. With the Hawks’ up 11-4, the Kingston native intercepted Brannagan on the Laurier goal line and returned it 110 yards for a touchdown.

“I saw it the whole way and I got a good break on the ball,” said McCahill. “Once I made the catch I had a whole sea of blockers with me and everyone was going all-out to get the touchdown.”

“That was a huge play,” added manager of football operations and head coach Gray Jeffries. “That was a real turning point in the ball game, it gave us a bigger cushion and it shows you how talented our defence is, to come up with a big play that.”

While Brannagan may have been the more talked-about quarterback in this game, Pawliuk was more effective. The third-year ran the offence more efficiently than he had all-season, completing 20 of his 30 passes for 273 yards while most importantly throwing zero interceptions.

Pawliuk also threw a beautifully placed 44-yard touchdown pass to second-year Shamawd Chambers just three minutes in, after veteran Giancarlo Rapanaro had intercepted Brannagan on the opening drive of the game.

“I thought we managed the game well on offence; we didn’t make mistakes and that was the biggest thing,” said Pawliuk. “We won the turnover battle and that was why we came out on top in the end.”

The Hawks now find themselves in second place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings, awaiting an opponent from this weekend’s quarterfinals. Considering this the Hawks had lost their starting quarterback in week three, played the majority of the season without multiple starters on defence and showed very little consistency all-year, this finish is nothing short of amazing.

Jeffries, however, remained confident throughout the entire up and down season.
“We’ve had some adversity and there have probably been some questions that some people had, but we didn’t have any,” he said.

“We believed from the get go that we were a good football team and we just needed a bit of time to come together and I think the culmination of that has been the past two weeks where we’ve played two really good football teams and come away with two big wins. But we’re not satisfied; we know that we still can get better and that we still have to get better.”

Full of momentum from last week’s comeback win over Guelph and this week’s upset of Queen’s, the Hawks head into their bye week, hoping the rest will enable players such as star rookie receiver Alex Anthony – who missed Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury – and veterans Kyle Ardill and Josh Bishop –who have been nursing minor injuries- to get healthy for their OUA semi-final next Saturday at University Stadium.