Hawks top Gryphons in OUA quarterfinal

Led by an almost super human effort from fifth-year Giancarlo Rapanaro, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team moved one step closer to the Yates Cup on Saturday, beating the Guelph Gryphons 42-10 in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarterfinal.

Rapanaro, a linebacker by trade, chipped in his usual solid contribution on defence: five tackles, two interceptions, one of which would have been a touchdown were it not for a penalty, but the five-year veteran also played a huge role on special teams. With kicker Nathan Hawkes struggling of late, Rapanaro took on kicking and punting duties and promptly went 4-4 on field goals while averaging 34.9 yards per punt on a windy day at University Stadium.

“I’m just going to do what helps this team win, if they need me to play receiver I’ll do it,” said Rapanaro. “The wind made things pretty tough, and I’ve definitely still got some work to do, but I was pretty pleased with my kicking today.”

According to head coach and manager of football operations Gary Jeffries, Rapanaro’s performance was just what the Hawks needed to rejuvenate a kicking game that had been more of a liability than an asset in recent weeks.

“We’ve been struggling in the kicking game,” he said. “And we’ve got confidence in [Rapanaro] that he can come in and get it done and he proved today that he can…. he’s just a great football player.”

Rapanaro wasn’t the only player on the Laurier defence who summoned something extra for this post-season game, as 270lb defensive tackle Steve Cormack returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown to make the score 19-0 Hawks, late in the first half.

“I thought I was in a dream, I couldn’t even feel my legs by the end of it,” said Cormack of his touchdown. “It’s a life-time memory, it’s unbelievable.”

Despite allowing 152 yards to Guelph running back Nick Fitzgibbon – who leads the OUA in rushing – the Hawks’ defence smothered the Gryphons’ attack, holding them to 277 yards of offence and a single touchdown.

However, Guelph had problems beyond Laurier’s defence in this one. Starting quarterback Chris Rossetti left the game with a knee injury after attempting just one pass, being replaced by inconsistent back-up Luke Nangle. To make matters worse, Nangle went down just before the end of the half with a broken collarbone, forcing the Gryphons to put wide receiver/ kick returner Jedd Gardner at quarterback.

The three would combine to go 5-19 for just 72 yards, throwing five interceptions.

“It’s unfourtunate, what happened with their quarterbacks, you never like to see guys go down like that,” said Rapanaro. “But as a unit, we played really well, we rallied to the ball, we made big plays, Fitzgibbon’s a great running back and he had some big gains on us, but overall we shut them down pretty well.”

As for the Hawks’ offence, quarterback Shane Kelly continued his steady improvement at the helm, completing 23 of his 33 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns (one to Shamawd Chambers and one to Dillon Heap), while running back Rashad La Touche added a 20-yard touchdown run.

“I’ve said all along, he just needs some time,” said Jeffries of Kelly. “That’s three and half games now where he’s played consecutively and he gets better every time out.”

The Hawks will now return to Ottawa, where they lost 44-21 to the first-place Gee-Gees, this Saturday to take part in the OUA semi-final.

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