History repeats itself as Hawks face Mustangs in Yates Cup final

Photo by Garrison Oosterhof

History has managed to repeat itself as Wilfrid Laurier University’s men’s football team finished second in the OUA, earned a first-round bye and beat McMaster at home in a semi-final game to decide who would play for the Yates Cup.

This game would be far different than the last meeting, however; this was cold weather, playoff football at its finest. Strong defense, bigger emphasis on the run game; a grind.

“You know playoff football is going to be like that. Playoff football, we said we got to win the turnover battle, we got to try to run the football and it’s not going to be pretty.”

McMaster would start the opening drive with a 13-yard run by Jordan Lyons that seemed like it set the tone, but Laurier would force a two-and-out to shut that drive down. The Golden Hawks would come out on offense looking to show how their opponents how to really open a game.

They marched down the field for an eight play, 71-yard drive, capped off with a four-yard touchdown by Levondre Gordon, making it 7-0 early.

From there, it would be a deadlock, as both defenses came to make a statement.

With the exception of a 51-yard missed field goal by Laurier’s Nathan Mesher, neither side came close to scoring for much of the first half.

That all changed with a McMaster drive at the 5:29 mark, leading to a 50-yard drive that allowed a 23-yard field goal by Adam Preocanin with 2:08 left in the first half.

Going into halftime, the score was 7-3 Laurier.

“I thought we played really well, I mean, obviously the highs and the lows; you’re going to have them throughout a game, but the defense did a really good job of picking us up when we kind of sputtered a little bit,” quarterback, Tristan Arndt said.

The second half began with a bang, as Laurier would impose their will.

Starting out at their 46-yard line, Levondre Gordon went on a 14-yard run, followed up by a big catch for 32 yards by Kurleigh Gittens Jr.

A seven play, 63-yard drive to start the half sounds great. The plot twist? McMaster would make a huge defensive stand, forcing a turnover on downs and stopping Levondre Gordon on two straight runs inside their five.

From there, the only score of the quarter would be a 27-yard field goal by Nathan Mesher, with that drive only having been kept alive off a huge 32-yard catch by Daniel Bennett on two and 10.

“When we lost the homecoming game against Western here this year, we thought, ‘ok, we’re going to see that team again,’” Faulds said. “Obviously, we had a feeling it would be in the Yates Cup.”

The game got even more interesting in the fourth quarter as that late-game urgency would kick in.

After a bad punt by Nathan Mesher, the Marauders would start in Laurier’s zone at the 43-yard line and would go on to get a field goal from 16 yards out.

From there, Laurier would answer using the run game, starring Gordon, who went on to get a field goal. Following a forced two-and-out by the defense, Laurier would go on another scoring drive and hit three more points to make it 16-6.

“Huge response,” head coach, Michael Faulds said. “Obviously up front, we did a good job, Levondre broke a couple big runs in the fourth and what can you say about Kurleigh Gittens? Some outstanding catches; one in the third, one in the fourth. Big plays that are really jump ball scenarios.”

“And then Daniel Bennett is another guy. [He] made two outstanding second down conversion catches,” Faulds said.

Eating up the clock with the run game — and solid play from Tristan Arndt making his first playoff start and playing strong defense  the Hawks would hold off McMaster, and hit another field goal with 57 seconds left in the game to make the final score 19-6.

“The defense definitely kept us in the game today. They let up no touchdowns at all for a whole four quarters, which is hard to do against a top-tier team in Canada like McMaster,” running back, Levondre Gordon said.

“So kudos goes out to them for doing what they did today.”

Next up for the Golden Hawks is a date with the Western Mustangs in London for a second consecutive year, as they will look to repeat their success as Yates Cup champions.

“When we lost the homecoming game against Western here this year, we thought, ‘ok, we’re going to see that team again,’” Faulds said. “Obviously, we had a feeling it would be in the Yates Cup.”

“There are a lot of games between then and now, and we are in that position. So, you can’t win a Vanier Cup unless you get back to the Yates. You can’t win a Yates Cup unless you get back to it,” he said.

“I’m proud of our guys, they’ve done everything up until now, and now we’ve got to go out and beat a tough football team.”

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