Laurier’s football teams misses the playoffs for the first time since 2002

(Photo by Heather Davidson)

KINGSTON, Ont. — It’s hard not to find Michael Faulds smiling.

With one game left in the Wilfrid Laurier’s men’s football schedule, the head coach isn’t thinking about the fact that the team is missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

He’s not thinking about the fact that in his first year as the head coach and manager of football operations at Laurier, he has only led his team to one win so far.

He’s not even thinking about the fact that for two games straight, his team hasn’t been able to pull out a win, despite sending some of the best teams in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) to overtime.

Instead, it’s all about getting better.

“It’s been a great year,” the 29-year old coach said moments before Tuesday’s practice. “I’d be a lot more depressed if we were 1-6 and losing every game by 30 or 40 points. To be battling a lot of these tough teams that are going to be in the playoffs and to feel like we’re on par with a lot of these teams that are going to be going deep into the playoffs is promising for 2014.”

Saturday afternoon, Laurier travelled to Kingston, Ont., to take on the No. 5 nationally ranked Queen’s Gaels in their first Homecoming since 2008.

What was presumed to be a blowout in favour of the home Gaels turned into a surprising battle — with Laurier leading for much of the game.

And when Queen’s found the scoreboard with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter to go ahead by a touchdown, the Hawks still managed to tie it up to send it into overtime, only to lose on a blocked field goal — a very similar fate to the week prior.

“We said at the start of the season, regardless of what our record is going to be, we’re going to be the toughest team,” said second-year receiver Greg Nyhof, who also had two touchdowns in Saturday’s affair. “And we’ve worked hard to earn that reputation and I think we have earned that reputation. We came into this game knowing that this team didn’t really respect us and I think it’s safe to say they do now.”

For the first time in a decade, since 2002, Laurier will not have a team in the playoffs.

After going 3-5 last year and backing into the playoffs with a little bit of help from the rest of the OUA, the Hawks were ousted by those same Gaels in a 34-0 blowout.

Since the 2005 Vanier Cup banner year, Laurier’s football record has been on a steady decline until 2010 and 2011 when they posted back-to-back 4-4 records, and last year’s record was their worst season since that 2002 year.

“I don’t even think about that,” Faulds said. “All I think about is the 2013 Hawks. What they’ve done in the past here, I don’t control that. And I don’t control the players that have been recruited in those years or the practice schedule or the workout schedules that went on in the past. All I control is what the 2013 Hawks do and looking forward.

“Sure, our record is what it is and we didn’t make the playoffs this year, but anyone that’s around the program and sees what we’re doing day in and day out isn’t look at it as a failure. I think people can respect that we’re working extremely hard and we’re getting better week in and week out. And we’ll be an exciting team in 2014.”

Though Laurier’s season is all but over, there is still one more game to play. This Saturday, Laurier will bid adieu to their four seniors and host the McMaster Marauders, who currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot with two games left.

A win for the Hawks against the Marauders isn’t entirely implausible. The defending Yates Cup champions currently sit 3-3 with two games left in the season — their worst record since 2008 when they finished 4-4.

But the Marauders aren’t about to go out without a fight. McMaster is coming off a big 66-3 win against the Waterloo Warriors at Mac’s Homecoming. They have a lot to prove.

“We need to improve that much more this week to get a W,” he said. “There are no guarantees, I know they have a great coaching staff and they’re going to be well prepared for us. Even though we’re 1-6, they respect what we’ve done and they’re not going to overlook us.”

Laurier, still, will need to correct the consistent mistakes they have made for the past seven weeks, including less penalties and crisper plays. While second-year quarterback James Fracas had his best game against the Gaels posting 23 completed passes on 35 attempts for 359 yards and four touchdowns — career highs for the player — he was still sacked five times and Laurier gave up two fumbles.

But they held Queen’s star quarterback Billy McPhee to merely ten completions on 29 attempts a week after holding the best rushing quarterback, Austin Kennedy from Windsor, to only seven yards.

“[Our players are] never going to give up,” Faulds said. “They’re always going to show heart, they’re always going to show toughness. We were just saying this is the best 1-6 [record] football team in the country and no one wants to play us right now. We’re a dangerous football team whether it’s Western, it’s Windsor or it’s Queen’s. We’re going to come out swinging.”

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