Pawliuk leads Hawks to victory over Mac
The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks’ men’s football team came into Saturday’s game against the McMaster Marauders missing their starting quarterback, starting slot back and both starting defensive ends due to injury.
Despite playing without such key players, the Hawks earned their most emotional win of the season, downing the Marauders 30-14.
“No one should ever think we can’t come back,” said manager of football operations and head coach Gary Jeffries.
“If we face adversity, we’re going to come back from it and that’s just what we did today.”
The most talked-about concern for the Hawks coming into the game was the loss of starting quarterback Luke Thompson. After Thompson suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against Waterloo, back-up Evan Pawliuk took over the offence, making his first career start against the Marauders.
Pawliuk showed no signs of nervousness in his starting debut, running the offence with poise and efficiency all game.
“I definitely had some nerves coming in, but I have such great guys around me and in pre-game speech Coach Jeff told me they all had my back,” said Pawliuk.
“So by the time I was coming out of the tunnel I had no fear at all.”
Pawliuk had a very impressive game, finishing 12-17 for 276 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“We had a lot of faith in Evan [Pawliuk] coming in, but he exceeded any expectations we had,” said Jeffries. “It was his first start, in a really meaningful football game, on the road; I can’t think of a more difficult situation to stick him in to. But he just ate it up, he was terrific.”
Pawliuk was in complete sync with his receivers, leading to outstanding games from second-year Shamawd Chambers and third-year Dillon Heap.
“We’re back,” said an exuberant Chambers, who had four catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.
“We realized that we had a lot of injuries but we believe in everyone around us and I had no doubt in my mind that Evan [Pawliuk] could get the job done. We’re only going to keep on rolling from here.”
Heap, meanwhile, racked up 420 total yards – 130 receiving, 179 on punt returns (a Laurier record) and 111 on kick-off returns (a Laurier record) – on his way to being named
OUA special teams player of the week.
“I had opportunities and got some great blocking,” said Heap. “But it really just felt great to get the win. I think we showed the entire leaguethat we are the Hawks of old and we’re not going to just crumble because of injuries.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Hawks put up yet another dominating effort despite both starting defensive ends, Chima Ihekwoaba and Kyle Ardill, missing the game due to injuries.
“We definitely needed a big game,” said defensive lineman Steve Cormack. “We knew we had to rally the group, keep the score down and our offence would take care of the rest.”
The injuries on the defensive line forced the Hawks to switch to a three-man front. This pushed Cormack from his usual position at defensive tackle to defensive end; he responded in a huge way, finishing with five tackles – three of which were for a loss – and two sacks.
“Defensively, we were absolutely outstanding,” said Jeffries. “I can’t say enough about our defence; they’re such a talented group. The talent and versatility on our defence is just incredible.”
The Hawks had Marauders quarterback Kyle Quinlan under relentless pressure throughout the game, forcing two interceptions while holding him to 136 yards passing and no touchdowns.
In fact, the Marauders’ offence didn’t score a single point in this game as their only touchdowns came off an interception return in the second quarter and a punt return in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks definitely made a statement about their ability to handle adversity with this win and they’ll look to continue that momentum this Saturday when they play the Ottawa Gee Gees as part of Laurier’s Homecoming celebration.
“Homecoming is one of the most special weeks of the year, and it’s one I look forward to,” said Jeffries. “We’ve got a tough task with Ottawa, but we’re going to be ready for them and it’ll be a great game.”