Playoff hopes hang by a thread
Whoever said ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over’ certainly had the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) football league in mind.
With only two weeks left, the final OUA standings — and more so the playoffs — still can’t be determined and seven teams have the chance to make the six-team post-season.
One of which being the Laurier Golden Hawks.
“I think the balance is as close as it’s been in the last number of years,” Laurier head coach Gary Jeffries said. “The teams that have traditionally been down have all gotten better and so it’s gotten [closer] every given week.”
And after an unpredictable weekend that saw the Ottawa Gee-Gees pick up their first win of the season against the Toronto Varsity Blues and the Guelph Gryphons defeat the No. 7 Western Mustangs in a nail biter of a finish, it leaves the entire league shaken up wondering what will come next.
There is no team that is winless and only the defending Vanier Cup champions from McMaster sit undefeated going into the final two games of the season.
Three teams — York, Ottawa and Waterloo — sit at 1-5, mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, while three teams sit at 3-3 still fighting for the dwindle of hope.
“You have to be ready to go out there and compete and there’s no easy weeks. That’s basically what’s happened,” Jeffries said.
Last Thursday, the Hawks hosted the battle of Waterloo against cross-town rivals, the Waterloo Warriors.
In a game that featured 11 turnovers, 16 punts and only four scoring plays (all field goals), the Hawks found a win hiding behind the foot of second-year kicker Ronnie Pfeffer.
Laurier defeated the Warriors 12-0, with Pfeffer recording his season best and career high on a 44-yard field goal.
After having to recompose himself following a rough start in Toronto for the season opener, Pfeffer has made 11 field goals on 15 attempts, 10 conversions while punting 50 times for 1,676 yards in his 2012 season.
“I was off to a rough start in Toronto,” Pfeffer said following Thursday’s game. “I made a mistake; I kicked it out at the 3-yard line. It was dumb mistake.”
But if Laurier hopes to have any chance at the playoffs, they will need to find hope in places other than the foot of their special teams.
“Western turned the ball over eight times [versus Guelph],” Jeffries said. “That’s what could happen. That’s the main focus for us— not turning the dang thing over and not making it easy, giving the other team half a field and the more we take care of that, the more competitive we’ll be every week.”
Laurier defensive tackle Asante Mizan expressed the team’s progression toward their critical game Saturday.
“We’re just going to keep fighting hard,” he said after Thursday’s win. “We’ve always had bad blood [against Western], but we’re just going to keep hard, stay on our assignment, work hard and just keep fighting.”
Western, who also sits 3-3 on the season, comes off a tough loss to the Gryphons Saturday afternoon. The Mustangs were just short of a comeback after trailing 33-7 going into the fourth quarter.
When Western came back to tie it, Guelph found strength in their last minute field goal for the second straight week to win 42-39.
Following the weekend, Guelph was ranked No. 7 in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Top 10 rankings, two spots higher than last week. It’s also the first time Guelph has been ranked this high since their fourth-place ranking in October of 1997.
“I think [Guelph] has a good football team, there’s no question about it,” Jeffries said. “We went over Saturday and watched them and they played a good football game against a good football team. You just never know.”
With the unpredictable outcomes of the last few weeks, the Hawks will try to muster a win against either Western or the first-place Marauders in order stay ahead of the Varsity Blues, and essentially the Mustangs and Lancers.
Dropping to 3-5 on the season will make Laurier’s hopes to get into the playoffs unscathed harder, and possibly require a tiebreaker.
“The physical errors in any sport, they’re going to happen. They’re going to happen to everybody,” Jeffries said. “It’s the mental errors. They’re the ones we definitely have to clean up.”
Laurier will travel to London to take on the Mustangs this Saturday. The Hawks could get a break, as star quarterback Donnie Marshall will likely miss the game with an injury.