Strong effort, but big loss for men’s football team

Photo courtesy of Trevor Mahoney, Laurier Athletics

Photo courtesy of Trevor Mahoney, Laurier Athletics

What happened?

This was the common phrase during Saturday’s Ontario University Athletics (OUA) matchup between the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks and the first-place, No.2 nationally-ranked Western Mustangs.

On paper, everything seemed to go according to plan. The first-place 5-0 Mustangs eventually cruised to a 45-24 win over the young Hawks, now with a 1-4 record.

But on the field, the game was anything but textbook.

“We prepared for them,” said running back Dillon Campbell. “They underestimated us and we showed them what we could do. So we came out, banging heads and we played as hard as we could.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t do the whole thing.”

At the beginning of the game, Laurier cruised to an easy 10-0 lead. Third-year kicker Ronnie Pfeffer’s 35-yard field goal and quarterback James Fracas’ one-yard run shut Western out in a quarter for the first time this season.

One of two of Campbell’s touchdowns came on a 100-yard run — the second longest in team history, three yards short of the record.

Laurier even led at the half against the OUA powerhouse. And when Western gained the lead in the third quarter and started to widen the gap, Laurier still fought back, including Campbell’s second touchdown of the day and a couple interceptions.

And for the fifth consecutive week, Laurier’s defence shined. It’s the first time this season that Western hasn’t eclipsed 50 points in a game. They also managed to force all-star quarterback Will Finch to throw two interceptions.

It was like they believed in themselves.

“They do. It’s a tough team,” head coach Michael Faulds said. “When I shake hands with coaches at the end of the game, I want to be known as a tough team that’s going to play for four quarters.

“And shaking hands with the Western coaches, they thought we had a tough team, a hard-fought team, and we’re going to improve a lot.”

But things still went according to plan for Western, and Laurier currently sits 1-4 and near the bottom of the standings with three games left in the season.

However, fifth-year defensive back Felix Odum believes the loss against Western is a good indication of what the Hawks are capable of.

“It’s not really a relief [to do well] because we know,” he said. “We know what we can do. The people outside don’t know what’s going on in here. And we see it all the time.”

Despite Laurier’s effort, there were still plenty of mistakes. At one point, the Hawks gave up 30 yards from two penalties in the same drive.

There were communication errors and Fracas threw two interceptions that hindered their chances of a comeback.

“We had far too many penalties,” Faulds said. “We need to clean up our discipline and clean up penalties.”

Faulds also explained that there’s still much improving to do with such a young team.

“I don’t think it’s defensively, offensively or special teams,” he continued.

“All three phases have to improve; all three phases have to get better. And there are times when our defence is on the field a little too much.”

“Everyone here knows that we have a long way to go. We keep that in mind with every practice and every thing we do,” Odum said.

“We’re a young team, we took some penalties, but overall it was a good learning experience. And the things we learned we can take into homecoming next weekend.”

Sitting in an even worse situation at this point of the season than last, the possibility of Laurier not making the playoffs — albeit there are still three games left — is very possible.

Currently tied for eighth with the Toronto Varsity Blues and Waterloo Warriors, the Hawks have a tough final stretch ahead of them to even grasp that sixth and final playoff spot.

With that in mind, Laurier’s focus now shifts to Saturday afternoon’s homecoming date with the Windsor Lancers.

Currently sitting in fourth, the Lancers are coming off a win against the Varsity Blues and will be guided by an offensive threat found in Austin Kennedy.

According to Odum, quarterback Kennedy is the main component to shutting down Windsor.

“We gotta contain Austin,” he laughed. “Austin Kennedy is the key to their offence. He runs around, a great athlete [and] he makes big plays. Our biggest thing is going to be shutting him down.”

After meeting the Lancers, Laurier will travel to Kingston to play Queen’s before returning home to battleExp McMaster.

Game time against the Lancers is 1 p.m. at University Stadium.

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