A quick look at last week:
The Laurier Golden Hawks had a chance to punch their ticket to the OUA playoffs last Saturday afternoon.
In what started out as a wild, back-and-forth opening quarter, the game slowed down considerably through the final three. Ultimately, the Hawks winning streak ended at two games, falling 30-21 at the hands of the McMaster Marauders.
Asher Hastings and the Marauder offence quickly erased an early 14-0 Laurier lead, as his arm proved to be too much for the Hawks defence to contain. Hastings finished with 365 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Although the Hawks did not achieve a victory on Saturday, there were some positive takeaways. The purple and gold hung right in there with the sixth- ranked team in the country and had their chances to come away with the win, ultimately just falling short.
This week, the Hawks will travel to Kingston in their regular season finale to take on the 5-2 Queens Gales. With a victory, the Hawks will clinch the sixth and final playoff spot in the OUA.
If the Hawks are able to clinch a playoff spot, there is a high degree of probability that the McMaster Marauders would be their first round playoff opponent.
Breaking down the opponent: Queens Gaels
The Gaels are heading into Saturday’s contest coming off a nail-biting 33-32 victory over the York Lions. After shocking the country in week six (when they defeated the previously unbeaten Guelph Gryphons), the Gaels headed into their week seven bye week with a record of 4-2.
Having two full weeks to prepare for York, Queens was expected to roll through the Lions and clinch a playoff spot in the OUA. Although they ended up doing so, nobody believed the Lions would give the Gaels as much trouble as they did.
Queens currently sits in fifth place in the OUA with a record of 5-2, and is the 10th ranked team in the country.
Although Queens is likely to be without their star running back Jesse Andrews for the third straight week, the Gaels up-tempo, run-heavy offence currently sits fifth in the country, averaging 197 yards per game.
The Gaels defence currently ranks 16th in the country, allowing nearly 29 points per game.
Match-ups to watch for:
Gaels WR Doug Corby vs. the Golden Hawk secondary
The Golden Hawks defence is going to have a tough time containing one of the top receivers in the country on Saturday afternoon.
Queens receiver Doug Corby sat out the first three games of the season with an injury. Making his return a couple of weeks ago against the Toronto Varsity Blues, Corby hauled in five catches for 143 yards, including a 54-yard score.
Since then, Corby has racked up 430 yards on 19 receptions and has caught four touchdowns. Corby currently ranks seventh in the country, averaging 107 yards per game.
For the third week in a row, the Golden Hawks will need a strong performance from their secondary. A big playmaker that will be relied on is Ben Millar. In just four games this season, Millar has two interceptions – including one last week against McMaster that he returned for a touchdown.
Millar’s strong, physical ability and great vision on the field allows him to make plays on the football. Whether it is a big pass break-up late in the game or a key interception, Millar is an impact player who will have to get his hands on the ball on Saturday afternoon.
Godfrey Onyeka is another member of the Golden Hawks secondary who will be counted on to defend the Gaels receivers.. Onyeka will likely draw the primary assignment shutting down the 6’3” Gaels receiver \Corby. In what will be a very physical matchup, Onyeka will have to run stride-for-stride down the field with Corby all day long. The Golden Hawk corner will need to get hands on Corby at the line of scrimmage to slow him down while ensuring he does not get beat over the top.
The Golden Hawk passing attack vs. the Gaels pass defence
The Golden Hawk offence has been very up and down this season. After exploding for 65 points while nearly shattering every Laurier offensive record in the books two weeks ago against Ottawa, the Hawks offence struggled last week.
The offence only contributed seven points in the 30-21 loss last week, a number that will most definitely need to be improved on this week. Despite the offensive struggles,, young receiver Kurliegh Gittens Jr. continues to shine. Gittens Jr. racked up 104 yards on eight receptions, including a 37-yard touchdown that gave Laurier an early lead. On top of his stout offensive performance, Gittens also returned a kickoff that went 102 yards for the touchdown. His speed and elusiveness creates a match-up nightmare for opposing defences. Whether he is stretching the field vertically or making opposing players miss tackles in the open field, Coach Faulds will need to continue to find ways to get the ball into the hands of one of his top receivers.
The Gaels are coming into Saturday’s matchup currently ranked 22nd in the country versus the pass, giving up an average of 316 yards per game. Golden Hawk quarterback Eric Morelli will need to continue to spread the ball around. Although Gittens Jr, Pizzuti and Nyhof have all been heavily featured in the offence for the past couple of weeks, I am looking to another Golden Hawk receiver to get more involved this week.
Third year receiver Marcus Arkarakas is usually “Mr. Reliable” for the Hawks’ offence. When the Hawks need to move the chains on second down, he is usually the featured player. Despite his ability to get open and make guys miss, Arkarakas has only 15 receptions for 177 yards and a couple of touchdowns this season. If the Hawks’ offence is going to stay on the field and convert in second down situations, Morelli is going to have to look for #5.
The Keys to Clinching:
Ground and pound
The Golden Hawk offence is going to have to start out with a healthy dose of Dillon Campbell on Saturday afternoon. The Hawks’ ability to run the football is vital to the success of their passing game. Last week, Campbell and the offence struggled to run the football in the first half. The Marauders stacked the box and bottled-up Campbell, resulting in an offence that did not move the ball much.
If the Gaels stack the box to try and shut down Campbell, the Hawks will have to find other ways to get the ball in his hands. Running the wildcat formation or getting him more involved in the passing game should allow the Hawks to move the ball on first down, setting up second and manageable.
If Campbell and the Laurier running game establish itself early on, it will open up play-action passes down field and allow Morelli and the passing attack to exploit the 22nd ranked pass defence in the country.
Take care of the football
In what is expected to be another close game, the Golden Hawks are going to need to take care of the football and avoid costly turnovers. Big turnovers in crucial moments have plagued the Hawks this season. Going back to week two in Guelph, the Hawks had two late turnovers in the red zone that stifled what could have been an unbelievable comeback.
Last week, the Hawks were in position late in the game to take the lead, until they turned the ball over in the red zone yet again. If the purple and gold can avoid turning the ball over, they should be in a position late in the game to get the job done.
Dominate the field position battle
The first component to winning the field position battle is moving the ball on offence. The Hawks will have to avoid going two-and-out. If Morelli and the offence can move the ball, even on drives that don’t result in points, it will help out the defence considerably.
Secondly, punter Nathan Mesher and the Hawks coverage teams will have to pin the Gaels deep in their own territory. For this to happen, the Hawks will have to avoid taking unnecessary penalties.
Lastly, the defence will need to get off the field, forcing Queens to punt it from deep in their territory. If Boateng, (who is coming off his best game of the season with two sacks last week) and the Hawks defence can put some pressure on the Queens offence, it could lead to the Gaels conceding safeties, which are points that are very important in close games.