Laurier haunts Marauders to advance to OUA semi-final

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Jamie Howieson
Laurier Athletics
HAMILTON, ON – On the strength of one of the greatest single-game performances in school history, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks upset the No. 6 McMaster Marauders 29-15 in the OUA Quarter-finals on Saturday afternoon at University Stadium.

Star running back Dillon Campbell, of Whitby, Ont., the Hawks all-time leading rusher and the holder of six Laurier rushing records, broke one of his own against the defending Yates Cup champions as he ran for a single-game school record of 295 yards to lead the purple and gold to their first playoff victory since 2010.

“All three phases today we played really good football,”  said head coach Michael Faulds who’s team ended a six-game losing streak to McMaster. “Our d-line created a ton of pressure for Asher Hastings. And then on offence, what can you say about Dillon Campbell and our offensive line. Eric Morelli is one heck of a quarterback. He’s 5-2 now as a starter and he’s gaining momentum every week.”

“Honestly, I approach it like every other game,” said Campbell of his mind set coming into the contest. “Dialed in, confident in myself and confident in my team. I came here ready to work.”

On top of setting Laurier’s single-game rushing record, Campbell also set the OUA record for most carries in a game as he ran 40 times, averaging 7.4 yards per carry, giving Laurier their fourth consecutive playoff victory over the Marauders dating back to 2004.

In between handing the ball off to Campbell, the Hawks had success through the air as quarterback Eric Morelli of Burlington, Ont., making his first career playoff start, threw touchdown passes to Anthony Pizzuti of Hamilton, and Greg Nyhof of Georgetown, Ont. Morelli also ran for a touchdown as well, to account for Laurier’s three trips into the endzone, and finished the day with 165 yards through the air.

“We’ve had a focus that’s been like no other in the last few weeks,” said Morelli on the performance of his offence. “Since that Homecoming loss we really dialed it in. You could see the week after with Waterloo and then Ottawa, and then when we played these guys we were in it for most of the game.”

As they have been doing throughout the season, Laurier’s defence came to play again on Saturday as they limited Marauders quarterback Asher Hastings of Regina, by sacking him four times and forcing him to fumble once.

Leading the effort was defensive lineman Kwaku Boateng of Milton, Ont., who had 4.5 tackles and two sacks, giving him five sacks in two career OUA playoff games.

“Unbelievable,” stated Morelli on the Hawks’ defensive effort. “This offence is one of the best in the country, there’s a reason Asher Hastings has thrown as many touchdowns as he can because he’s a great quarterback. And for our defence, to come out and play the way they did, stop the run, stop the pass in all aspects for four quarters, is unbelievable.”

Other Hawks getting in on the sack parade were Nakas Onyeka of Brampton, Ont., and Trevaughan James of Whitby, Ont., while defensive back Godfrey Onyeka of Brampton, Ont., finished the day with a game-high eight tackles.

As they did a year ago in their quarter-final matchup with the Western Mustangs, the Hawks built up an early lead. On their opening drive of the game, Morelli hit Carson Ouellette of Windsor, Ont., for a 46-yard gain that set up a 14-yard touchdown pass to Pizzuti. That was followed on the next possession by a 39-yard field goal by Nathan Mesher of Waterloo, Ont., to give Laurier an identical 10-0 lead as they had a year ago.

However, unlike last season, when the Marauders pushed back, thanks to a 66-yard touchdown reception by Dan Petermann of Stoney Creek, Ont., late in the first quarter, Laurier responded almost immediately.

Early in the second quarter, Mesher extended the lead to six before Morelli executed a quarterback keeper to perfection, scrambling eight yards midway through the second quarter to give Laurier a 20-7 edge.

After a Marauders rouge and a Danny Vandervoort (Barrie, Ont.) touchdown cut the Hawks lead to five, the turning point in the contest came late in the third quarter.

With McMaster driving, James got into the McMaster backfield and sacked Hastings, forcing a fumble which was scooped up by Boateng. On the ensuing drive, Morelli hit Nyhof in the back of the endzone on second and goal from the six yard line to stretch Laurier’s lead to 27-15.

Then on the next McMaster possession, Petermann dropped what looked like a sure touchdown in the endzone, ending a critical series of events which would determine the outcome of the game.

From that point forward, Campbell and the Hawks defence took over, controlling the clock and putting up two more points on a conceded safety to send Laurier to the OUA semifinals for the first time since 2010.

As a team, Laurier held a high-powered McMaster offence to under 400 total yards on the day while the Hawks put up 538 yards, highlighted by 327 total yards on the ground. Hastings, also in his first career playoff start, was held to just two touchdowns on the day after throwing a CIS-record 31 during the regular season. He would finish the afternoon 20-for-31 for 320 yards.

The Hawks will now move on to face the No. 2 Western Mustangs in the conference semifinals next weekend in London, Ont. The game will be the 22nd all-time playoff meeting between the two rivals.

Stay tuned to laurierathletics.com for complete playoff details.

NOTES:  Laurier’s top receiver on the year, rookie Kurleigh Gittens Jr. of Ottawa, missed the contest due to injury…his replacement, Daniel Bennett of Scarborough, Ont., finished the afternoon with a team-high three catches for 83 yards…Bennett also completed a pass attempt for 49 yards in the first quarter on a flea flicker play…Campbell finished the afternoon just 32 yards shy of the OUA all-time single game playoff rushing record of 327 yards set by Ottawa’s Davie Mason in 2008

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