LONDON, Ont. (October 1, 2016) – The No. 3 Western Mustangs scored 24 points in the second half as they pulled away from the No. 6 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team to post a 45-26 victory on Saturday afternoon at TD Stadium.
Following an early second half touchdown by the Hawks Brentyn Hall of Toronto, that made it a one-score game, the Mustangs proceeded to score 17 consecutive points to put the game out of reach as they ended the Hawks four-game undefeated streak to start the year.
“We felt like we had the momentum [after Hall’s touchdown],” said head coach Michael Faulds after the game. “Then they went down and scored, and we failed on a third down conversion. I feel like if we convert on that third down then there’s a chance. But they’re a really high powered offence and we gave them a short field a couple of times so there’s a lot we need to clean up.”
Pegged as the battle of the two top rushing teams in the country, neither team was able to get their ground game going on the afternoon. Laurier was very successful in shutting down Mustangs running back Alex Taylor of Winnipeg, limiting him to just 15 yards in the opening half while Western held the Hawks Eric Guiltinan of London, Ont., to 22 yards.
However, the Mustangs found success through the air to gain control of the game early on. Quarterback Chris Merchant of Calgary, connected on a touchdown pass to George Johnson of London, Ont., while backup Stevenson Bone of Darian, CT, threw a touchdown pass later in the half to given Western a 21-7 edge at the half.
Laurier found their aerial attack in the second half and pulled the game to one score when Michael Knevel of Brantford, Ont., hit Hall in the endzone on a 41-yard pass to make the score 21-14. The touchdown was the first of Hall’s career.
From there, Western’s offence found another gear led by Taylor. Following a field goal, which stretched Western’s lead to 24-14, Taylor broke a 17-yard run to the endzone to give his team a cushion of 31-14.
A late third quarter score from Harry McMaster of Niagara Falls, Ont., rounded out a strong frame for Western as they took a 38-20 lead to the fourth.
Despite being down by 18 points, the Hawks refused to back down and found the endzone twice in the fourth quarter thanks to a 13-yard run from Kurleigh Gittens Jr. of Ottawa, and Mario Villamizar of St. Catharines, Ont., but it wasn’t enough as Laurier fell to 4-1 on the year.
Hall and Gittens Jr. led Laurier on the day as Hall finished with six catches for 166 yards and a touchdown while Gittens Jr. was a star on special teams, posting 161 kickoff return yards and 142 punt return yards, on top of his 40 yards receiving and 13 yards rushing.
For Gittens Jr., both his return numbers were the third most ever posted by a Golden Hawk in a single game.
As for Knevel, who was making his second career start, he finished the game 11-for-30 for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
For Western, Merchant had a strong afternoon completing 21-of-29 passes for 360 yards, three touchdowns and one touchdown. His favourite target on the day was Johnson who had four catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Nakas Onyeka of Brampton, Ont., led the Laurier defence with 9.5 tackles, including two for a loss and a forced fumble, while Philippe Dion of Blaineville, Que., had 10 total tackles, one sack and three tackles for a loss.
With the loss, Laurier drops into a four-way tie for second place in the OUA, joining Ottawa, McMaster and Carleton as teams with four wins this season. The win moves Western into sole possession of first place with a 5-1 record.
The Hawks now have a short turnaround before their next game as they get ready to face the Toronto Varsity Blues on Thursday, October 6. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Varsity Stadium in Toronto.
NOTES: Defensive lineman Rashari Henry of Ottawa, scored Laurier’s fourth defensive touchdown of the season, returning a fumble 33-yards to the endzone in the second quarter…defensive back Godfrey Onyeka of Brampton, Ont., had his second interception of the season, also in the second quarter…both teams finished the game with near-identical rushing yards as Laurier posted 140 while Western had 155, both well below their season averages