After seeing their four-game winning streak snapped by the Western Mustangs last week, the No. 7 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (4-1) will look to return to the win column and climb back into a tie for first place in the OUA when they travel to Toronto to take on the Varsity Blues (1-5) on Thursday.
NEED TO KNOW
– Laurier heads into the game fresh off a 45-26 defeat at the hands of the top team in the OUA, the Western Mustangs
– Toronto is riding a two-game losing skid after falling 51-30 on the road to the Windsor Lancers last week
– a win on Thursday night would guarantee the Hawks finish the season with their best regular season record under head coach Michael Faulds
– Laurier is on pace to record their most points in a season in school history, breaking the mark of 343 set back in 2004
The Hawks and Blues are meeting for the first time in two years after the two were non-combatants in 2015. In their last meeting, Laurier snapped a three-game losing streak by posting a 53-17 victory in Toronto. The win moved the Hawks to 29-15-0 all-time against the Blues.
Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (4-1) – No. 7 in Canada
The Golden Hawks were dealt their first taste of adversity following their game against Western and all eyes will be on the team to see how they respond this week.
One area that Laurier will be looking to re-establish against Toronto is the run game. The Hawks were held to just 140 yards rushing, well below their season average, by a very good Western defence. Despite the lack of success on the ground, the team still finds themselves at the top of the OUA for team rushing, averaging 311 yards per game.
The bright spot on offence for Laurier against the Mustangs was getting the passing game going. Quarterback Michael Knevel of Brantford, Ont., threw for a career-best 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns, finding great chemistry with receiver Brentyn Hall of Toronto. The first year player had a breakout performance, making six catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. If Hall is able to continue his strong play, it should allow the Hawks to get the ball more to Kurleigh Gittens Jr. of Ottawa, who has been keyed on by teams all season.
Speaking of Gittens Jr., he more than filled in for Carson Ouellette on special teams, who missed the game due to injury. Gittens Jr. posted 153 kickoff return yards and 142 punt return yards in the game, both numbers the third-highest in school history. That area of the game has become more and more of a weapon for Laurier this season and with a number of game-breakers in the return game, the Hawks will looking to set them loose on the opposition the rest of the season.
Finally, while the Hawks did suffer their first loss of the season against Western, it wasn’t due to a lack of effort from the defence. The group scored their fourth touchdown of the year on a Rashari Henry (Ottawa) fumble return and held Western’s run game to their lowest total of the season. If Laurier can clean up their pass defence, which allowed a season-high 403 yards passing, Toronto could be in for a long night on Thursday.
Toronto Varsity Blues (1-5)
It has been a tough season for the Varsity Blues up to now. The team finds themselves in 10th place in the OUA and they rank in the bottom third of the league in many statistical categories. However, the bright spot for Toronto is they are still alive for a playoff spot but will need an upset victory tonight in order to keep their hopes from dying.
Offensively, Toronto is led by fifth year quarterback Marcus Hobbs of Mississauga, Ont., who ranks fifth in the conference in passing yards this season with 1343 but has struggled to protect the football, throwing seven interceptions to just three touchdowns. Hobbs also has the ability to run the football, something Laurier’s defence will have to guard against, as he has 154 rushing yards and six touchdowns this year.
Hobbs is complemented in the backfield by third year back Alex Malone of Toronto, who leads the team in rushing yards with 439 but has yet to record a touchdown this season.
Through the air, Laurier will have to guard against receivers Rahul Madan of Scarborough, Ont., and Anthony Naccarato Vaughan, Ont., as they have both recorded over 450 receiving yards in 2016.
On defence, watch out for second year defensive back Richard Gillespie of Whitby, Ont., who has been a ball hawk this season recording three interceptions for the Blues, tied for second best in the conference.