TORONTO, ON – Thanks to a three touchdown performance byKurleigh Gittens Jr., the No. 7 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks returned to the win column with a 54-3 victory over the Toronto Varsity Blues on Thursday night at Varsity Stadium.
Gittens Jr., a native of Ottawa, scored the first two touchdowns of the contest before adding a third in the second quarter as Laurier moved to 5-1 on the season and into a tie for first place in the OUA with the Western Mustangs (5-1).
“We played a really clean first half,” said head coach Michael Faulds after the game. “I was really happy with how Michael Knevel threw the ball. He did a great job spreading the ball around to our receivers, including Kurleigh, who was able to show off just how dangerous he is. He was a little banged up earlier this year but he’s starting to get healthy and showing the league what he can do.”
“Coming into this game, I felt healthy and I felt good,” added Gittens Jr. when asked about his performance. “I hadn’t had good games in the weeks before, so this game I just wanted to establish myself and that’s what I did.”
Laurier’s defence was also on full display under the lights in front of 1250 fans demonstrating their big-play ability all night. The Hawks sacked Toronto quarterback Marcus Hobbs of Mississauga, Ont., on seven occasions while picking him off three times, including one that was returned 110 yards for a touchdown by Malcolm Thompson of Windsor, Ont.
His second interception of the game, Thompson’s return matched the longest in team history, a mark he now shares with former Hawks Rohan Dove and Scott McCahill. Thompson also tied the school record for most interception returns for a touchdown in a single season with two, joining Ian Logan, Wally Parker, Larry Uteck and Stacey Coray as players to accomplish the feat.
Teammate Scott Hutter of London, Ont., also had a pair of picks, giving him three on the year, tied with Thompson for the team lead.
“Teams are really in a tough predicament when they face us,” said Faulds of his defence. “The QB’s are forced to throw it early because the great play by the defensive line and then when you do have time to throw it , you’re throwing it against some great DB’s and some great linebackers. We’re able to cause sacks and we’re able to force turnovers with interceptions.”
But the evening belonged to Gittens Jr., an OUA Second Team All-Star last season. The second year receiver opened the scoring for Laurier by returning a punt 92 yards for his first score of the contest. Then, on the Hawks’ next possession, he made an impressive catch in the endzone on a 36-yard pass from quarterback Michael Knevel of Brantford, Ont., to give Laurier a 14-0 lead.
Following a pair of scores from teammates Levondre Gordon of Mississauga, Ont., and Brentyn Hall of Toronto, Gittens Jr. found the endzone for the third time late in the second quarter. He took a short pass from Knevel before bursting through the Varsity Blues defence for a 44-yard major.
In total, the Hawks receiver/returner finished the night with 98 receiving yards, 129 punt return yards and 14 rushing yards for 241 all-purpose yards.
Gittens Jr. was the beneficiary of the best start of Knevel’s career as the Laurier pivot completed 13-of-19 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns while throwing one interception. He improved to 2-1 as a starter with the purple and gold.
Knevel’s favourite target for the second straight week was Hall as he recorded back-to-back 100-plus yard performances finishing the game with five catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.
On the ground, with fifth year Eric Guiltinan of London, Ont., on the sidelines, rushing duties were shared by Gordon and Osayi Iginuan of Hamilton. Iginuan posted a team-high 98 yards and a touchdown while Gordon finished with 68 yards and a major.
Outside of Thompson and Hutter, the Hawks defensive effort was anchored by defensive lineman Jalen Price of Hamilton, who led the team with two sacks along with 3.5 tackles. For the fourth time this season, linebacker Nakas Onyeka of Brampton, Ont., led the way in tackles with 5.5, giving him 134 for his career, fifth most in school history.
For Toronto, who were held to just three points on the night, their lowest total of the season, fifth year quarterback Hobbs was held in check by the Hawks defence, finishing the night 19-of-34 for 184 yards. Receiver Rahul Madan of Scarborough, Ont., was the recipient of a team-high five receptions for 58 yards.
Linebacker Adrian Bernard of Newark, NJ, was named Toronto’s player of the game after recording six tackles, 1.5 for a loss, and a pass breakup.
Up next for Laurier, they will take on the defending Yates Cup Champions, the Guelph Gryphons (2-4), in their first-ever School Day Game on Friday, October 14. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at University Stadium.
NOTES: The victory set a new single-season high for head coach Michael Faulds, eclipsing the four he posted in both 2014 and 2015…Laurier’s defence moved into first place in the conference for interceptions (12), sacks (27) and touchdowns (5)…the victory was Laurier’s 30th all-time against Toronto as they improved their record to 30-15-0