WATERLOO, ON – Wilfrid Laurier running back Levondre Gordon rushed for 193 yards and a touchdown to help lead the No. 7 Golden Hawks to a 27-25 win over the Guelph Gryphons on Friday afternoon at University Stadium.
Hosting their first School Day Game in front of 4652 fans, the Hawks raced out to a 24-6 lead before holding off the Gryphons late rally to knock off Guelph for the first time in five years and in the process, post their sixth win of the season, their most since 2009.
“Like we said to the guys all week, they’re [Guelph] not a four-loss football team and they showed that today,” said head coach Michael Faulds after the victory. “They took us right down to the wire but I’m proud of how our guys battled. Leading 24-6, we would like to put them away but in the end, we made enough plays to get the win.”
“They’re a really good team,” added Gordon, echoing his coach’s comments. “But our offensive line pretty much got it done. They really opened the gaps for all the running backs, including myself. By opening it and spacing it out, that allowed us to have success and establish our passing game.”
Although the Hawks had 20 fewer offensive plays on the afternoon, Laurier was effective in converting a number of big yardage plays to gain control of the contest early. Gordon started proceedings just five minutes into the contest as he broke a 71-yard run for a touchdown to give Laurier a 7-0 lead.
After a pair of field goals from Guelph kicker Gabe Ferraro of Mississauga, Ont., cut the lead to one, Laurier got another explosion play courtesy of quarterback Michael Knevel of Brantford, Ont., and receiver Brendan McCracken of Kitchener, Ont. Pinned deep in their own end, Knevel went over the middle to a wide open McCracken who outran the Gryphons defensive backs for a 94-yard major.
The play, which gave the Hawks a 14-6 advantage, was the fifth-longest pass-and-catch in school history.
Laurier would go on to add a 29-yard field goal from Nathan McLean of Kitchener, Ont., to take a 17-6 lead at the half.
The Hawks continued rolling to start the third quarter thanks to another big run from Gordon. The 5-11 speedster broke a 42-yard run to set up a one-yard plunge from Osayi Iginuan of Hamilton, as Laurier stretched their lead to 24-6.
“The thing about Levondre is that he has a speed that no one else has,” said Faulds of his running back. “He’s able to run away from people, and because he’s small, he’s able to hide behind our big offensive line, much like Dillon used to do, and then when he pops out, he’s going full speed.”
However, with the playoff lives hanging in the balance, Guelph responded with a Mack Jones (Port Colborne, Ont. ) 25- yard touchdown rush late in the third quarter and a two-yard run from quarterback James Roberts (Cambridge, Ont.) early in the fourth to pull themselves back into the contest.
Needing a response, it was Gordon once again providing the spark as a 36-yard run one the next possession after Roberts’ score set Laurier up for McLean’s second field goal of the game, a 16-yard chip shot that restored the Hawks’ lead to eight.
With Guelph needing a touchdown to have a chance to tie the contest, the Hawks defence stepped up. One promising drive was snuffed out by a key sack from Robbie Smith and Nakas Onyeka, both from Brampton, Ont., while another was stopped thanks to Malcolm Thompson’s (Windsor, Ont.) second interception of the afternoon. On the play, however, Thompson went down with an injury that required him to be helped off the field.
With one last chance and the clock reading 1:13 left, Roberts drove the Gryphons from their 40-yard line into the endzone, a seven-play drive capped off by a Kian Schaffer-Baker (Guelph, Ont.) touchdown.
Needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, Roberts’ pass attempt was knocked down by defensive lineman Trevaughan James of Whitby, Ont. Laurier then recovered Guelph’s onside kick attempt to seal the win, moving them to 6-1 on the season.
Gordon’s performance, which came on just 12 carries, moved him into fifth in conference rushing with 528 yards on the season while his 16.1 yards per carry average bumped his league-best rushing average to 9.6 yards per carry.
Knevel had another solid performance for the Hawks, finishing 15-of-27 for 222 yards and a touchdown, but did throw his second interception of the year. McCracken finished as Laurier’s top receiver with two catches for 99 yards and a score.
On defence, Onyeka was the star of the show for Laurier as he had 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss. His 4.5 tackles for a loss give him 13 on the season, second most in the conference.
Fellow linebacker Matt Williams of Ajax, Ont., also shone with 10.5 tackles and one sack.
Guelph, meanwhile, fell to 2-5 on the season and are in danger of missing the postseason after winning the Yates Cup a year ago.
They were led by receiver A’Dre Fraser of Halifax, as he had nine catches for 127 yards while Roberts finished the game 23-for-37 for 296 yards and one touchdown but also threw three interceptions.
Linebacker Lukas Korol of Burlington, Ont., had nine tackles to lead their defensive effort.
The Hawks, who finished the regular season unbeaten on home turf, now head out on the road to close out their schedule against the Windsor Lancers next Saturday, October 22. A win over the Lancers will clinch Laurier their first 7-1 season since 2007 and give them an opportunity to clinch a first-round playoff bye.
“We just have to stay the course,” added Faulds on facing the Lancers next week, a team the Hawks haven’t defeated under his watch. “We take it one game at a time and Windsor is next on the schedule. They’re a desperate football team too, as they’re fighting for the final playoff spot, so we know we’re going to get their best effort.”
Game time is set for 1 p.m.
NOTES: Onyeka’s 12-tackle performance gives him 146 for his career, moving him into fourth place on Laurier’s career tackles list…Thompson’s two interceptions give him five for the season, tied for fifth most in a single season in school history…Thompson also now has 268 interception return yards this year, a number that shatters Laurier’s single-season record, previously 185 set by Rohan Dove back in 1986…he also now owns the school record for career interception return yards with 328, breaking the mark of 276 previously held by Stacey Coray between 1971-72.