WINDSOR, ON – The No. 7 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team clinched second place in the OUA and a first-round playoff bye on Saturday afternoon as they defeated the Windsor Lancers 38-9 at Alumni Field.
The victory gives the Hawks a 7-1 record on the year, giving them their best finish since 2007, and marks a turnaround for the program that saw the team improve from 1-7 under head coach Michael Faulds’ first season in 2013.
“The success we’ve enjoyed this season is extra special because of where we were,” said Faulds after the victory. “It’s a testament to all our players and staff. The message we brought to the program back in 2013 was to stay the course. The players knew it was going to be a process that would take time. Our guys truly bought into that and have trusted in the staff. We’re finally seeing the rewards of all our hard work that we put in.”
As they have done all season, Laurier used a balanced rushing attack and a stout defence to knock off the Lancers. However, the Hawks also threw an accurate passing game at their opponents to round out a performance that saw the purple and gold end a four-game losing streak against Windsor.
Quarterback Michael Knevel of Brantford, Ont., was the star of the game for Laurier as he had a career-afternoon, completing 15-of-20 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown in windy conditions. Knevel’s 15 completions matched his career-best while his 298 yards through the air were a new career record.
His favourite targets on the day were wideouts Kurleigh Gittens Jr. of Ottawa, and Brentyn Hall of Toronto. Gittens Jr. had a game-high 122 yards through the air, the second most of his career, while Hall had 113 yards.
Fellow receiver Marcus Arkarakas of Richmond Hill, Ont., had the Hawks’ lone major through the air to go along with three catches for 61 yards.
On the ground, Levondre Gordon of Mississauga, Ont., continued his breakout season with his third 100-plus yard rushing game of the year, finishing with 109 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Gordon’s performance allowed him to finish the season averaging 8.7 yards per carry, tops in the conference by a yard and a half.
Guiltinan’s two touchdowns set the tone early for Laurier as they rallied from an early 1-0 deficit to take a 14-1 lead after the first quarter.
Both Guiltinan and Gordon also finished inside the Top 7 in the conference in rushing yards with 736 and 637 respectively.
In total, Laurier posted 563 yards of offence in the game to just 150 for the Lancers.
The defensive effort was once again anchored by linebacker Nakas Onyeka of Brampton, Ont., who had nine total tackles and a sack in the victory. Onyeka finishes the season ranked first in the conference in solo tackles with 51 and second in tackles for a loss with 15.
Also shining on defence was defensive lineman Trevaughan James of Whitby, Ont., who had five tackles and recovered a fumble for a touchdown. The touchdown was the sixth of the season for Laurier’s defence, leaving them first in the conference in the category.
“It’s kind of neat that all six defensive touchdowns happened in different games,” stated Faulds on the play of his defence this season. “Scoring six in eight games is unheard of in this league. Our defence will be tough our opposition to prepare for as we move forward into the playoffs.”
Windsor’s top performers were quarterback Jalen Brady of Southfield, Mich., who was 10-for-16 for 86 yards while running back Tarrence Crawford of Windsor, Ont., had 68 rushing yards on 18 carries.
Receiver Chris Tannous of Leamington, Ont., scored Windsor’s only major of the game on a seven-yard pass late in the contest.
Laurier will now have two weeks to prepare for their first home playoff game since 2010.
“We’re a confident groups but we have lots to improve on,” said Faulds on the Hawks’ mindset heading into postseason. “This we can get guys healthy and fine-tune some things on both sides of the ball. We can’t prepare for one team because we know there can be upsets so this week we’ll concentrate on us getting better.”
Stay tuned to laurierathletics.com for game and ticket information for the OUA Semifinal set for Saturday, November 5 at University Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on CHCH.
NOTES: Laurier finished the season with 2259 rushing yards, the fourth most in team history and the most in a single season since 1977…the Hawks 341 points were the second-most in a single season in team history, trailing only the 343 they posted in 2004…Gittens Jr. finished the year with 293 kickoff return yards, the sixth most by a single player in school history…Onyeka’s 59.5 total tackles this season tie him for fourth on Laurier’s single-season list with Kevin MacNeill…he also moved into third place on the Hawks’ all-time career tackles list with 155