Michael Faulds has seen his team come full-circle.
After a disappointing 1-7 2013 campaign, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks football head coach saw constant improvement and maturity in his squad to have them turn it around to a second-place 7-1 finish this season, earning them a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Golden Hawks finished off their best campaign in nearly 10 years with a 38-9 victory over the Windsor Lancers on Sunday in Windsor.
This turnaround started in 2013.
“It was then that we decided to go with the youth movement,” said Faulds, adding they started more first-year players that season than normal.
“Now those players have turned into veterans with playing experience,” added Faulds.
The Western Mustangs, which finished in first place, will have a first-round bye as well, before competing in the Yates Cup semifinals on Nov. 5, alongside Laurier.
Ottawa and Carleton go head-to-head in one quarterfinal, while Guelph and McMaster compete for the other spot. Laurier will play the highest remaining seed in the semifinals, while Western takes the lowest.
“No matter who we play, it’s going to be a tough team,” said Faulds.
The last time Laurier was this good, it was 2007. They lost the semifinal match to Guelph in a 38-31 heartbreaker.
You have to go back 10 years to find the last time Laurier was in a Yates Cup final. In 2006, Laurier made it into the playoffs with a 6-2 record, and quickly offed the Windsor Lancers in the quarterfinal, before defeating the Western Mustangs in the semifinal by a score of 20-15. Laurier lost in the Yates Cup game 32-14 at the hands of the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
The 2005 season was easily the best of Laurier’s history. A 12-0 undefeated run through Western (then-quarterbacked by Faulds) in the Yates Cup, Acadia in the Uteck Bowl and Saskatchewan in the Vanier Cup earned Laurier the national championship.
At the end of an eight-game season, injuries pile up. Faulds is hoping his players can heal up, but they’re not taking days off by any means.
“It’s back to business for us,” said Faulds Monday morning. “The guys are in the gym this morning and we’re still keeping our routine.”
Faulds, who had plenty of playoff experience in his five-year playing career with the Mustangs, said the key is to stay mentally focused on the goal at hand, despite the long delay between games.
“It’s all about preparation and keeping focused,” said Faulds.
Saturday’s win brings Faulds’ career coaching record to an even 16-16.
The 2014 and 2015 seasons were very different in terms of results, but both ended in 4-4 records.
Last season, Laurier got close with a quarterfinal win over McMaster on the road in the playoffs, but they eventually lost in the semifinals.