Waterloo Region Record
WATERLOO — If the curse of the billy goat can be solved by the Chicago Cubs ending 108 years of World Series futility, surely the Laurier Golden Hawks have a shot at redemption when they square off against the Western Mustangs in Saturday’s Yates Cup.
The Hawks cleared one major hurdle when they staved off a determined rally from the McMaster Marauders, to defeat Mac 21-19 in an Ontario University Athletics semifinal football game Saturday.
No. 3 Western clobbered the No. 8 Carleton Ravens 51-24 in the other semifinal that day, and so the first-place Mustangs will entertain Laurier in the conference final.
No. 5 Laurier has not unravelled the riddle that is the Mustangs through 14 straight losses to their arch rivals since 2006.
But back to Saturday’s contest, Laurier’s first home playoff date since 2010.
Laurier bolted to 21-6 lead in the third quarter, but was stalled throughout much of the second half, surrendering 13 straight points to the rallying No. 7 Marauders.
The Hawks defence, the backbone of the team for years, stood tall when it mattered, collecting three interceptions and registering three sacks at Mac pivot Asher Hastings’ expense.
The Marauders, trailing by two, threatened with 1:23 left on the clock. But the visitors were stopped in their tracks by Laurier’s sturdy defensive front on a decisive third-and-inches gamble near midfield.
“It’s a game of inches, right?” said thwarted head coach Greg Knox, whose Marauders have suffered consecutive playoff defeats to Laurier in two straight years.
“Hats off to Laurier. They did a great job,” he said.
Splendid defensive end Kwaku Boateng said his Hawks had no intention of surrendering any ground to the Marauders.
“It was also a battle for the best defence in the OUA and possible in the country,” said Boateng. “We knew it would be won on the defensive side of the ball.”
Laurier got an early score when quarterback Michael Knevel connected with Kurleigh Gittens Jr. for a 63-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter.
Knevel later blasted 64 yards from scrimmage to set up a one-yard TD plunge by Osayi Iginuan, giving the hosts a 20-6 lead at the half.
Laurier’s pivot was named player of the game in his first career playoff appearance, going 11-for-18 on pass attempts for 159 yards.
Levondre Gordon rushed for 92 yards for the Hawks, in place of injured starter Eric Guiltinan, who suffered a knee injury and headed to the sidelines early in the contest.
Nathan Mesher kicked field goals of 28 and 31 yards for the winners, before 2,128 fans at University Stadium. Nathan McLean added a rouge on a kickoff for Laurier.
Hastings hit Daniel Petermann with a nine-yard TD pass in the third quarter. He also found Max Cameron with another 14-yard strike with 5:07 left to draw the Marauders to within two points. The ensuing two-point convert failed.
Freshman kicker Adam Preocanin hit field goals of 32 and 31 yards in the first half.
Next up are the indomitable Mustangs.
“We are going to have to play a perfect football game. Our guys are up for that challenge,” said Hawks head coach Michael Faulds.
“We are so excited. It’s a great opportunity for us. We know what (the Mustangs) are like,” said Knevel, whose Hawks fell 45-26 to Western on Oct. 1.