On the biggest stage of Michael Knevel’s career, Laurier took over the ball, down 21 points in the championship game against a bitter rival — the Western Mustangs. No easy task.
It takes a level head to make 11 other men believe that a win is possible. It took a level head to spoil Carleton’s homecoming and it took the same tactic to sit patiently for four years and wait for his opportunity to lead the Laurier Golden Hawks to the Yates Cup.
Finally taking over the starting job after four years of waiting, Knevel was poised to thrive in a familiar offence.
“I waited a long time. Obviously, four years and it felt really good to get out there and I was really confident going in, even my first, game because I had been preparing for four years, so it was a good feeling to finally take over the starting job,” the quarterback said.
Knevel emerged this year as a star quarterback. He took the position to spark the offence when veteran Julien John was struggling. Knevel took the helm and never gave it back. He put up passing numbers that have rarely been seen at Laurier. He totaled 1421 yards passing, 11 touchdowns, and only 2 interceptions.
Knevel pinpointed where it really took off.
“After that Carleton game and after that Waterloo game — I guess cohesion. Our offence started growing better as a team. Once we got all the pieces in and were just able to move the ball more effectively,” said Knevel.
Knevel’s decision making skills allowed him to read the defence and respond accordingly. A quarterback needs to react to what the defence gives him.
“Coach Faulds always says you can’t predetermine — that’s something that can get a quarterback in a lot of trouble, is predetermining before the snap. Coach is doing a great job telling us exactly what to look for. If my first read is not there, my second read and my third read. And if that’s not there then I do have the ability to run, too.”
It would be wrong to say that Knevel relied on his legs to make plays, but when the play broke down, he made the opposing defence pay. He totaled just over one hundred rushing yards this season, but that’s only on 20 attempts, giving him an average of 5.5 yards per carry.
“You only have to account for eleven guys, but if the quarterback can run, you have to account for twelve. So my ability to be able to run, which I don’t really run a lot but I will if I have to,” he said.
“I never get too upset about a play or too high about a play,” Knevel said about the Golden Hawks’ Yates Cup win.
“Especially in those last couple minutes, where we were driving on them in those last eight minutes, I remember we could have been really low at that point because we were down 21 points … I remember saying to myself, there is still so much time. We can still win this game and then we we’re coming back, we had to keep our composure because it was kind of getting crazy scoring. They couldn’t stop us … and that’s how we won that game.”
After the team saw the comeback, there was a release of pure championship ecstasy. The taste of those emotions kept the players hungry.
The Uteck Bowl was there, in plain sight.
“It was amazing … I remember when Nathan Messer kicked. The first thing that happened was I started crying. I was like, holy cow that just happened. It wasn’t very cold there but I was chilly, then all the sudden I just got so warm. I hugged my best friend and I just started crying. It was crazy. I ran onto the field. That was probably one of the happiest moments of my life for sure. You could just tell everyone was so happy. We worked so hard this season.”
From there, the team went from standing high on the podium, to a a field in Quebec, filled with screaming fans, to continue to fight for their season.
They lost in the Uteck Bowl, 36 to 6 to nationally ranked, Laval. But the Golden Hawks’ efforts were not for nothing. There is such a thing as a quality loss.
“We won the Yates Cup [and] we were all very happy. And then went down to Quebec and just got our asses kicked and that’s the perfect way to put it. That’s a great learning experience for us. I know right now, our team is so motivated and excited for next year,” Knevel said.
Laurier is a small school and the ability that the team showed when competing against schools with a much larger student body is nothing short of excellence.
“I would just say that I am really proud of our team. We’re a resilient team. We battled in almost every single game.”