#5 Golden Hawks meet #9 Warriors on Saturday

Photo: Christian Bender

WATERLOO, ON — This year’s edition of the Battle of Waterloo sees both teams riding high as the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team (3-0) gets set to travel up University Avenue to take on the 4-0 Waterloo Warriors. This year’s highly anticipated game marks the 57th all-time meeting between the cross-town rivals.

Game Date/Time: Saturday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m.
Game Location: Warrior Field, Waterloo
Live Webcast/Stats: OUA.tv
TV broadcast: Rogers TV Waterloo Region (Cable 20)

The Golden Hawks come in to Saturday’s contest after a dominant performance versus Queen’s last week. The 40-17 win in Kingston saw two Laurier records fall and two Hawks put up career days on offence. Waterloo quarterback Lucas McConnell had a career performance of his own last week, throwing for 472 yards and three touchdowns — on his way to OUA offensive player of the week honours — in the Warriors’ comeback 45-43 win over Carleton in Ottawa. The win kept the upstart Warriors’ perfect record intact following wins over Windsor, York and Toronto.

– The Hawks and Warriors boast two of the top offences in the country. The Golden Hawks sit second in U Sports averaging 570.3 yards per game, while the Warriors are sixth in the nation, putting up 495.8 yards per game (the teams sit second and third in the OUA, respectively, only trailing Western).
– Waterloo is tied for fourth nationally, averaging 44.8 points per game, while Laurier sits fifth, scoring 39 per game.
– The Warriors are 4-0 for the first time since 1998 and nationally ranked for the first time since 2007. This season has marked a major turnaround for the program, as coming into 2017 Waterloo had won four games in the previous five seasons combined.
– Laurier has not lost to an OUA opponent (including playoffs and pre-season) since Oct. 1, 2016 when they fell 45-26 on the road at Western. The purple and gold’s winning streak against conference opponents now spans eight games with their only losses in that time coming to Laval in last year’s Uteck Bowl and Concordia in an exhibition game in August.

The Golden Hawks own a 41-14-1 all-time record against the Warriors, including playoffs, and have won the previous 13 meetings. The last Waterloo win over Laurier came in 2002 when the Warriors topped the Hawks 18-16. In their most recent matchup, the purple and gold beat the Warriors 68-7 at University Stadium on Sept. 24 last year. The closest contest in that 13-game winning streak for Laurier came in 2006, a 24-21 Golden Hawks victory.

The two Waterloo universities have gotten well acquainted on the gridiron as the 56 all-time meetings mark the third most games Laurier has played against an opponent, only behind Western (71), McMaster (60) and Guelph (59). The one tie between Laurier and Waterloo came in 1995, a 23-23 game.

Laurier Golden Hawks 

While the Golden Hawks’ offence has become known for its running game — which is once again one of the best in the country — the team’s passing attack has developed into just as dangerous of a weapon. In his first full season as starting quarterback, Michael Knevel (Brantford, Ont.) has set career highs in passing yards every week to open 2017, including a 421-yard, four-touchdown day last Saturday versus Queen’s. Knevel comes into this week leading the country in passing yards with 1,135 through three games, averaging 378.3 per contest, which also leads all U Sports quarterbacks.

Knevel’s favourite target has been Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (Ottawa, Ont.), who leads the OUA and sits second in the nation with 387 receiving yards through three games (129/game). The third year’s 28 receptions put him first in U Sports. The Hawks have also gotten solid contributions from receivers Brentyn Hall (Toronto, Ont.) — who had 111 yards and a touchdown on eight catches versus Queen’s — Daniel Bennett (Scarborough, Ont.), Brendan McCracken (Kitchener, Ont.) and Carson Ouellette (Windsor, Ont.).

Levondre Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.) has carried the load in the running game, racking up 373 yards through three games, good enough for second in the OUA and fourth in the country. Meanwhile the offensive line of Chris Reddy(Kitchener, Ont.), Drew Mairleitner (Denfield, Ont.), J.D. Richardson (Burlington, Ont.), Edward Cadougan(Scarborough, Ont.) and Sukhneet Kahlon (Brampton, Ont.) have not only opened holes in the running game, but have only allowed three sacks all season.

The Laurier defence exploded for eight sacks last week, with 4.5 of them coming from third-year Robbie Smith(Brampton, Ont.) who set a new Laurier single-game record. Smith, the U Sports defensive player of the week, along with fellow defensive lineman Rashari Henry (Ottawa, Ont.), Trevaughan James (Whitby, Ont.) and Emerson Gourdet(Scarborough, Ont.) have been getting after opposing quarterbacks all season, as the purple and gold defence has picked up 12 sacks, which puts them tied for fourth in the country.

In the secondary, safety Scott Hutter (London, Ont.) picked up his first interception of the season last week, while halfback Isaiah Guzylak-Messam (Hamilton, Ont.) has had a fantastic start to the season, leading the Hawks in tackles with 15.5 and adding an interception and four pass breakups. Cornerback Godfrey Onyeka (Brampton, Ont.), recently ranked the No. 4 prospect for the CFL draft, has broken up three passes, while forcing and recovering a fumble and adding nine tackles. Meanwhile, fifth-year Brandon Calver (London, Ont.) and second-year Brad Cowan (Ottawa, Ont.) have had solid seasons in the linebacking corps, with 14 and 12 tackles, respectively, with Cowan adding a sack.

Kicker Nathan Mesher (Waterloo, Ont.) set a Laurier record last week hitting a 52-yard field goal, the longest in team history. Mesher is 10/12 on field goals this season, while averaging 35.6 yards per punt.

Waterloo Warriors

Coming off back-to-back 0-8 seasons, the Warriors have been the early-season story of the OUA, enjoying a major resurgence in head coach Chris Bertoia’s third year at the helm. Led by the nation’s second-best rushing attack, the Warriors have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround on offence after finishing in the bottom of U Sports in yards and points per game in each of the last five seasons.

While Lucas McConnell was the offensive star for Waterloo last week, rookie Tre Ford was the headliner on offence through the Warriors’ first three games. Forming a dual-threat platoon at quarterback with McConnell, Ford ran for 329 yards, while completing 14 of 17 passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns before missing the Carleton game with an injury. McConnell has thrown eight touchdowns, which puts him second in the OUA and tied for fourth in the country, while significantly cutting down on his interceptions, throwing just two in four games after throwing 10 last year. With 921 yards through the air, McConnell sits fifth in the OUA.

Aided greatly by the dual-threat of Ford, the Waterloo running game only trails Western in yards per game (235.5) and rushing touchdowns (nine). Second years Dion Pellerin and Brandon Metz have formed an effective duo at running back, rushing for 355 and 221 yards, respectively, and combining for five touchdowns in four games.

Second-year receiver Tyler Ternowski — an OUA all-rookie team member in 2016 — returned from injury last week against Carleton and had a huge game, catching 10 passes for 185 yards. Prior to Ternowski’s return, first-year Gordon Lam and veterans Richmond Nketiah, Mitch Kernick and Blair McKay were the go-to receivers for the Warriors’ quarterbacking duo.

Defensively, the Warriors have gone from allowing the most points in the country (54.4/game) last season to cutting that number in half, allowing a respectable 26.8 per game this year. Second-year linebackers Michael Reid and Kurtis Gray — another OUA all-rookie teamer in 2016 — lead the team in tackles with 29 and 28.5, respectively, putting both among the OUA leaders. Meanwhile fifth-year linebacker Brandon Corelli has provided a veteran presence to the defence, chipping in 13.5 tackles, an interception and two pass breakups. The Warriors have gotten six interceptions from six different players through four games, putting them in a tie for second in the OUA.

In the return game, Tre Ford’s twin brother Tyrell has been one of the top return men in the nation, taking a pair of punts for touchdowns, while averaging 20.1 yards per punt return and 31 yards per kick return. Tyrell Ford is the only player in the country with multiple return touchdowns and his 20.1-yard punt return average leads U Sports.

-Saturday’s game marks the third instalment of the season-long Battle of Waterloo. This year, the winner of the season series between Laurier and Waterloo in baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer will take home the inaugural Battle of Waterloo trophy. To this point, the universities are deadlocked as the men’s and women’s soccer games between the Hawks an Warriors on Sept. 10 both ended in a draw. The next clash of the cross-town rivals will be a men’s baseball double-header (12 p.m./3:30 p.m.) Saturday, Sept. 30 at Jack Couch Park in Kitchener.
-The football Hawks return home Sept. 30 for their annual Homecoming game. This year’s Homecoming will see the Western Mustangs visit University Stadium for a re-match of last year’s Yates Cup. For tickets, visit laurier.universitytickets.com.

– Written by Justin Fauteux

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