WATERLOO, ON — After a short week of practice, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team (4-1) will be looking for their fifth win in six games when they travel to York to take on the 1-4 Lions on Thursday night ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m.
Game Location: Alumni Field, Toronto
Live Webcast/Stats: OUA.tv
The Golden Hawks are coming off their first loss of the season, a 29-13 defeat at the hands of the No. 4 Western Mustangs last Saturday. The purple and gold defence held tough, becoming just the second team to hold the 6-0 Mustangs under 30 points this season, but Western rode a dominant rushing attack and stellar defence to victory, spoiling Laurier’s Homecoming. The Lions fell 32-2 to McMaster last week following their first win of the season, a 41-16 triumph over the University of Toronto in the annual Red and Blue Bowl Sept. 23. At 1-4, York sits two games back of Guelph for the sixth and final OUA playoff spot.
NEED TO KNOW
- Despite being held to 13 points last week against Western’s U Sports-leading defence — Laurier’s lowest point total in a regular-season game since 2015 — the Golden Hawks are still the fourth-best scoring offence in the country, averaging 40.2 points per game. York, meanwhile, will be in tough to keep up on the scoreboard as they come into Thursday scoring just 14.2 points per game, third-fewest in U Sports.
- The Golden Hawks boast the country’s leaders in passing and receiving as Michael Knevel (Brantford, Ont.) has thrown for 1,731 yards (346.2 per game) while Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (Ottawa, Ont.) has racked up 582 receiving yards. Gittens — who caught 18 passes last week, one shy of the U Sports single-game record — also leads the country in receptions, with 49, 13 more than any other receiver.
- York has seen a marked improvement on defence this season, allowing 10 fewer points per game and shaving off nearly 130 yards allowed per game compared to last season. However, the Lions still sit near the bottom of U Sports giving up 38.4 points and 505.6 yards per game in 2017.
The Golden Hawks’ all-time .864 winning percentage (regular season and playoffs) over York is their second-best against any opponent they’ve played more than once (Laurier has an .875 winning percentage in four games against Ryerson). Laurier holds a 38-6-0 overall record against the Lions and have won the last three meetings, outscoring York 139-34 in that span, including a 74-3 win in the teams’ most recent game last season. York’s last win over the Hawks was a 33-20 victory Sept. 7, 2013 during Laurier’s 1-7 season.
Laurier Golden Hawks
Led by Knevel and Gittens, Laurer’s passing attack has been one of the best in the country this season, putting up 355 yards per game, which is behind only the Calgary Dinos. In addition to the league-leading campaign from Gittens, the Hawks have also gotten substantial contributions from receivers Brentyn Hall (Toronto, Ont.), who sits sixth in the OUA in receiving yards, as well as Daniel Bennett (Scarborough, Ont.) and Carson Ouellette (Windsor, Ont.) who have chipped in a combined 595 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite the big numbers in the passing game, Laurier has maintained a balanced attack offensively. After leading the nation in rushing last year, the Hawks are once again among the best running teams in U Sports, sitting fifth in the country averaging 192 yards per game, and fourth with 10 rushing touchdowns. Leading the way has been Levondre Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.), whose 586 rushing yards (117.2 per game) put him sixth in the country. Gordon leads the team with five rushing touchdowns, while power-back Osayi Iginuan (Hamilton, Ont.) has four.
Defensively, the Hawks held Western to just 109 yards through the air last week, however, the Mustangs’ U Sports-leading rushing attack went off for 361 yards, led by running back Alex Taylor and quarterback Chris Merchant. Despite last week’s setback, the Hawks still sit third in the OUA giving up 367 yards per game and fourth in the province surrendering 21 points per game.
Third-year Robbie Smith (Brampton, Ont.) leads the nation in sacks with 6.5, pacing the Hawks to 18 on the season, which is fourth-most in the country. Fifth-year linebacker Brandon Calver (London, Ont.) leads the team in tackles with 28.5 after a huge game against Western with 11. Halfback Isaiah Guzylak-Messam (Hamilton, Ont.), cornerback Godfrey Onyeka (Brampton, Ont.) and safety Scott Hutter (London, Ont.) have led the way in the secondary as the Hawks have surrendered the fourth-fewest passing yards per game in the country.
Coming off a 2,085-yard, 12-touchdown season in 2016, quarterback Brett Hunchak once again leads the way on offence for the Lions, throwing for 1,050 yards in five games. Hunchak’s main target in the passing game has been veteran Adam Adeboboye, who sits just outside the top 10 in the OUA with 333 yards on 27 receptions.
Running the ball has been a struggle for the Lions this season as they come into Thursday’s matchup as one of just three teams in the country averaging fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground, with 92 per contest. The Lions have run for just one touchdown all season, only ahed of McGill, who has yet to reach the endzone on the ground this season. Third-year running back Jesse Amankwaa has that lone York rushing touchdown — which came in the Lions’ only win of the season versus Toronto — and leads the team with 272 yards on 59 carries.
Rookie defensive back Desi Dixon has been a bright spot on defence for the Lions, leading the team with 30 tackles, while adding a sack and a pass breakup. Veterans Ian Lawrence and Andrew Smith have also had strong defensive seasons for York, with 28.5 and 23.5 tackles, respectively.
The Lions have done a good job getting after opposing quarterbacks this season as their 13 sacks through five games ties them with Western for fifth-most in the OUA. Second-year defensive end Rossini Sandjong-Djabombe leads the team with four sacks (which puts him tied for seventh in U Sports), while veteran Matthew Skoko has chipped in 3.5 and second-year linebacker Damien Johnson has added 2.5.
- With 49 receptions on the year, Gittens needs just five more catches to set a Laurier single-season record. The current Golden Hawks’ mark for receptions in a season is 54, set by Andre Talbot in 2000. The OUA and U Sports record is held by Waterloo’s Nick Anapolsky who caught 74 passes in 2013.
- Following their Thursday night game at York, the Hawks will head back on the road Oct. 14 to take on the Guelph Gryphons before returning home to close out the regular season Oct. 21 versus the McMaster Marauders. Kickoff for both games is 1 p.m.
Written By: Justin Fauteux