#5 Laurier gets set to take on Guelph

GuelphPreview_KhaVo
Photo: Kha Vo

WATERLOO, ON — The No. 5 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team (5-1) will be looking for their sixth win of the season when they head on the road to meet the No. 10 Guelph Gryphons (3-3) Saturday afternoon.

Game Date/Time: Saturday, Oct. 14, 1 p.m.
Game Location: Alumni Stadium, Guelph
Live Webcast/Stats: OUA.tv

THE SKINNY

Coming off a 53-31 win over York before the Thanksgiving weekend, the Golden Hawks sit tied for second in the OUA. With Western having clinched the conference’s top spot, the Hawks are battling it out with McMaster for the second first-round playoff bye over the season’s final two weeks. Fresh off their bye week, the Gryphons currently own the sixth and final playoff spot in the OUA after recording their third win of the season over Waterloo on Sept. 30. Guelph is holding off Queen’s and Carleton (both 2-4) for the final post-season berth and are within striking distance of fifth-place Waterloo (4-3).


NEED TO KNOW

– Laurier and Guelph have two of the highest scoring offences in the country. The Golden Hawks sit third in U Sports scoring 42.3 points per game, while the Gryphons are fourth averaging 40.2 points per game.

– Saturday could see two Laurier records fall. Quarterback Michael Knevel (Brantford, Ont.) is 134 yards shy of setting a single-season Golden Hawks record for passing yards — the current mark of 2,295 was set by Bill Kubas in 1994 — while receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (Ottawa, Ont.) needs another 125 receiving yards to break Stefan Ptaszek’s single-season mark of 916, also set in 1994.

– Knevel and Gittens have been the most productive quarterback-receiver duo in U Sports this season. Knevel leads the country in passing yards with 2,162 while his 15 touchdown passes are tied for the U Sports lead. Five of those touchdown passes have gone to Gittens, who leads the nation in receiving yards, with 792, and receptions, with 57 — a Laurier single-season record.

ALL-TIME SERIES

Laurier owns an all-time record of 42-17-0 (including playoffs) against Guelph. The 59 previous meetings are the third most for the Golden Hawks against a single opponent, only behind Western (72) and McMaster (60). In last season’s Hawks-Gryphons match-up, Laurier held off a late-game comeback for a 27-25 win at University stadium on Oct. 14. That win broke a four-game losing streak for Laurier against Guelph dating back to 2012.

TEAM BREAKDOWN

Laurier Golden Hawks

Led by the phenomenal seasons of Knevel and Gittens, the Golden Hawks’ offence has been one of the most dangerous in the country this season. The Hawks have been held to fewer than 38 points in just one game this season, their lone loss of the year to Western on Sept. 30.

While Gittens has been the go-to receiver for Knevel, Brentyn Hall (Toronto, Ont.) has also produced a stellar season, sitting fifth in U Sports with 533 yards on 25 receptions — a 21.3 yards-per-catch average, which is third best in the country — while adding five touchdown catches. Carson Ouellette (Windsor, Ont.), Daniel Bennett (Scarborough, Ont.) and Brendan McCracken (Kitchener, Ont.) round out a Laurier receiving corps that’s full of of weapons.

After leading the country in rushing last season, the Hawks again boast one of the best ground games in the country, averaging 192.7 yards per game, fourth-best in U Sports. Levondre Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.) is second in the country with seven rushing touchdowns, while his 710 yards are fifth. Powerful running back Osayi Iginuan (Hamilton, Ont.) has been a good complement to Gordon in the backfield, producing four touchdowns and 206 yards.

Defensively, Robbie Smith (Brampton, Ont.) leads the country in sacks with 6.5, part of a Laurier pass rush that has compiled 19 quarterback takedowns on the season — fourth-most in U Sports. With the Hawks dealing with injuries at linebacker all season, younger players have stepped up, including last week’s U Sports defensive player of the week Shomari Hutchinson, who tied a Laurier record with 14.5 tackles in his first career start.

In the secondary, two-time All-Canadian Godfrey Onyeka (Brampton, Ont.) has once again been one of the best cover-corners in the country — he also leads the Hawks in tackles with 31.5 — while veterans Scott Hutter (London, Ont.) and Isaiah Guzylak-Messam (Hamilton, Ont.) have chipped in a pair of interceptions each.

Guelph Gryphons

Though 3-3 and battling for a playoff spot, Guelph could easily be among the teams at the top of the OUA standings. The Gryphons took both Ottawa and Western to overtime in the first two weeks of the season, coming out with losses in both games before winning three of their next four.

Offensively, the Gryphons boast a talented backfield led by veteran Johnny Augustine, who is tied for the U Sports lead in rushing touchdowns with eight, while leading the team with 377 yards on the ground. Second-year running backs Jamal Hooker and Patrick Pierre have also taken a step forward this season to provide Guelph with a reliable rotation behind Augustine.

At quarterback, fourth-year Cambridge native James Roberts was enjoying a solid season with nine touchdowns against just two interceptions before going down with an injury against McMaster on Sept. 23. Third-year Theo Landers stepped in for Roberts in the Gryphons’ most recent game versus Waterloo. Guelph lost a pair of key playmakers in the receiving corps to graduation in A’Dre Fraser and Ryan Nieuwesteeg, however, veteran Jacob Scarfone has been among the U Sports leaders in receiving yards and touchdowns this season, while the Gryphons have also gotten contributions from Kian Schaffer-Baker, Zeph Fraser and Kade Belyk.

Always a solid defensive team, the Gryphons have been getting after opposing quarterbacks this season, tied for second in U Sports with 23 sacks through six games. Leading the way along the defensive line has been second-year Alain Cimankinda, who sits second in the country with six sacks. Guelph features a deep group of veterans at linebacker in Luke Korol, Derek Drouillard, Riley Bains and 2015 OUA all-star Job Reinhart, while Royce Metchie, Nick Parisotto and Orion Edwards anchor a talented secondary.

On special teams, Scarfone and rookie Ryan Isenor have formed a dangerous duo in the return game. Meanwhile, kicker/punter Gabe Ferraro has hit 21 field goals this season, second most in U Sports, including a 51-yarder, which is the second-longest hit this season next to Laurier’s Nathan Mesher’s 52-yard field goal.

EXTRA POINTS
– Gittens broke a Laurier record last week when he recorded his 55th reception of the season, topping Andre Talbot’s mark of 54 set in 2000.
– Knevel is 32 completions from breaking the Laurier single-season record of 177 set by Shane Kelly in 2011.
– The Golden Hawks will wrap up their regular-season schedule with a home game against the McMaster Marauders Oct. 21. Kickoff at University Stadium is 1 p.m. For tickets, visit laurier.universitytickets.com.

– Written by Justin Fauteux

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