WATERLOO, ON – Buoyed by record-setting performances from receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and defensive lineman Robbie Smith, the No. 7 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team defeated the No. 5 McMaster Marauders 40-15 on Saturday afternoon at University Stadium to clinch second place in the OUA standings.
Gittens Jr., a native of Ottawa, led the Hawks’ offensive barrage against the second-ranked defence in the country as he had 10 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. In the process, he became the U SPORTS single-season receptions leader with 75 and Laurier’s single-season receiving yards leader with 953.
Meanwhile, Smith, originally from Brampton, Ont., led a defensive effort that held the Marauders to just 15 points. Smith finished the game with 3.5 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one pass breakup with his two sacks giving him 10.5 on the year to break the Hawks’ single-season record of 9.5.
“Massive win [for our team],” said head coach Michael Faulds. “This is the first time both “O” and “D” came together and both played well in the same week and this just proves what we can do if we do that.”
“It’s a honour [to set the records],” said Gittens Jr. on his performance this season. “I’m a little overwhelmed right now but our first goal was to just get the win and that’s what we got.”
“I just went out there and played,” said Smith on if he knew the record was on the line on Saturday. “It’s definitely a good thing but it’s not something that I was dying to get. But it’s a nice thing to have.”
With the winner of Saturday’s game securing a first round playoff bye, Laurier turned to rookie quarterback Tristan Arndtof London, Ont., for his first career start with regular starter Michael Knevel of Brantford, Ont., sidelined due to injury.
Arndt, going up against a McMaster defence that had allowed just 10 or more points on two occasions going into the game, didn’t show any signs of nerves as he completed 18 of his 23 passing attempts for 213 yards and three touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing, posting 65 yards on three carries, highlighted by a 53-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave Laurier a 21-7 advantage.
“He was unbelievable,” said Faulds on his young quarterback. “That’s why we recruited Tristan out of London. We knew he was a very mature individual. We knew he was very calm out there and we’ve groomed him for a couple of years. And you never know when you’re going to get your opportunity. And sure enough he played amazingly. He knows he didn’t have to do too much and all he had to do was spread the ball to our talented receivers.”
After stumbling last week against the Guelph Gryphons, the Hawks came out of the gate strong as Arndt connected with both Gittens Jr. and Mario Villamizar of St. Catharines, Ont., to give Laurier a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
McMaster cut into the lead on the first play of the second quarter as rookie quarterback Jackson White of Cambridge, Ont., hit Dan Petermann of Stoney Creek, Ont., for a 98-yard major.
Laurier responded with Arndt’s touchdown run two possessions later while Nathan Mesher of Waterloo, Ont., added a field goal after Smith forced a McMaster fumble to stake the Hawks to a 24-7 lead at the half.
The third quarter was much of the same for the Hawks as Elijah Fera of Windsor, Ont., scored his first touchdown of the season before Arndt connected with Daniel Bennett of Scarborough, Ont., for another major. A conceded safety left Laurier with a 40-7 lead after three quarters, an advantage they would make hold up over the final 15 minutes to come away with their sixth win of the season.
With a bye secured through the OUA quarter-finals, Laurier will have two weeks to prepare for their semifinal game on Saturday, November 4.
Stay tuned to laurierathletics.com for complete playoff details.
NOTES: Attendance at the game was 1480… Gittens Jr.’s USPORTS receptions record broke the previous mark of 74 set by Waterloo’s Nick Anapolsky in 2013…his receiving yards record beat the old mark of 916 previously set in 1994 by Stefan Ptaszek…Smith’s sack record broke the mark set by Yannick Carter in 2006… Laurier finishes second in the OUA standings for the second consecutive year…Faulds’ all-time regular season record with the Hawks now sits at 24 wins and 18 losses through five seasons