Laurier's Carson Ouellette hurdles McMaster punter Adam Preocanin on a return during the Hawks' 40-15 romp on Saturday at University Stadium. Photo by Mathew McCarthy, Record staff.
By Karlo Berkovich, Record staff
WATERLOO -- It was a record-setting Saturday on several fronts for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
Kurleigh Gittens Jr. became Ontario University Athletics single season reception leader with 75 catches while displacing former WLU all-star receiver Stefan Ptaszek as the Hawks' alltime single season reception yardage leader. Gittens wound up with 10 catches for 114 yards to finish the regular season with 953 yards to Ptaszek's 916 in 1994.
Defensive lineman Robbie Smith had two sacks to become the Hawks' all-time single season sack master with 10.5. Yannick Carter set the previous mark of 9.5 in 2006.
But most important - after an impressive 40-15 win over the McMaster Marauders before 1,480 fans at University Stadium - is a 6-2 final regular-season won-lost record and first-round playoff bye for the Hawks, who finish second in Ontario University Athletics behind 8-0 Western.
How important is the bye? History says it's almost a necessity if a team has Yates Cup Ontario championship aspirations. Over the past seven seasons, the 14 teams that have finished first or second in the OUA have all advanced to the Yates Cup.
"A massive win," said Laurier coach Michael Faulds, whose team turned in a substandard performance a week earlier in a 24-14 loss at Guelph.
It was massive to Faulds not only for the fact it earned his team a bye. Equally important was the total team effort achievement.
"This is the first time our offence and defence have played equally well together at the same time," Faulds said. "It proves what we can do."
It was a win made more impressive because it was achieved with a second-year backup quarterback making his first career start at the controls. Credit coaching, the team system and a poised, polished performance by Tristan Arndt. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns, plus a 53-yard TD scamper. Tie that to ferocious defence, field position dominance - Mac continually started offensive possessions inside its own 20 yard line - and an overall determined team effort and it made for an immensely satisfying, complete team victory and bye week in which to heal any injury wounds.
"I felt good, it took me a bit to settle in but we had a good game plan and really, we have so many great athletes to get the ball to," Arndt said. "You just have to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. Coach Faulds has a lot of trust in me, and our passing game is so polished, it made it easy on me."
As for those Laurier injuries? Starting quarterback Michael Knevel went down with a suspected concussion late in the Guelph loss. Faulds said he is listed as day to day but is expected back under centre for the OUA semifinal Nov. 4 at home against a yet to be determined opponent.
Standout running back Levondre Gordon left the game, favoring a leg, in the third quarter and with the contest well in hand was taken out for precautionary reasons. He is also expected back for what may be a playoff rematch with the Marauders, depending how things play out.
Saturday's OUA results mean Western finishes first at 8-0 followed by Laurier at 6-2. Then comes Mac (6-2), Ottawa (5-3), Guelph (5-3) and Queen's (4-4). That pits McMaster against Queen's and Ottawa against Guelph next weekend in first-round games, with a Mac win over Queen's sending the Marauders on a return visit to Laurier.
"We wanted the bye, it's a big deal, but we still have a playoff position, a playoff home game," said McMaster quarterback and former Cambridge Jacob Hespeler Hawks' standout Jackson White. "It's do or die now, but we expect to be back here."
Saturday's results also leave the Waterloo Warriors, an early-season sensation after two consecutive winless seasons of 0-8, out of the playoffs at 4-4, having lost their last four contests.