By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Two things the defensive unit of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks did Saturday were vital to that team’s victory over the Queen’s Golden Gaels.
Most obviously, the Hawks’ defence recovered a fumble for a touchdown, and took an intercepted pass for another, producing almost enough points by itself to secure the win.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the Hawks defence was stellar long enough for the Laurier offence to get underway. Indeed, on a cold, cloudy, blustery day at Richardson Stadium, the game was well into the third quarter—and the Hawks already enjoyed a 21-point lead—before the Laurier offence got around to scoring its first touchdown.
Once that happened, there was little doubt the Gaels were on their way to defeat, and, sure enough, by the time it was over the tails were well between their legs as they absorbed a 49-26 beating in front of a capacity Homecoming crowd.
The win left Queen’s with a 5-3 record for the regular year, tied for fourth place in the Ontario University Athletics standings with the Carleton Ravens, who were beaten 44-12 Saturday by the Guelph Gryphons. Queen’s gets fourth by virtue of its season-opening victory over Carleton, and that extends the life of the stadium by another week, as it gives the Gaels the opportunity to host a quarter-final game Saturday, against those same Ravens.
Laurier, meanwhile, had to win the game to make the playoffs. At 4-4 the Hawks finished sixth, and they’ll play McMaster in Saturday’s other quarter-final in Hamilton. McMaster finished 6-2, after being beaten in its season finale 46-24 by Western.
It was a disturbing performance for Gaels supporters, who were still scratching their heads over how Queen’s could have managed to defeat York by just a point—and give up 32 points in the process—in the game after having played so brilliantly in upsetting previously unbeaten Guelph, a match that now seems like it was played an eternity ago.
The Gaels played as if still under the influence of a Guelph hangover last week in Toronto, and they appeared this time to be even more debilitated by it, in that this game had none of the redeeming features that could be found in the narrow win over perennially weak York.
There was nothing in the first five minutes of Saturday’s game to suggest the Gaels were about to embark on a mistake fest of the first order. After receiving the opening kickoff, Queen’s marched 61 yards in five plays—into a severe wind out of the south—for a touchdown, doing so in spite of being set back by a 15-yard penalty along the way. It couldn’t have been executed any better.
Then, like an atheist in the face of a proselytizer distributing spiritual literature, Laurier slammed the door on the Gaels, holding them to exactly 61 yards of offence in the rest of the first half. Queen’s had four first downs after that opening drive, only once having as many as two in the same possession. During that time they conceded a safety and fumbled twice—one was returned for a touchdown—turned the ball over on downs, had a punt blocked and quarterback Nate Hobbs threw two interceptions—one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Four of those turnovers, and the blocked punt, came in the second quarter, when Queen’s was trying to make hay with the wind at its collective back.
Never mind that the safety yielded two points and the blocked punt led to a field goal—by the time the first half was done the Laurier defensive line had outscored the Queen’s offence 14-7. “Any time you get two touchdowns from your D line, that’s a special day,” Laurier coach Michael Faulds said, in a wee bit of an understatement.
Ultimately, however, that’s where the game was won, since Laurier wasn’t doing much better, getting just a field goal each time from three terrific drives that got the Hawks inside the Queen’s 20-yard line.
Faulds said he wasn’t worried about failing to score a touchdown on those possessions, precisely because of the points the defence put on the scoreboard.
“We were still in the lead,” he said. “Obviously, you do want to take advantage when you get down there, but we knew we needed to possess the football as much as we could and when we get down there … we have a good field goal kicker, and at the very least we’d keep their offence off the field and come away with three points.”
Hawks running back Eric Guiltinan, who came on in relief of the injured Dillon Campbell in the third quarter, rushed for 108 yards and scored two touchdowns. He said the play of his defensive teammates was inspiring.
“They played outstanding,” he said. “The first half they really took it to them; they really set the tone. The offence was a little slow but they let us get rolling and it worked out.
“When your defence is playing well, it’s nice because you can stay calm and relaxed and be confident. We knew we could move the ball on (Queen’s), and we were moving the ball; we just weren’t scoring touchdowns. It was nice that (the defence was) shutting them down. It let us take our time.”
Even though the Hawks failed to score an offensive touchdown until the game’s 40th minute, Guiltinan said they never got discouraged.
“Obviously, you want to score touchdowns,” he said, “but we were getting our yards and our defence was playing great, so we were able to stay positive.
“We knew we could move the ball. Queen’s is a good team. They beat Guelph; they’ve been in a lot of good games, but we put in a ton of work this week. We knew we could run the ball. We were confident going in.”
Faulds said he was at a loss to explain how a defence that could look so permeable on Queen’s first drive could suddenly become so stout.
“I don’t know what you attribute that to,” he said. “I think our guys just settled down a little bit. They were really pumped up at the beginning, and sometimes you get a little too caught up in the moment. We just settled down.
“We knew we needed to win to make the playoffs; we knew there was a lot on the game, I’m just so happy our guys got it done.”
Guiltinan said he and his teammates believed they could win.
“We were really excited, he said. “Queen’s is a good team and it was a big game for them, being Homecoming, so it was pretty easy to get up for it.”
The defeat made it difficult for Gaels receiver Doug Corby to relish what was otherwise a pretty good game. He caught 11 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. He caught three passes in a 75-yard drive that led to Queen’s second touchdown—scored on a 17-yard run by Jonah Pataki—that brought the Gaels within two scores at 28-14 midway through the third quarter.
Hope of a comeback, however, evaporated with every one of the 50 yards gained on the return of the subsequent kickoff, which Carson Ouellette brought to the Queen’s 30-yard line. Three plays later, Laurier scored to take the lead back to 35-14.
But for a nifty 13-play, 108-yard drive in the middle of the fourth quarter—capped by Corby’s 35-yard touchdown, on a pass from Hobbs—the Gaels scuffled their way through the rest of the game.
“We lost our momentum,” said a dejected Corby. “We just kind of lost control for a bit. “They were stopping the run pretty well. They’re an active defence and they were reading our plays well.
“It was a matter of execution, (and) Laurier came to play. The offence gave them 14 points. Without those, we’re in the game.”
Though teams have shown the ability to move the football against them, Gaels defensive lineman Luke Ball said the team takes a measure of satisfaction from denying them the end zone.
“Dillon Campbell’s a good running back and they push the pile, but we get pretty nasty when teams get close to our goal line, which is a good trait to have,” Ball said. “There were just a few explosion plays that we can’t let happen come the playoffs.
“We have to tighten up some gaps. The coverage today was pretty good. There was some miscommunication a couple of times but we’ll close that up for next weekend.”
The defeat, one that ended a three-game winning streak, “just kind of added fuel to the fire” toward getting ready for the playoffs, Ball said.
“In reality, it upset a lot of the boys that we lost today. Next week, we’re going to get in the film room even harder, practise even harder, knowing that next week is an elimination (situation) and that what happened today … could happen again.
“We don’t want that, so it’s good to get this out of the way.”
Notebook—The loss snapped a five-game Laurier losing streak against Queen's, dating to 2011. … In a little over half a game, Laurier's fifth-year back Dillon Campbell rushed for 139 yards, giving him 1,117 yards for the season and his third straight league rushing title. It's the the 19th time in his last 22 games that Campbell surpassed the 100-yard plateau, and the third year he's rushed for more than 1,000 yards, becoming the first Laurier back ever to do so. … In addition to his 50-yard kickoff return, Laurier’s Carson Ouellette had a 57-yard punt return that landed the Hawks on the Gaels’ one-yard line, from where Guiltinan scored his first touchdown on the next play. … Queen’s will have some serious touching up to do to get ready for Carleton. The Gaels surrender 513 yards in an average game—the 372 they allowed Laurier was actually an improvement—to stand 21st of 27 teams in Canada in that department. They give up an average of 31.5 points per game, which is seventh in a league where six teams make the playoffs. On the other side of the ledger, though Queen’s has permitted teams to get inside its 20-yard line 13 times in the last two games—yikes; that's two sub-.500 teams, by the way—the Gaels have allowed just four touchdowns from those possessions, including the one-play drive Saturday after Ouellette’s big punt return. … The Gaels finished 5-3. Oddly, two of those three defeats came against teams—Ottawa and Laurier—that ultimately finished behind them in the standings. … Freshman kicker Nathan Mesher kicked four field goals for the Hawks, who got their touchdowns from Rashari Henry, on a 38-yard fumble recovery, Asante Mizan, on a 30-yard interception return, Daniel Bennett, on an 18-yard pass from quarterback Eric Morelli, and Guiltinan, on runs of one and 23 yards. Jonah Pataki scored two touchdowns for Queen’s, on a day when he would rush for 122 yards, 52 yards of which came on four carries on the game’s first drive. Dillon Wamsley kicked a 19-yard field goal. … Pataki ended the regular season with a team-leading six touchdowns, though he didn’t start until Jesse Andrews went down with an injury in the season’s fifth game. … After throwing just two interceptions in his first six intercollegiate starts, Gaels quarterback Nate Hobbs has thrown six in the last two games. He was sacked four times Saturday, bringing to 34 the number of times he has been put on his back in eight games this year. … When he’s not playing football, Eric Guiltinan is an accomplished lacrosse player. He plays Major Series Lacrosse for the Kitchener-Waterloo Kodiaks and, coming out of junior, was selected by Minnesota in the 2014 National Lacrosse League draft.