IN THE HUDDLE: A fitting conclusion

IN THE HUDDLE: A fitting conclusion
For the fourth year running, IN THE HUDDLE is Mike Hogan’s weekly take on OUA Football. From standout performances, to the hard honest truth, check back weekly as Hogan breaks down the season until the 106th Yates Cup is awarded.

November 6, 2013 - A fitting conclusion

It's why you hit the weights.

It's why you do the road work, and run the stairs, and follow a diet, and make sacrifices in your time, while at the same time trying to balance school, friends, family and football.

All of that preparation is essential for the chance to win a championship. For the No. 1 Western Mustangs and the No. 4 Queen's Gaels that opportunity comes Saturday in London.

It's an appropriate matchup. Western has been the alpha dog in the conference, imposing its offensive will on opponents, beginning with a 50-14 win at the U-of-T in Week One.

Queen's has been a Top-Ten team since the beginning of the season, with the only blemish on the Gaels record being a mid-season loss at Western.

Home-field advantage will be just that this week for the Mustangs. While Queen's will send its usual large contingent of fans, it will be a pro-Western crowd. Even more importantly, the game will be played on an artificial surface, a big advantage to the high-octane offence led by second-year QB Will Finch.

It's not just the remarkable play of the QB that makes this the highest-scoring offence in OUA history. Finch is surrounded by players like George Johnson, Matt Uren, Brian Marshall and Yannick Harou, all of whom can be a difference maker on Saturday.

Add to that an offensive line that while young, has been steadily improving, and you have all the ingredients for a high point total any time the 'Stangs take the field.

Defensively, the Mustangs have been overlooked all season because the offence has been so dynamic. This group finished sixth in the CIS in points allowed, first in interceptions, and second in turnovers, trailing only Queen's. The 'Stangs held McMaster to just three points last week.

With players like Beau Landry and Pawel Kruba on that side of the ball it will be interesting to see what kind of impact the unit has against the Gaels.

Queen's is led by a quarterback, who like Finch, played his high-school ball in Burlington. Billy McPhee possesses what might be the strongest arm in the country, and has several receivers who are more than capable of having strong games. There was no 'go-to-guy' for McPhee, as Queen's leading receiver was Scott Macdonell, who led the team with 31 catches, tied for 40th best in the country. Alex Carroll, Daniel Heslop, Doug Corby and Justin Chapdelaine are all potential game breakers for the Gaels.

The Tricolour, however, lives on the running game, and for good reason. Ryan Granberg is one of the best backs in the country. He averaged seven yards every time he carried the football, tied for third best in the country. Granberg has the benefit of running behind an exceptionally good offensive line, and is doubly dangerous because he can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Containing him is job one for the Mustangs defence.

Defensively, the Gaels have some great players. Derek Wiggins, Cory Dyer and John Miniaci are all playmakers on the d-line, LB Sam Sabourin may be the best defensive player in the conference, while DB Justin Baronaitis also flies to the football. The one-two punch of T.J. Chase-Dunawa and Andrew Lue will also be on the mind of Finch.

Western's Lirim Hajrullahu and Queen's Dillon Wamsley are both rock solid kickers, which gives neither side a decided advantage in that category.

The Maurauders did about as well as could be expected in regard to containing Western's offence. The Gaels are capable of doing likewise, but it certainly won't be easy.

Kickoff can't come soon enough.

Key for the Mustangs: It's all about numbers. If Western gets sevens instead of the threes they got against McMaster, it will be a very long day for the Queen's defence. The Mustangs high-powered offence didn't get into the end zone until the third quarter and still posted 32 points.

Key for Queen's: Extend drives as much as possible. The shorter the game is the better chance the Gaels have of pulling off the upset. There's not a team in the country that can outscore Western in a shootout. A steady dose of Granberg and a successful short passing game may give the Gaels their best chance of winning.

The previous meeting: The two teams met in late September at TD Waterhouse, with the Mustangs prevailing 50-31. Both offences were in high gear, with the Mustangs rushing for a whopping 299 yards to go with Finch's 254 yards passing. The Gaels also were impressive on the ground, piling up 199 yards while Billy McPhee passed for 332 more. The 'Stangs jumped into a 23-0 lead before things started to even out. Both teams scored a defensive touchdown in the game.

O Zone…This is the final installment of 'In The Huddle' for this season. My thanks to Bryan Crawford at the OUA for inviting me back, to Jessica Barrett at the OUA for editing the mess that I send her each week, and to the coaches who were very kind to grant me interview time on a weekly basis, going back to the 'OUA Uncovered' e-mag. They understand how important it is to get the message out that CIS football is by far the most under-appreciated sport in this country, at least as far as the masses are concerned. If you're reading this column you already understand what a great game this is, and I thank you for reading this space on a regular basis. Good luck to the winner of the Yates Cup, I'm certain you'll do Ontario proud on the road to the Vanier Cup.

October 30, 2013 - And then there were four

If you're surprised by the appearance of any of the four teams in the OUA semifinals, you shouldn't be.
This season didn't provide any bombshells. The teams that were expected to be good didn't disappoint, while none of the middle of the road, or lesser light teams provided any shocking results.

Truth be told, it was a predictable season. That could change this weekend.
 
No. 5 Guelph (7-1) at No. 4 Queen's (7-1)

The rematch of the rematch. These two teams met in Kingston two weeks ago, with the Gaels assuring that the playoff game would be played at Richardson Stadium by beating the Gryphons 37-23.

In that game Queen's scored 30 consecutive points after falling behind 16-7 in the second quarter. Ryan Granberg and Daniel Heslop split the carries almost 50/50, combining for 164 yards on 26 carries. Guelph has to be able to slow down the Gaels rushing game or it's going to be a very long day at the office.

Conversely, the Gryphs have to be able to establish a running game of their own, something they could not do two weeks ago. Rob Farquharson was a non-factor, held to 49 yards on 14 carries. Whether it's Farquharson, or even QB Jazz Lindsey running the football, if Guelph can't get the ground game going it's lights out and success won't come easy against a very good Queen's defence.

The Gaels have used several running backs this season, which leaves Granberg relatively fresh for the post season. He'll be in the spotlight on Saturday, especially if the weather conditions aren't pristine.

(Warning: The following may be too disturbing for Queen's fans, reader discretion is advised)

It will be impossible to watch this game without thinking about last year's incredible Guelph comeback win over the Gaels, one of the most dramatic finishes in CIS history. Queen's had a 36-14 lead with under 11 minutes left. All they needed to do was control the ball, control the clock, and not give up any big plays and they'd be off to the 105th Yates Cup.

It didn't quite work out that way.

Jake Reinhart recovered a blocked punt and returned it 14 yards for a TD, 36-21. Jazz Lindsey ran 80 yards for a TD, 36-28. With less than a minute left, Luke Nangle hit Saxon Lindsey for a TD and Guelph tied it when Carl Trivieri caught a pass for a two-point conversion, 36-36.

After Dillon Wamsley hit a FG in the first round of the shootout, Jazz Lindsey hit Michael Fortino for a 35-yard TD and the Gryphons had completed the incredible comeback.

Try getting that game out of your head.

The Gaels may have exorcised that demon with the mid-October win, but that doesn't mean that two days after Halloween the spirit won't return. It should be a fantastic game.

Key matchup: Queen's offensive line versus Guelph's front seven. For the football novice the idea of focusing on the line of scrimmage is less appealing than the thought of a tour of P.E.I. with Mike Duffy, but that's where the action will be. If Queen's can give Billy McPhee time to throw the ball, while also creating holes for Granberg to run, it will be a long day for Guelph. Conversely, if McPhee is pressured and Granberg is contained, then it's advantage Guelph. The same scenario applies for any two teams in any game, but both of these units are very good and are capable of dominating opponents.
 
No. 8 McMaster (5-3) at No. 1 Western (8-0)

Two words that haven't been used together in quite some time are 'McMaster' and 'underdog', but that will be the case this Saturday in London.

The Marauders tore through the OUA playoffs in each of the last two seasons. They ended up going 4-0 and winning those games by a combined score of 153-73, making their way to the Vanier Cup final in each of those years, where they split the two national championship games with the Laval Rouge et Or.

Many members of this year's team are veterans of both Vanier finals, but there's one major difference with this year's team - there's no Kyle Quinlan at quarterback.

That's not a knock on Marshall Ferguson, the man now calling the signals for Mac. The strong-armed Kingstonian has been terrific, averaging over 300 yards passing per game while throwing 21 TD passes. He tied for second most in the country. But Quinlan had the 'it' factor. Even if McMaster was behind in any game Quinlan played (which was rare), there was no doubt that the team believed it could come back to win.

Confidence shouldn't be a problem for the Marauders, who are laden with veterans and stocked with talent at every position. That said Stefan Ptaszek's team will have to play nearly flawless football to keep up with the high-scoring Mustangs, who come at you in waves.

Will Finch was incredible in just his second year in the OUA, his first as a starter. He threw for over 380 yards per game, tying Ferguson with 21 TD strikes. The Mustangs scored at least 50 points in every game they played, save the Laurier matchup, when they scored a mere 45.

They can throw the ball, they can run the ball, they can defend, they're very good on special teams, and Greg Marshall has won seven Yates Cups as a head coach.

It's a meeting of two programs that have combined to win 10 of the last 15 Yates Cups.

The key matchup: The veteran McMaster secondary versus Will Finch. The Marauders intercepted 14 passes this year after leading the CIS in that category in both 2011 and 2012. If McMaster's first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Eiben can disguise coverages and throw things at Finch that he hasn't seen before, the chances of him making a mistake increase substantially. It won't be easy though, as one of Finch's most impressive statistics is his 21 TDs against just six interceptions. If the Marauders can force a couple of early turnovers this could be a very interesting game.
 
The O-Zone...As of the time of this article being filed, the forecast in Kingston calls for rain late in the week and again on Saturday. Richardson Stadium doesn't do well in the rain and it brings back a memory of the 2003 OUA semifinal played there between Queen's and Laurier. When walking on the field before the game, one would sink ankle deep. Imagine how muddy it was by the time the game finished.

The two teams were tied 24-24 at the end of regulation, setting up perhaps the most bizarre overtime session ever played. On the first possession Laurier's Brian Devlin lined up in the mud to try a short field goal. He slipped and the kick was blocked. He ended up catching the ball and threw it to Bryon Hickey, who ran it to the one-yard line. The Hawks would score the TD, but the extra-point attempt was blocked. The Gaels would score to tie the game, but again, there were problems with the extra point. Queen's kicker Chris Napoli also slipped and the ball went over the offensive line, but under the cross bar. Two TDs in overtime, yet neither team could add the extra point.

Napoli would connect on a FG on the first possession of round two, but the Hawks would win when Ryan Pyear hit Joel Wright with a TD on their first play from the 35-yard line.

Here's hoping the two games this weekend provide this kind of excitement.

October 23, 2013 - Purple reign

Eight games, eight wins. In seven of the eight they scored 50 or more points, settling for 45 in the other. Suffice to say this year's edition of the Western Mustangs is pretty good.

Led by super-sophomore quarterback Will Finch, the Mustangs offence looked virtually unstoppable at times, mainly because it was unstoppable at times. What makes the offensive production even more astonishing is the team's youth. It should be a very good group for a very long time.

“I don't want to lose sight that (this year) is a very good opportunity and I don't want to look too far ahead,” head coach Greg Marshall told 'In The Huddle. “But sometimes ten of our offensive starters are first or second-year players.”

Let that settle in for a moment. The offence that set an OUA record for the most points scored in a season may remain virtually intact for at least the next two seasons. The possibilities are mind numbing.

Without question it's Finch who receives most of the attention. The product of Nelson High School in Burlington got his feet wet last year, backing up Donnie Marshall. It was that glimpse into the future that gave the head coach an idea of what may be ahead.

"I saw what he did in the four or five games he got into last year," said Marshall. “So it's not a total shock."

The coach was also quick to point out why Finch was able to accomplish what he did, talent and opportunity aside.

“We work.” Marshall said. “We spend a lot of time watching film and he is a real student of the game. He's really taken command of the offence and the huddle.”

The other young players on that side of the ball have also distinguished themselves, maybe none more so than George Johnson. The second-year London native leads the country in receiving yards, finishing just 18 yards shy of 1,000, averaging 123 per game.

“George was a highly recruited kid, but he was a basketball player first,” Marshall told OUA.ca. “He was one of the top players in the city (at Catholic Central High School). As a freshman (in football) he wasn't there yet, but he came to camp this year and was dominating.”

The play at the so called 'skill positions' has been exceptional, but those results aren't a total shock to the coach. There is one very pleasant area of development though.

“If there was a surprise, it was how well our young O-line played,” said Marshall. “We had one returning starter, Eric Armitage, an all-star, but he missed a couple games, played a couple, and missed a couple more. So I would say the surprise was probably the O-line, the play of our full backs (Marshall's son Tom and James Sifakis) and our receivers down-field blocking.”

With the display the Mustangs have exhibited this season to date, it may be tough to keep this group grounded. Not so, says the coach.

“The kids are working hard. We're here late, I know it's taxing on them,” said Marshall. “We're young in the secondary, but we're getting better against the pass and getting more pressure on the QB.”

All the ingredients seem to be in place to make this a very special team for a number of years. There's talent, youth, work ethic and great coaching. Any team that faces the Mustangs in the postseason is going to have its hands full.

The O-Zone... The Mustangs wrapped up their season in record-setting fashion. Lirim Hajrullahu set the all-time CIS scoring record by kicking 20 points, hitting all five FG attempts, in a 50-10 rout of York. His 422 career points broke the record of 410 held by University of Ottawa's Neil Lumsden. The more impressive afternoon belonged to QB Will Finch, who set a record nobody thought he could reach. Heading into the game, Finch trailed former Mustang Michael Faulds' single-season passing mark of 3,033 yards by 533. But Finch surpassed the record by throwing for an astonishing 547 yards against the Lions, giving him 3,047 on the year. Not bad for a second-year player. Finch and back-up QB Blake Huggins combined for 649 yards through the air. George Johnson was the pair's main target, catching 13 passes for 226 yards. Matt Uren added 170 yards on 10 catches, while Brian Marshall was also over the 100-yard mark. York's Myles Gibbon passed for 232 yards and rushed for 80 more.

Queen's clinched second place in the conference with a 37-23 home field win over Guelph. After falling behind 16-7 in the second quarter, the Gaels took a one-point lead into the break after scoring 10 points in the final minute of the first half. The Gaels scored thirty consecutive points, making a very strong statement heading into the playoffs. Queen's defence really stepped it up, limiting Rob Farquharson to 49 yards rushing, while intercepting three Jazz Lindsey passes. Ryan Granberg and Daniel Heslop virtually split the carries, combining for 164 yards on 26 carries. Sure-handed Scott Macdonnell led the receiving corps with seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. Guelph's Tristan Doughlin led all tacklers in the game with 11. The Gaels receive a first-round bye as a reward for the win, while Guelph hosts Windsor. The Gryphons won their week two matchup 24-23 on a short field goal in the dying seconds.

McMaster enters the playoffs as the fourth seed, but also heads to the postseason on a real roll. Mac won its third game in a row, 45-3 at Carleton. The Marauders cruised in this one, building a 31-0 half-time lead. McMaster rushed for 236 yards as a team, with Kasean Davis-Reynolds leading the way with 105. Kwasi Gyamfi-Adusei led the Ravens with 90 yards on the ground. The Marauder ball hawks have been busy of late. They intercepted five passes on Saturday, giving them 14 on the season. McMaster and Ottawa will now meet in a rematch of the season opener, a game the Marauders won 51-24 in Hamilton.

The Gee-Gees tuned up for the postseason with a convincing 45-15 win over Windsor. Ottawa finished fifth in the conference. Nick Dagher was the main offensive weapon for the winners, catching five passes for 114 yards. The Gee-Gees pressured Lancer QB Austin Kennedy all day long, and ended up with seven sacks in the game. The Lancers ended up in the sixth and final playoff spot.

The Varsity Blues needed a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, and did just that, defeating Waterloo 50-18. It still wasn't enough to get Greg Gary's team into the postseason. Simon Nassar was at it again for U-of-T. He threw for 392 yards and five TDs in the game. In the four games he started after Chris Jugovic was injured, he passed for 392, 360, 343, and 397 yards. Nassar has two years of eligibility left. Paul de Pass accounted for 232 of those yards on just seven catches in his final OUA game, including a 103-yard catch for a TD.  Aaron Milton racked up 140 rushing yards for the Blues, who finished tied with Windsor with an identical 4-4 record, but missed the playoffs due to their 26-11 regular season loss to the Lancers. Nick Anapolsky finished with 11 catches for 109 yards for the Warriors.

Once again, this week's playoff games feature Ottawa at McMaster at 1 p.m., followed by Windsor at Guelph at 8 p.m.

October 16, 2013 - The biggest game of the year
 
It's a checklist game.

At the beginning of the season football teams have a list of accomplishments that they want to attain. As they achieve those goals they check them off the list. Make the playoffs? Check.

This week in Kingston there's a game that will allow either the Guelph Gryphons or Queen's Gaels to check two items off their list: Home field in the semifinals and a first round playoff bye.

If the Western Mustangs defeat York on Saturday they will claim first place in the OUA, but the second seed will be determined by the winner of the game between the 7-0 Gryphs and the 6-1 Gaels. The victor will get next week off to heal some wounds and prepare for a potential rematch of this week's game.

If Guelph and Western both win, history will be achieved twice. From an OUA perspective it would be the first time that two teams finished 8-0 in the same season. It would also mark the first time Guelph would end up with an 8-0 record. Gryphs head coach Stu Lang understands what's at stake, but he hasn't mentioned it this week.

"We talked a lot about it last week" Lang told OUA.ca "We thought Carleton might be a bit of a trap game for us, so we said to get to 8-0 you have to get to 7-0 first."

Lang appreciates what the win would mean from a historical perspective.

"We talk a lot about history," said the coach. "We're trying to build a successful program for the long run, not just based on one year."

This week's game is huge. Not only will it mean a week off, but it will also determine home field should these two teams meet in the OUA semifinal. Should Guelph win, what's the most important benefit?

"Home field advantage." Lang told In The Huddle. "One game on home turf to get to the Yates Cup final is huge. The bye week would allow our small injuries some time to heal.”

Home field is very important here because of the field itself. Guelph plays on a spectacular artificial surface, while Queen's still plays at Richardson Stadium, which is a grass field that gets very muddy when it rains.

Achieving regular-season perfection will be far from easy. The Gaels are fired up and would love to avenge their heart-breaking playoff loss at Alumni Stadium a year ago.

"Queen's homecoming, on grass, the revenge factor, their history," said Lang, a former Gaels receiver. "This will really be a David and Goliath story."

That final statement alone tells you everything about where the Gryphons are right now. They're undefeated, but still think of themselves as the underdog.
 
The O-Zone...The Gaels rebounded from a near loss to Laurier by pounding Waterloo 78-21. If Ryan Granberg had just seven more yards rushing the Gaels would have had four 100-yard rushers in the same game. Jesse Andrews, Daniel Heslop and Jonah Pataki all hit the century mark on the ground. The passing game wasn't bad either as Billy McPhee threw for 277 yards and four TDs without a pick. Doug Corby had over 100 yards receiving and a pair of touchdown catches, while also returning a punt 53 yards for a major. Defensively Derek Wiggan led Queen's with four of the team's eight sacks. The Warriors had just nine yards rushing in the game. Nick Anapolsky had a dozen catches for 90 yards for Waterloo.

As an aside, even if the four Gaels had hit the 100 yard mark it would not have been the most impressive rushing display in their long history. On November 3, 1984 the then 'Golden' Gaels played McGill and saw Dean Wilcox and Greg Baun put on a performance for the ages. Wilcox rushed for 254 yards that afternoon, while Baun added 245 in a 65-29 playoff win. The two Gaels were a yard shy of totaling 500 yards rushing between them.

The Gryphons also looked to be in playoff form with a 48-12 rout of Carleton. Guelph's Rob Farquharson averaged over 10 yards per rush on a dozen carries, scoring twice. Nick Gorgichuk got the start at QB for the Ravens and had a decent game against a very tough defence. He finished 23-38 for 288 yards with a TD and a couple of interceptions. His favourite receiver was Nate Behar, who caught 12 passes for 152 yards. The Ravens killed themselves with penalties, taking ten for 142 yards.

Simon Nassar continued his outstanding play for Toronto. The Blues defeated York 56-35 in the annual Red and Blue Bowl, largely because of Nassar's heroics. His 360 yard, four TD performance earned him CIS offensive player of the week honours. The Blues scored 32 points in the second quarter. Paul de Pass and Llevi Noel each had over 100 yards receiving, with 72 of Noel's coming on a TD catch on the final play of the third quarter. Aaron Jervis of the Blues was the CIS defensive player of the week for his effort. He recorded seven tackles, forced a couple of fumbles, had four tackles for a loss, picked up a sack and blocked a punt. Miles Gibbon had a decent night for York, passing for 314 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

McMaster's defence was off the charts good in a 28-5 win over Laurier. In the final 16 minutes the Golden Hawks had six plays from the McMaster one-yard line, and three more from the Mac two. They failed to score. Nine plays, zero yards gained, despite having OUA rushing leader Dillon Campbell in the backfield. He finished with 25 carries for 95 yards. McMaster's offence was never able to get in sync, relying on first-half TD catches by Michael DiCroce and Tyler Loveday. Laurier's season is now over. Michael Faulds' record as a head coach is 1-7, though the team showed much improvement from the beginning of the season.

Western, Windsor and Ottawa all had bye weeks. The Lancers and Gee-Gees meet this Saturday in the nation's capital. Laurier, Waterloo, York and Carleton are officially out of the playoffs. Toronto has a remote chance of having its season continue. To see all of the playoff scenarios click on the link below.

2013 OUA Football Playoff Scenarios

 
October 9, 2013 - Welcome home

It sent shock waves throughout the OUA.

In late October of last year, news began circulating that Gary Jeffries would no longer be the head football coach at Laurier. The concept of Golden Hawks football without Jeffries was hard to grasp. After all, he had been there for over 40 years.

This Saturday the extremely popular coach returns to Laurier to face the Hawks as the special teams coordinator for the McMaster Marauders. The team he loved for so long is now the enemy, something Jeffries says isn't easy to deal with.

"I know I've done a pretty decent job until this point," the coach told OUA.ca. "Saturday night at five o'clock after the Waterloo game we've planned the Laurier week. It's emotional, but I look forward to going home."

Despite a career head-coaching record of 69-31, Jeffries resigned, although most believe he was relieved of his duties after a 3-5 regular season and a first-round playoff loss in 2012, ending one of the longest coach/university relationships in CIS history. Rumours circulated that Jeffries would re-surface quickly, and he did when McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek hired him.

Ptaszek and Jeffries won a Vanier Cup together in 2005 with Jeffries as the head coach and Ptaszek serving as the offensive coordinator. 'Coach Stef' would leave for the head coaching job at McMaster the following year.

"He's wonderful," Jeffries said of Ptaszek. "He's a great coach and an even greater person. He's made me feel welcome."

Has Ptaszek changed at all since they last worked together with the Hawks in 2005?

"He hasn't changed a great deal," Jeffries told In The Huddle. "Stef will always be Stef. He goes a million miles an hour, so I have trouble keeping up. He's able to do it because he has so much energy."

Ptaszek didn't return to the Laurier campus in his first season as McMaster’s head coach, as the Marauders/Hawks matchup was in Hamilton that year. His first game back at Laurier was the 2007 season opener, when the Hawks spoiled his own personal homecoming by winning 36-26.

When Jeffries returns, the easiest part of the week will be when the pre-game warmups are over and the game is finally underway. The hardest part will be the hours leading up to the opening kickoff.

"The idle time is what I'm worried most about," said Jeffries. "I don't want to get (to the stadium) too early."

He also put the entire return to Laurier in perspective, something that's been a hallmark of his as a coach, and not only of the football team. He also coached men's and women's basketball since arriving at the campus for the first time as a student athlete in 1970.

"You can't wash away 42 years, 49 seasons and close to 800 games overnight," said the coach. "It's taken some time, but I'm extremely comfortable now because the people here have been so great."

In all likelihood, there will be a very strange sight at Knight/Newbrough Field on Saturday. When the McMaster Marauders run onto the field there will be a loud round of applause from Laurier fans. Not for the rival players, but for 'Coach Jeff' - one of the most beloved figures in the history of WLU football.
 
The O-Zone… It was one of the wildest, and certainly most Canadian, finishes in recent memory. Laurier was doing a great job of ruining Queen's Homecoming, leading the Gaels by eight points at the three-minute warning. But the home side scored two TDs in 1:09 to take a seven-point lead. Getting the ball back with about a minute and a half left, the Hawks drove down the field and tied it up with just 15 seconds remaining. For the second consecutive week the Hawks would miss a FG attempt in overtime, setting the stage for a wild Queen's possession. Setting up for a 12-yard FG try on second down, the Hawks put all 12 men on the line of scrimmage to go for the block. It worked. Aaron Gazendam was the holder on the play, he recovered the football and punted it into the end zone. A wall of Gaels set up five yards from the ball and as the Hawks tried to figure a way out of the mess, Gazendam appeared like a flash and pounced on the pigskin for the game-winning touchdown. The 40-34 win bailed out the Queen's receiving corps, which dropped multiple passes from QB Billy McPhee. McPhee finished 10/29 for 204 yards and a pair of TDs. Ryan Granberg rushed 10 times for an even 100 yards, 54 of which came on the game's first TD. Queen's is now 5-1. James Fracas looked very good for most of the afternoon. The Laurier QB threw for 374 yards and four TDs without an interception. RB Dillon Campbell rushed for 107 yards, but in the dying seconds of the first half was hit at the two yard line and tried to reach into the end zone with the ball, but was stopped short. The ball was knocked out of his hands and recovered by the Gaels. It appeared on the replay that Campbell may have been down. Campbell is now second in the CIS with 772 rushing yards for the 1-6 Hawks.

Pedro the Panda is back! The Ottawa Gee-Gees retained possession of Pedro (now Pedro III) by defeating their cross-town rivals from Carleton 35-10 at a sold-out Gee-Gees Field. It was the first Panda Game in 15 years. The winless Ravens were in this game until the dying seconds of the first half when Aaron Colbon hit Andrew Mullings for a 6-yard TD to make the score 21-10. Brendan Gillanders had over 100 yards rushing in the first half, finishing with a total of 164. Ian Stewart had an even 100 yards receiving for the winners. The win clinched a playoff spot for 4-3 Ottawa. Carleton's Tunde Adeleke will be in the Ravens record book forever after accomplishing a feat that can be tied, but not broken. He returned a missed field-goal attempt 129 yards for a touchdown. It was a spectacular return where he broke a couple of tackles, one in the end zone and one at mid-field.
McMaster took out some of its frustration on Waterloo, hammering the Warriors 66-3. The only Warrior points came on a 34-yard Alasdair Coy field goal on the final play of the first half, making the score 37-3 at the break. Marshall Ferguson threw for over 300 yards and five TDs for Mac, two of which were scored by Tyler Loveday. Wayne Moore led the 3-3 Marauders with 125 yards rushing on just nine carries. The interception-happy secondary had a great day with Keldyn Ahlstedt picking off three passes and Steven Ventresca adding two more. The Marauders defence sacked Warrior QBs six times. Over 5,400 watched the game at Ron Joyce Stadium.

Western's offence hit the 50-point mark for the sixth time in seven games with a 51-23 win over Windsor. It was 24-0 after the first quarter for the 7-0 Mustangs. Will Finch threw for 362 yards and now sits at an even 2,500 for the season. Finch is tied for the CIS lead with 18 TD passes, but has only thrown three interceptions all season. RB Yannick Harou once again got the start for the 'Stangs and responded with 110 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns. Nine different Western receivers caught passes. Austin Kennedy's knee injury continued to hamper his mobility. He was unable to scramble with the football and ended up with just 170 yards passing. He didn't play the entire game. The Lancers are now 4-3.

Guelph remained undefeated with a 33-7 win over York on Friday night. Rob Farquharson led the 6-0 Gryphons with 129 yards rushing and a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Errol Brooks had over 100 yards rushing, including an 18-yard touchdown run for the 2-4 Lions. Statistically, there wasn't much difference between the two teams, Guelph simply made more big plays than the Lions did. York won the time of possession, controlling the football for almost 36 minutes compared to Guelph's 24.

The Mustangs need just 17 points to set the OUA single-season points record. They have 408, while in 2003 McMaster put up 424. Laval set the CIS record in 2003, scoring 481 points. Western's Lirim Hajrullahu is on the verge of breaking a record many thought would never be eclipsed. The fifth-year kicker is just 9 points shy of breaking former Ottawa Gee-Gees RB/PK Neil Lumsden's CIS record of 410 career points. He had 17 points in the Windsor game to give him 402, passing former Mustangs kicker Frank Jagas for the number two spot. He also broke Jagas' OUA career FG mark of 69. The Mustangs have a bye this week before they finish their regular season against York on October 19th.

Western and Guelph do not play each other this season. If both finish undefeated the tie-breaker will be total point differential, with a maximum of +33 points per game. Currently, Western is +200, while Guelph is +91, so if both finish 8-0 Western has already clinched the top seed in the conference.
 
October 2, 2013 - Vote for Pedro

There have been some big names connected with football in Ottawa over the years. Russ Jackson, Tony Gabriel, 'Ace' Powell and Brad Sinopoli come to mind. There is, however, one name that goes back over a half century and will once again be on people's minds this week.

Pedro.

When the Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Carleton Ravens do battle this Saturday at Gee-Gees Field, Pedro will be the star attraction. He's not a quarterback, he's not a linebacker and he's not a kick returner.

He's a panda. A stuffed Panda at that.

After being in limbo (a.k.a. the University of Ottawa archives) for the past 15 seasons, the rivalry between the two gridiron teams will be renewed with the winner getting custody of Pedro, a tradition that dates back to 1955.

Jamie Barresi, first-year head coach at Ottawa, competed for Pedro when he was a Gee-Gees quarterback in the late 1970s. To be blunt, he wasn't a fan of what the game became in that era.

"I was totally disgusted by the whole event," Barresi told In the Huddle. "It was just a drunken mess. I was embarrassed by it."

"The players or coaches were not appreciated. I was a guy who appreciated rivalries, but people would come with other agendas."

He's confident that Panda 2.0 will be new and improved, with organizers taking the proper precautions to ensure that the overly-rowdy atmosphere doesn't return.

"I'm pretty certain they have," continued the coach. "I'm sure the culture has changed as well. I don't mean to seem negative, but I was put off by what happened."

For Carleton head coach Steve Samurah the 2013 Panda Game is his first. He's a little more excited about the game's tradition than his counterpart.

"I must have heard the word 'panda' three thousand times in the last three days," Samurah told In the Huddle. "There's a lot of history and it's an important part of the football culture in this city."

The Carleton campus is abuzz, but according to the Ravens coach this is just a preview of bigger and better things to come.

"There are a lot of things happening on campus," Samurah said. "Ottawa has made about a thousand tickets available for us to sell. I think this will be the first step. Next year when the game is played at Lansdowne Park there will be even more meaning to it."

That's not to say there's no importance to this game.

It's a vital game for the 3-3 Gee-Gees, who can assure themselves of a playoff spot with wins over the Ravens and Windsor Lancers in their final two regular-season games, both of which will be played at Gee-Gees Field.

But the garnet and grey may be forced to play without QB Aaron Colbon again. He started last week's game against York, but he had injured his thumb the week before and was unable to finish the first quarter.

"His thumb is tender," Coach Barresi said. "He's day-to-day and will likely be a game-time decision."

What makes the fifth-year pivot so good?

"He's a veteran who works hard and is a real leader" said Barresi. "What has surprised me is his ability to make the unscheduled plays. He didn't do it in the spring, then against McMaster he just took off and I was thinking 'where was that?'”

A Ravens win will not help their playoff aspirations this year, but it would get the zero out of the win column. Samurah knows it will be tough, but isn't ruling anything out.

"That's why you play the game" said the coach, channeling his best Herm Edwards. "I'm not sure if we're there yet, but we're going to battle hard. There will be some added incentive for us."

Has this group, comprised almost entirely of freshmen, improved since Week One?

"We're a lot better," stressed the coach. "It's amazing to see the progress."

It might not be Queen's vs. Western, but there's some history connected to this game, and fans in the nation’s capital are thrilled that the bear has ended his hibernation.

The O-Zone...Western is now the number one team in the country. The Mustangs were recognized by the CIS Top Ten committee after an impressive 50-31 win over Queen's. Western led 23-0 at one point in front of 5,500 in London. The 6-0 Mustangs have scored at least 50 points in five of their six games and were 'held' to 45 points by Laurier in the other. The win over 4-1 Queen's looked like a game from the Golden Era of the rivalry as the ground game was front and centre. Western rushed for 299 yards against the vaunted Gaels defence and ended up with a spectacular 548 total yards. Yannick Harou, filling in for the injured Garrett Sanvido, carried the ball 28 times for 153 yards, while QB Will Finch added 114 more on 14 attempts. Each scored a touchdown, while Adam Sinclair rushed for another and added a TD catch. Finch also threw for 254 yards and a pair of majors. A quick deficit may have forced Queen's to throw more than they wanted to. Billy McPhee rose to the challenge, finishing with 332 yards and a TD. He did throw one interception. Ryan Granberg was the Gaels primary running back, getting a dozen carries for 117 yards and a TD. The loss overshadowed a tremendous day by the Gaels Justin Baronaitis. He had 11.5 tackles on the day, as well as a sack, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble.
 
Over 8,100 fans witnessed an exciting, overtime game between the host Hawks and the Windsor Lancers. Laurier tied the game on a last-second Ronnie Pfeffer field goal to force overtime. In the first round of the shootout Dan Cerino missed a FG attempt, but Laurier couldn't get the ball out of the end zone, giving Windsor a rouge and a one-point lead. Pfeffer attempted the game-winning kick on Laurier's possession, but it was blocked, giving the 4-2 Lancers a 26-25 win and a probable playoff spot. The game was not without its controversy though. Though the game was not without its controversy. A contentious call made in the final seconds of the game resulted in a game-winning touchdown by WR Anthony Pizzutti being called out of bounds. The score would have given the Golden Hawks a 29-25 lead, and likely the win.

Windsor quarterback Austin Kennedy was hindered by a knee injury, but was still able to gut out the win. He was not able to run the football effectively and was held to 189 yards passing. Mitch Dender was the main weapon for the Lancers, rushing for 155 yards and a TD. He also caught a pass for a major. Laurier's offensive star was once again RB Dillon Campbell, who had 127 yards on 26 carries. Isaac Dell had his most productive day by far for the 1-5 Hawks, catching seven passes for 112 yards. James Fracas again got the start for Laurier and threw for 313 yards and a couple of TDs. Stephon Miller was all over the field for the Lancers, recording 10.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Laurier took an even 100 yards in penalties.
 
The Gee-Gees started slowly, trailing 7-0 after one quarter, before coming back for a 46-16 win at York. Ottawa's Aaron Colbon started, but a thumb injury forced him to the sidelines after going 3-7 passing. Derek Wendel took the opportunity and looked pretty good for the 3-3 Gee-Gees. He was 18-27 for 297 yards and even more impressively, threw for four TDs without throwing a pick. His favourite target was Andrew Mullings who had 10 catches for 138 yards and a couple of TDs. Brendan Gillanders has another strong day, rushing for 119 yards on 19 carries. It was a long day for the Lions offence, who turned the ball over four times. The best offensive player for York was RB Errol Brooks, who rushed for 199 yards on 22 carries. Myles Gibbon had a really tough day by his standards, completing 50 per cent of his 26 passes for a mere 87 yards and a couple of picks. The 2-3 Lions shot themselves in the paw with 10 penalties for 105 yards.

Guelph ran its record to 5-0 with a 41-19 win at Waterloo. The victory moved the Gryphons into the No. 4 slot in the CIS Top Ten rankings, their highest ranking since they were the top-rated team in the country for a couple of weeks back in October, 1997. The 1-4 Warriors kept things close, trailing 7-6 until midway through the second quarter before Guelph exploded for 28 points in a seven-minute span. The highlight of that run was a 125-yard punt return for a touchdown by CIS special teams player of the week Alex Charette. Jazz Lindsey passed for four TDs in the game, but threw the same number of interceptions. Johnny Augustine continued his fine freshman season with a 126-yard rushing game. The Warriors were not able to put a dent in the Gryphons defence on the ground, but Nick Anapolsky had nine catches for 91 yards. Guelph took an incredible 20 penalties for 176 yards in the game. One can assume the word 'discipline' has been used by the coaching staff this week.

There was a Friday Night Lights game at Varsity Centre. The host Blues improved their record to 2-4 with a 50-10 win over Carleton. Quarterback Simon Nassar started his second-consecutive game for the Blues and put up impressive numbers once again. He passed for 343 yards and four TDs without an interception. U-of-T's top two receivers, Alex Pierzchalski and Paul de Pass each finished with 103 yards and Pierzchalski caught three TD passes. The Blues also got a big night from Aaron Milton, who rushed for 171 yards on 17 carries. The Ravens remain winless in five tries. Their only major was an eight-yard pass from Jesse Mills to Nathaniel Behar.

September 25, 2013 - The latest chapter

Queen's at Western. The second-ranked team in the country visits the third-ranked team. The tradition of purple versus gold. The renewal of a rivalry steeped in the days of the Big Four.

Though fans were deprived of this matchup for almost a decade, it's back now, and Saturday’s game in London means something, potentially home field in the playoffs.

The Mustangs have been an offensive force through the first five weeks. Last week Laurier 'held' Western to 45 points, the team's lowest total in its five games to date. The average score this year has been 61-17.

The Gaels have featured a balanced offensive attack and a tenacious defence that is more than capable of making as many big plays as the offence does.

This is going to be good.

It will have to be very good to measure up to some of the most dramatic Western vs. Queen's matchups in the last generation. Here's a look at three that come to mind when talking about one of the best rivalries in the CIS.

November 10, 1979. Western 32, Queen's 14. Yates Cup, Central Bowl.

At the time it was called the Central Bowl. The national semifinal featured Queen's, the champions of the O-QIFC East, and Western, winners of the O-QIFC West. They played for both trophies in the same game.

J.W. Little Stadium in London was packed. With an overflow crowd on game day, it was impossible to get a ticket. The Mustangs featured a fierce ground game with Ryan Potter and a youngster named Greg Marshall, Western's current head coach.

The Gaels countered with a young quarterback named Bob Wright, a freshman pressed into service due to injury. He played reasonably well, but the Gaels couldn't stop the Potter/Marshall express. The pair combined for over 300 yards rushing and receiving, with Marshall delivering the death blow to Queen's with a long TD run in the fourth quarter.

Western prevailed, but lost the Vanier Cup final to Acadia a week later.

October 14, 2000. Queen's 41, Western 40. Regular season.

It wasn't supposed to be close. Western entered the game with a 4-1 record. The Gaels were 0-5 and had been outscored 175-39 to that point. Your humble story teller was doing play-by-play for CHCH in Hamilton, the carrier of the ‘OUA Game of the Week’ at that time. The entire crew assumed it was a huge mismatch and we only felt obligated to show it because it was the first time the rivals had met in eight years.

Craig Spear eventually played receiver for the Gaels, but when he arrived at Queen's he was a quarterback. On that afternoon he threw for 355 yards and four TDs, two of which were caught by James MacLean, who finished the day with 10 catches for an even 200 yards. The Tricolour more than doubled its point total from the previous five games combined. It ended up being one of the biggest upsets in memory.

After the game we were thrilled the call was made to televise it. For a reason I can't remember, the student side of Richardson Stadium was not open. It made for an awkward television shot of a completely empty side of the stadium, but the relatively small crowd by Queen's standards was treated to a shootout. The game ended up being the Golden Gaels only win of the 2000 season.

November 14, 2009. Queen's 43, Western 39. Yates Cup Final.

Many who witnessed this game contend it's the most exciting game ever played in the CIS, if not in the storied, century-and-a-half history of Canadian football. They may have a point. It was two of the greatest QBs in CIS history going head to head one final time. Michael Faulds and Danny Brannagan put their careers on the line; the winner advancing and the loser sent into retirement.

It was 7-7 after one quarter, but the game's intrigue grew with each ensuing possession. Before the final gun sounded there were seven lead changes. The two quarterbacks each threw for over 500 yards. Five receivers had over 100 yards on the day. While the statistics tell one story, they could never convey the drama that unfolded on the field.

Queen's took the lead just after the three-minute warning was given in the fourth quarter. Scott Valberg's TD catch gave Queen's a four point lead, but there was an eternity left on the clock. Western took the kickoff, but went two and out. The Gaels got the ball back, but also could not pick up a first down and had to punt. Western took over at their 25-yard line with 1:36 left on the clock.

On the first two plays the 'Stangs picked up 53 yards, but then Faulds, who had injured his knee a month earlier, had to come out of the game. Donnie Marshall took over and ran a handful of plays, but a Western holding penalty set up a third and 20 from the Queen's 32-yard line. A field goal wasn't enough. The Mustangs called time out and Faulds, not Marshall, limped onto the field. It was a scene out of a movie. Faulds dropped back and flung the ball downfield, but this drama did not have a happy ending for Western. The Wilson hit the grass and the Gaels celebrated that evening, as well as the following two Saturdays, defeating Laval and Calgary to win the Vanier Cup.

Over 7,200 fans were on hand at Richardson Stadium that day. Anyone who watched the game on television wishes they were in the stands for what was by any standards an incredible football game, and an appropriate way to end the OUA careers of two of its best-ever quarterbacks.

The O Zone... Laurier shut down the Mustangs for a while before Will Finch and company got things in gear, winning 45-24. It was 10-0 for the Hawks after one quarter and 17-12 Laurier at the half. The 'Stangs took control in the third quarter and outscored the home team 17-0. Finch hit receiver Brian Marshall for a 78-yard pass in the third quarter, a play that seemed to shift the momentum. He finished with 209 yards receiving and Finch ended up with 423 yards passing. Garret Sanvido suffered an ankle injury and had to leave the game. Yannick Harou replaced him and scored the game's final two TDs for 5-0 Western. Dillon Campbell was the main weapon for the 1-4 Hawks, carrying the ball 15 times for 155 yards, 100 of which came on a second-quarter TD. That tied for the second-longest run in WLU history.

The Ottawa Gee-Gees kept things close with Queen's before the Gaels rolled in the fourth quarter, beating the host team 36-21. The 2-3 Gee-Gees were coming off a game where they surrendered 83 points to Western, but tightened things up against the 4-0 Gaels. Jesse Andrews and Ryan Granberg continued to split carries, combining for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Aaron Gazendam only caught one pass from Billy McPhee, but it was for a fourth-quarter, 85-yard TD just 34 seconds after Ottawa had scored to make it an eight-point game. Queen's intercepted four passes.

Everyone expected Guelph and McMaster to put on a show and they delivered, as the game lived up to all the hype. The Gryphons remained unbeaten, now at 4-0 after a 24-22 nail biter over the 2-3 Marauders. It was 24-13 for Guelph heading into the fourth quarter, but Tyler Crapigna hit a 43-yard FG for MAC to narrow the deficit to eight. In the dying seconds Marshall Ferguson hit Tyler Loveday with a TD pass, but the two-point conversion attempt was broken up by Tristan Doughlin. Rob Farquharson returned from injury and made his season debut for Guelph, rushing for 119 yards on 18 carries. Over 12,000 were on hand for Homecoming to witness the rematch of last year's Yates Cup final. There was a picture of note taken before the game. Stefan Ptaszek, Gary Jeffries and Roger Macleod from MAC with Kevin MacNeill, Todd Galloway, Barry Pyear and Steve Frake from Guelph. All were together with Laurier as players, coaches or scouts at one point.

Carleton had its best offensive outing of the season by far, but still dropped a 50-34 decision to York. The Ravens had scored a total of 26 points in their previous three games, and dropped to 0-4 with the loss. The 2-2 Lions were up 21-0 after the first quarter. Myles Gibbon threw for 368 yards and five TDs without an interception. Will Austin finally had his breakout game, catching five passes for 134 yards and a pair of TDs. Jesse Mills had his best day by far for Carleton, throwing for 450 yards and three TDs. His main target was Kyle Van Wynsberghe who caught nine passes for 147 yards and two majors. Dexter Brown was also over 100 yards receiving for the Ravens. The Lions host Ottawa this week in a game that has major playoff implications.

The night game was played in Windsor, where the host Lancers pulled away from the U-of-T Blues in the fourth quarter, winning 26-11. Austin Kennedy was injured in the game, hurting the same knee that hampered his play a year ago. It was a tough night for QBs as the two teams combined for 13 sacks. Before the injury Kennedy was held to 8-16 passing for 90 yards and an interception. He was replaced by freshman Casey Wright who was 3-6 for 55 yards. The Blues were also playing without their starting QB as Chris Jugovic was injured last week. Simon Nassar got the start and was very effective when he wasn't being sacked. He threw for just under 400 yards, but could not get his team into the end zone all night. Paul de Pass caught 12 passes for 192 yards for the Blues. The game was in doubt until Windsor's Mitch Dender broke off a 49-yard TD run with just a couple minutes left. The Lancers are now 3-2, the Blues 1-4.

Waterloo had the bye this week. Congratulations to all fans who braved a soaking wet Saturday across the province to watch the five games.

September 18, 2013 - Just wait until they mature

"We're young."

"We're coming together."

"We have to get better."

You would expect to hear these quotes from the head coach of a football team in the rebuilding stage. Perhaps a team with a 0-3 record that was starting to see a group of young men start to mature as a group.

Instead, these three phrases were all used when In The Huddle spoke with Greg Marshall, the head coach of the 4-0 Western Mustangs. The same team who scored 50, 71, 58 and an unbelievable 83 points through their first four games. One has to imagine what the numbers could be like if it was a veteran group.

"Our o-line is coming together, that's the biggest thing," Marshall told In The Huddle. "We had moments vs. MAC when we were good, but we made too many mistakes."

The game where the young offensive line made “too many mistakes” was the afternoon the Mustangs went into Hamilton and blew out the two-time defending Yates Cup champions 58-15.

"It's an offensive line that's young, but very athletic," the coach said. "The main thing that concerns me is that against really strong teams they may not be (on the same level) physically. They're playing well, but they're still young."

The offensive line isn't the only group short on veterans. The 'Stangs started nine second-year players on offence last week in Ottawa including receivers George Johnson (London, Ont.), Justin Sanvido (Vancouver), running back (and coaches son) Tom Marshall (London, Ont.) along with some kid named Will Finch (Burlington, Ont.). If you don't know who he is, you should.

Finch has yet to turn 20 and he's already attended two CFL training camps, the first with Hamilton in 2012 and the second with Toronto this year. After backing up Donnie Marshall as a freshman, Finch was given the chance to start this year and his numbers are phenomenal.

Even though the offence has backed off after getting big leads, Finch has thrown for 365 yards per game, completed 74.4% of his passes and tossed a CIS-best 13 TD passes against just one interception. Why has he been so good thus far?

"He's improved his poise and game management," said coach Marshall. "He has a very good understanding of a very complex offence. It's not easy to learn but he's digested it well. I'm sure he goes home at night and studies it because his comprehension is outstanding."

It also doesn't hurt to have a deep, talented receiving corps to throw to. The aforementioned Johnson and Coach Marshall's middle son Brian (London, Ont.) are both averaging over 100 receiving yards per game, with Johnson leading the country with 521 yards total. Even losing a talented receiver like Matt Uren (London, Ont.) to a hamstring injury hasn't hurt the Mustangs because Adam Sinclair (London, Ont.), another second-year player, has stepped up. Sinclair had 92 yards receiving and added another 71 rushing against Ottawa. Coach Marshall didn't know at the time of this interview whether or not Uren would play this week at Laurier.

With all of the attention placed on the passing game, one couldn't be blamed if they almost forgot about Garret Sanvido (Vancouver), who led the country in rushing last season. He's averaging just 14 carries a game, but is still piling up an average of 117 rushing yards. He's also not complaining.

"He's unselfish. He's a total team player," beamed his head coach. "He has never, ever asked for more touches. He's also smart enough to know the threat of the pass will open up more running lanes for him."

The offensive show has overshadowed the play of Pawel Kruba (Windsor, Ont.) and Beau Landry (Kitchener, Ont.) on defence, but they'll have to be front and centre in a couple of weeks when the No. 2 'Stangs host No. 3 Queen's. It has become, with apologies to Guelph, the biggest game of the season.

"The Queen's game has become more important than the MAC game" said Marshall, perhaps looking ahead to a potential Yates Cup final. "It's a long trip and the field is different. It's a big difference going to Kingston."

Queen's has the only grass field left in the OUA.

Laurier is up next for Western. While Marshall stressed his team will not be looking past the Golden Hawks, most fans will be looking ahead to the Sept. 28 game.

The O-Zone... The U-of-O led Western 10-6 in the first quarter, won the time of possession and threw for 341 yards, but the final score was Western 83, Ottawa 27 with some incredible numbers from the Mustangs. They rushed for 424 yards and threw for 320 more without turning the ball over. Garret Sanvido had 180 yards rushing on just a dozen carries. It was 74-20 after three quarters and 83-20 at one point. Lirim Hajrullahu (St. Catharines, Ont.) was busy, going 3/3 in FG attempts and kicking 10 extra points. Ottawa's Ian Stewart (St. Catharines, Ont.) had eight catches for 148 yards for the 2-2 Gee-Gees.

Guelph had the opportunity to shine on national television and took full advantage, beating the Blues 38-12 in Toronto. U-of-T took a 3-0 lead early before the Gryphons replied with four-straight TDs. The first two were passes from Jazz Lindsey (Markham, Ont.) to his brother, Saxon (Markham, Ont.), who finished with over 100 yards receiving. Guelph won the possession battle, holding the football for over 37 minutes. Ian Marouf (Fort Erie, Ont.) had a huge game on defence for the Gryphons finishing with three sacks, four tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. His season total of six sacks leads the country. Toronto QB Chris Jugovic (Hamilton, Ont.) was injured just before halftime. The Blues Kevin Bradfield (Toronto) had a 97-yard punt return for a TD late in the game.

If the Windsor offence needed a confidence boost, it received one against Carleton. Austin Kennedy (Windsor, Ont.) threw for 344 yards and three TDs in a 44-14 win at Alumni Field. Eleven different Lancers caught passes in the game. It was 33-0 at one point. Five Lancers combined to rush for 230 yards. Carleton's Kyle Van Wynsberghe (Delhi, India) was the only receiver with more than 100 yards for either team. Leon Cenerini (La Salle, Ont.) leads the CIS with 31.5 tackles in just three games.

York gave McMaster a scare before the Marauders pulled away for a 41-27 win. The game was tied 10-10 late in the half, before MAC punter Tyler Crapigna (Nepean, Ont.) threw a third-down pass to extend a drive, leading to a go-ahead TD. Quarterback Marshall Ferguson (Kingston, Ont.) threw five TD passes, three of which were caught by Daniel Vandervoort. Kasean Davis-Reynolds (Mississauga, Ont.) rushed for 123 yards. York's Errol Brooks (Toronto, Ont.) had an outstanding game, rushing for 193 yards on 20 carries. Nikita Starchenko (Whitby, Ont.) had an interception for a late TD for the Lions. Former Marauder QB Kyle Quinlan, last year's Hec Crighton Trophy winner, has been named the head coach of the OVFL's Hamilton Ironmen.

Michael Faulds picked up his first win as a CIS head coach as the Golden Hawks beat their rivals from down the street, Waterloo, 41-10. James Fracas (Waterloo, Ont.) got his first start at QB for Laurier and relied heavily on RB Dillon Campbell (Whitby, Ont.), who carried the ball 25 times for 180 yards and a pair of TDs. Running back Ryan Di Risio (Burlington, Ont.) was the main offensive weapon for the Warriors, rushing for 58 yards and adding 64 more through the air.



September 11, 2013 - We are rebuilding
 
The record says it all. No wins, three losses. The first Laurier team since 1984 to lose to both York University and the University of Toronto in the same season.

One would think that things are falling apart at the seams for the Laurier Golden Hawks football program, eight years removed from a Vanier Cup win. According to first-year head coach Michael Faulds, that's anything but the case.

"We're rebuilding,” Faulds told In the Huddle. “It's one thing to say that we're young, but we are. We're changing the culture and everyone has to be accountable."

But losses against two teams that have struggled in recent years? It's seemingly light years away from 2005. Some of the fan base may be down in the dumps, but those who are currently part of the team are not.

"We don't have a bunch of depressed players and coaches," said Faulds. "Nobody here thought (the turnaround) would be overnight. What helps us is our youth.

"The coaches and seniors take the losses the worst. The 17- and 18-year olds seem to forget about it the next day, which can be frustrating, but they're ready to go when practice starts."

Being a head coach is something new for Faulds, and so is losing like this. If the leading passer in CIS history is feeling a little blue he's certainly not showing any signs of it. He's optimistic about where the program is and more importantly, where it's going.

"The support around here, the feeling on campus, it's been unbelievable," said Faulds. "You wouldn't know we were 0-3. The students are still tweeting with the hashtag #invadewaterloo before this week's game. The record is not affecting that at all."

The athletic program at Laurier has switched its slogan as well. In recent memory, current and former players alike used the phrase 'Once a Hawk,’ but now the school is using the phrase 'We Are Hawks'.

What does that mean to the coach?

"It means that everyone is a Hawk," said the newcomer to the program. "From professors to first-year students, first-year coaches, 12-year veterans of the program, to alumni. It's a really small campus with a family atmosphere. It's been fun."

It will become even more fun as the wins start to come and for that to happen, the team will have to improve the talent level. This week came the news that four new recruits will be able to say 'We Are Hawks' next year after committing to Laurier, which Faulds says exemplifies the mantra of the program.

"We're thinking 2013, but also 2014, and 2015, and 2016."
 
The O-Zone...The Hawks loss to York was even tougher because of the 15-0 lead they had early in the second quarter, before being outscored 28-5 the second half, 23-0 in the third quarter. York only turned the ball over once, with QB Myles Gibbon having an interception-free afternoon. He threw for 211 yards and a pair of TDs while also rushing for 155 yards and another score. Defensively James Tuck was all over the field for the Lions, ending up with nine tackles, four of which were for a loss. Tuck added 1.5 sacks and he forced and recovered a fumble. The entire York defence made it a long afternoon for Laurier QB Julien John. The first-year starter went 9-32 for 148 yards with one TD and a pair of picks. The Hawk offence relied heavily on RB Dillon Campbell, who rushed for 146 yards and one score on 16 carries. There were a combined five safeties in the game. York played on its new turf field for the first time leaving Queen's as the last remaining grass field in the OUA. Over 2,000 fans showed up for the "Frosh Frenzy" game and outlasted a heavy rainfall during the first half.

Will Finch's performance was astonishing on the surface, but it was even more incredible when you look behind the rather gaudy numbers. The first-year starter threw for 449 yards and five TDs without an interception in the Mustangs 58-15 win over McMaster. What makes these numbers even more impressive is that it was done against perhaps the best secondary in the CIS. The veteran group has led the country in interceptions in each of the last two seasons, but couldn't get one against Finch. The 'Stangs aerial attack hit for TD passes of 42, 53, and 79 yards as well as a pair of 10 yarders. George Johnson had the 42 and 79-yard TD grabs and ended up with nine catches for 224 yards. Lirim Hajrullahu hit on five-of-six FG attempts. The McMaster 'D' did a nice job containing Garret Sanvido, aside from a 47-yard scamper. He finished with 15 carries for 78 yards. Tyler Crapigna hit both of his FG attempts and is now 7-for-8 on the season. McMaster found itself down early and found itself having to get away from a balanced offensive attack. McMaster only rushed for a total of 58 yards. Marshall Ferguson was intercepted twice (on 43 passes) by LB Pawel Kruba. MAC turned the ball over four times in total. If there was an offensive bright light for the Marauders it was Josh Vandeweerd, who caught 11 passes for 103 yards and the team's only touchdown. Over 5,000 fans showed up in Hamilton to see the home team lose two straight regular-season games for the first time since consecutive road losses to Western and Ottawa in 2010.

Despite Finch's great season to date, he's not the number one passer in the country. That honour goes to Ottawa's Aaron Colbon. The fifth-year homegrown QB threw for an eye opening 523 yards and three TDs in the Gee-Gees 34-10 win over the U-of-T Blues. Colbon leads the CIS in passing, averaging 436 yards per game. Two Ottawa receivers had big days, as Andrew Mullings and Nicholas Dagher accounted for 192 and 139 yards respectively. The ground game was also working for the 2-1 Gee-Gees as Brendan Gillanders carried the ball 13 times for 102 yards. Chris Jugovic was able to move the Blues down the field, throwing for 287 yards, but could only get his team into the end zone once, on a 17-yard pass to Alex Pierzchalski. Toronto's Kevin Kinahan led all tacklers with 9.5. The Gee-Gees won the game despite taking 21 penalties for 142 yards.

Waterloo built up a 24-0 lead at Carleton and held on for a 47-8 win in front of 4,500 fans. Jamie Cook threw for 232 yards and a TD pass to Nick Anapolsky for the winners. Anapolsky finished with a dozen grabs for 101 yards. Danny Silvestri was the other offensive star for the Warriors, rushing for 138 yards on 15 carries. In their last four games – dating back to last season – the Warriors have scored 48, 11, 32 and 47 points against Windsor twice, Ottawa and Carleton. The young Ravens continue to try and sort things out offensively. Both Jesse Mills and Nick Gorgichuk saw a lot of time at QB, with Mills finishing a respectable 11-15 (73%) for 134 yards and no interceptions.

The No. 2 Queen's Gaels scored 31 first-half points in their 49-34 win over Windsor. Billy McPhee flirted with another 300-yard game for the hometown Gaels. The Tricolour continue to employ a running back by committee. Ryan Granberg and Jesse Andrews combined for 20 carries for 107 yards. Queen's defence did a great job on the dangerous Austin Kennedy, limiting him to a completion rate of under 50 per cent and picking him off twice. Mike Schad made the trip from the Philadelphia area for the game. The former Gaels offensive lineman was the first CIS player ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft when the Rams chose him 23rd overall in 1986.



September 4, 2013 - The streak is over

September 10, 2011.  Western 48, McMaster 21. That was the last time the Marauders had lost to an OUA team before Monday's game at Queen's.

The 19-game winning streak ended with the Gaels 31-24 victory before 7,100 elated fans at Richardson Stadium. Despite the loss McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek saw more positives than negatives.

"Queen's D, the number two team in the country, doesn't get pushed around very often, especially at home and we put up 500 yards of offence against them," Ptaszek said. "But if you turn the ball over seven times you're probably going to lose."

Marauders quarterback Marshall Ferguson returned home to Kingston and put up incredible numbers (39-60, 459 yards and three touchdowns) against one of the best defensive teams in the CIS. The number that will haunt him though will be three; that's the number of times he was intercepted, twice by Yann Dika-Balotoken and both of those ended up in the end zone.

Was Ptaszek upset with Ferguson's play? Not in the least.

"On the first play he was unlucky," said Ptaszek. "He threw a perfect pass that hit the receiver's hands and bounced up in the air. (Dika-Balotoken) grabbed it and he was gone. The second pass was one he shouldn't have thrown and the defender made a good play on it. He threw 60 passes and made one mistake."

The coach was more upset with his team's discipline. The Marauders took four objectionable conduct or unnecessary roughness penalties. He stressed that aspect of his team's game has to be cleaned up.

Ptaszek was thrilled, however, with his defence's effort. He summed up the play of defensive coordinator Kevin Eiben's group succinctly.

"They played freaking good."

Then the coach elaborated, "They held Giovanni Aprile to one catch for 13 yards. They contained Ryan Granberg (to 11 carries for 36 yards) and held Billy McPhee to under 50 per cent (14/29 passing)."

Queen's was tough and this week won't be any easier as No. 4 Western visits No. 6 MAC on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Mustangs feature an incredible one-two punch offensively with strong armed second-year quarterback Will Finch and last year's CIS leading rusher, Garrett Sanvido.

When asked to state the first thing that came to mind when he heard Finch's name, Ptaszek chuckled and said Nelson, the high school in Burlington where both the coach and QB played as teenagers.

The joking quickly stopped when he started talking about Finch's ability.

"He has unlimited potential" said Ptaszek. "He can make a throw to anywhere on the field, but he can also make guys miss when he decides to run and that's something we've had a problem with in the first two games."

Is Finch good enough to make teams forget about the Mustangs potent running game?

"I would think that the Western Mustangs history of running the football will make that difficult to do." said the coach.

We'll see how McMaster fares against Western's balanced attack on Saturday.

The O-Zone...McMaster dominated most of the statistical battle against Queen's except for the two most important numbers; turnovers and the score. Yann Dika-Balotoken was named the CIS defensive player of the week for the game of his life, returning the two interceptions for TDs. The first was a 99-yarder and the second was a 70-yard return. The big crowd watched the game at the new-look Richardson Stadium. The upper stands on both sides of the field have been shut down for safety reasons and there are now temporary bleachers set up behind the end zone. Justin Baronaitis had 10.5 tackles and recovered a fumble for Queen's. Jesse Andrews and Ryan Granberg combined for 87 yards rushing on 20 carries. Ferguson's main target was Daniel Vandervoort, who caught seven passes for 172 yards and one major...

Waterloo gave Ottawa all it could handle with the Gee-Gees holding on for a 44-32 win. Aaron Colbon led the Gee-Gee's attack, throwing for 452 yards and four TDs. Nicholas Dagher and Simon Le Marquand combined for 15 catches for 256 yards and a pair of majors. Brendan Gillanders also rebounded from a tough Week One with a 144-yard rushing performance. U-of-O totaled 670 yards of total offence. Waterloo's Nik Anapolsky was also back to his old self, catching nine passes for 112 yards. The black and gold also rushed for over 100 yards and three TDs...

Welcome back Carleton! The Ravens first OUA game in 15 years wasn't pretty as the Mustangs stampeded them 71-4 in front of 10,377 fans in London. Will Finch threw for 409 yards and three TDs while the 'Stangs also piled up 334 yards rushing. Leon Cenerini had 11.5 tackles for the Ravens, who trailed 46-1 at the half...

Just under 4,000 were at Knight-Newbrough Field to witness the Blues 27-20 win over the home-town Hawks. U-of-T jumped out to a 27-10 lead before Laurier stormed back to make it close. The Blues dug deep into the playbook in the second quarter and it worked. Running back Aaron Milton threw a perfect pass on an option play to a diving Alex Pierzchalski for a 30-yard touchdown. Chris Jugovic threw another two TD passes for Toronto, who benefited from a four-catch, 101-yard performance from Llevi Noel. Julian John got the Golden Hawks offence rolling in the second half and finished the night with 345 yards passing and a pair of majors. His favourite target was Greg Nyhof, who hauled in a half-dozen passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Jugovic and John are two of four Burlington natives starting at QB in the OUA along with Finch and McPhee...

The other game was a tremendously entertaining affair that featured six lead changes. The final swing occurred on the game's penultimate play as Daniel Ferraro, replacing an injured Julian Tropea, kicked a 17-yard field goal to give No. 7 Guelph a 24-23 win over Windsor. The Lancers had a handful of opportunities to put the game away in the fourth quarter, but the Gryphons defence held. Guelph started the winning drive on its own nine-yard line with 1:01 left on the clock and hit two big plays to get into field goal range.  Alex Charette took a screen pass for 45 yards and one play later Jazz Lindsey hit his brother Saxon for 33 more. The Lancers had almost 200 more yards in total offence than the Gryphs with Evan Pszczonak accounting for 172 of those yards on seven catches while also scoring a touchdown. Neither team rushed for 100 yards. Just under 4,000 fans were at Alumni Stadium for the game.




August 28, 2013 - The wild card

In the movie 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' the duo is followed around by an unknown posse. Butch turns to Sundance several times and asks "Who are those guys?"

That same question is being asked around the OUA about the Windsor Lancers.

The Lancers pounded a young Waterloo Warriors team 78-11 in their season opener, avenging a stunning 48-29 loss to the Warriors in last year's season finale. Granted, the team isn't going to score almost 80 points a game against everyone, but who are they? In the Huddle posed that question to head coach Joe D'Amore.

"We'll find out," D'Amore said. "The question around the league is 'who are we?' Are we the team that went 5-3 and almost beat Western in the (2011) playoffs, or are we the team that went 3-5 and lost to Waterloo (last year)? We've lost some star players and added some kids. I don't know."

Although it's very early in the season we may learn a lot about this team on Monday. Playing the Gryphons in Guelph will be a lot tougher than playing Waterloo in the opener. It will give people a clearer picture as to where the Lancers fit into the league's pecking order.

"If we win people will look at us as a contender" noted the coach. "We know Queen's and Western are strong. MAC is strong despite losing the Hec Crighton winner. I hope we're talked about in week six or seven as being competitive with them."

Speaking of the Hec, Lancers QB Austin Kennedy put up Madden-like numbers in week one, throwing for 335 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing for 108 yards on the ground. That was good enough to take home OUA Offensive Player of the Week honours. He's looked upon as being one of the best, if not the preeminent QB in the country. Is there Crighton conversation in Windsor?

"No," said D'Amore as he was quick to shoot down the question. When pressed D’Amore elaborated. "Obviously it's something he'd love to win, he's a competitive guy. He's all about winning football games."

"What's important is that he's healthy," continued the coach. "People don't realize how unhealthy he was last year (he played the entire season with a sprained MCL). Moving around last week gave him confidence."

No Lancers player has won the Hec Crighton since running back Daryl Stephenson won it in 2006. Stephenson was the third Windsor player to win the award, joining QBs Scott Mallender in 1979 and Andrew Parici in 1972.

But first things first, this week's game at Guelph.

"It will show what we're like mentally," said D'Amore. "This is eerily similar to last year. We beat Ottawa badly then Guelph came in here and beat us up physically (and 28-9 on the scoreboard) and went on to go 7-1 and to the Yates Cup."

The Lancers know what happened in week two and over the rest of the 2012 season. We will get a good indication of where the program's progress lies at 1 p.m. Monday.
 
The 'O' Zone...In a week of blowouts, the closest occurred in Guelph, where the Gryphons and Laurier Golden Hawks slugged it out before the home team prevailed 21-7. Laurier's Michael Faulds made his debut as head coach and got a look at how much work there is to do offensively. Julien John won the starting QB job, but only hit on 10 of 29 passing attempts for a net 59 yards due to four sacks. He also threw one interception. Even worse, the team netted minus-one yard rushing. The only points the Hawks scored all day came on a Felix Odum pick six. Highly-touted freshman Johnny Augustine led the Gryphons offensively with 127 yards rushing on 16 carries. QB Jazz Lindsey was shaken up during the game, but returned to pass for 117 yards and a touchdown. Ian Marouf threw the body and recorded a pair of sacks for Guelph...

In Windsor's demolition of Waterloo, the Lancers running attack was just two yards shy of 400. Mitch Dender led the way with 111 while Kennedy added 108. Through the air Evan Pszczonak caught six passes for 102 yards. Three of those receptions were for TDs. Conversely, the Lancers limited the dangerous Nick Anapolsky to just six catches for 59 yards. Warriors QB Brian Chris rushed for Waterloo's only major...

No Kyle Quinlan? No problem. Marshall Ferguson threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more majors in McMaster's 51-24 win over the U-of-O in Hamilton. Michael DiCroce had over 100 yards receiving while Jimmy Hill rushed for 104 more, with both players finding the end zone once each. Ottawa had trouble establishing a running game with Brendan Gillanders being limited to just four yards rushing on five attempts. The Gee-Gees did incorporate him in the offence as a part of the passing game. He caught a dozen passes for 63 yards. QB Aaron Colbon had a decent day against a very tough defence throwing for 355 yards and three touchdowns while leading the garnet and grey with 88 yards on the ground. Scott Martin led the Marauders defence with solo 12 tackles and was named the OUA Defensive Player of the Week...

The Giovanni Aprile show was on display at York. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers draft pick scored four TDs in the first half as Queen's blew out York 52-1 at Centennial Stadium in Toronto. He hauled in passes of 58 and 55 yards, rushed for a 26-yard TD and also scored on a 115 yard missed field-goal return. He ended up with a Chad Owensesque 349 combined yards, 176 of which came through the air, and was named OUA Special Teams Player of the Week. Gaels QB Billy McPhee threw for 311 yards and two TDs without throwing a pick. Dillon Wamsley was good on five of six field-goal attempts. TSN's Brian Williams did a profile on former CFL kicker Don Sweet and his success as a kicking coach and Wamsley is one of his students. York QB Myles Gibbon was limited to 100 yards passing, while leading the Lions with 45 yards rushing. York actually won the time of possession in this game, holding the ball for 31:24...

Western's Will Finch had a big game for the Mustangs in their 50-14 win over the Blues in Toronto. He threw for a couple of TDs and over 300 yards, while rushing for another 67. Last year's CIS rushing champ, Garret Sanvido, carried the ball a dozen times for 88 yards and a TD. The Blues were able to move the ball through the air against the 'Stangs. Chris Jugovic threw for 274 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, linebacker Chris Johnson recovered a fumble and returned it 60 yards for the scoop and score.

Mike Hogan is the play-by-play voice of the Argos, host of ‘Argos All Access’, find him on Game Night weeknights and Game Day on weekends on TSN 1050. No stranger to OUA football, Hogan has provided the radio play-by-play of 13 Vanier Cup games and is a member of the CIS Football Top-10 Committee. Follow Mike on Twitter @tsnmikehogan, or email him at mike.hogan@oua.ca.



Catch up on your reading!

IN THE HUDDLE - 2012


Blues top Warriors
October 19, 2013 Blues top Warriors
Lancers best Carleton 44-14
September 14, 2013 Lancers best Carleton 44-14
Gryphons soar over Blues
September 14, 2013 Gryphons soar over Blues
Gee-Gees get past Blues
September 7, 2013 Gee-Gees get past Blues
OUA By The Numbers
August 28, 2013 OUA By The Numbers