Ottawa and Carleton play the Panda Game for first time in 15 years on Sportsnet 360

Ottawa and Carleton play the Panda Game for first time in 15 years on Sportsnet 360
There is a natural animosity between cross-town rivals such as the Carleton Ravens and the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Playing 5km apart along the banks of the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, there’s constant jockeying for university sports supremacy. The Ravens and Gee-Gees battle virtually everywhere - the hardwood, the ice, the pitch - and or the first time in 15 years, they renew hostilities on the gridiron.

On Saturday at 1 p.m., all eyes will be on Gee-Gees Field as the Ravens and Gee-Gees play the 45th installment of the historic Panda Game on Sportsnet U: OUA Saturday football live on Sportsnet 360, presented by Pizza Pizza.

The Panda Game between the Gee-Gees and Ravens is an Ottawa tradition dating back to 1955, when the young Ravens upset the established Gee-Gees 14-6 for the grand prize, Pedro the Panda. Carleton took home their prize, but when Pedro was reportedly kidnapped from the Carleton campus, a tradition – and a fierce rivalry – was born.

The game became a part of Ottawa sports lore, attracting 20,000 fans at Lansdowne Stadium in 1987. The game, known for off-field pranks as well as the on-field product, was put on hold for 15 years when Carleton cancelled its football program in 1998. Thus, Pedro was forced into solitude, a generation of students missed out on the Panda Game and an Ottawa tradition was briefly lost.
It has finally returned much to the delight of Ottawa football fans. The game is the hottest ticket in town and Gee-Gees Field will be sold out on Saturday.

“When I first moved to Ottawa, the first thing that was on everybody’s mind was Panda,” Ravens head coach Steve Sumarah said. “It hasn’t changed and it’s only grown with more excitement. It’s such a cultural thing in the Ottawa community. It’s incredible how people gravitate to this game. It’s a big rivalry game and it’s part of the fall experience in Ottawa.”

The players (some of whom were two-years-old in 1998 and may have never been to a Panda game) will see first-hand the enthusiasm and intensity at Gee-Gees Field when the game returns on Saturday.

As part of the festivities, 20 players from the original game will be on hand to pass the game over to a new generation. From there, the current players and fans will take on the responsibility of forging the new tradition. All-time, the Gee-Gees hold a 31-13 advantage over the Ravens, but starting anew in 2013, the slate feels like 0-0.

While everyone’s focus is on Pedro, there are real implications for the teams involved. The 3-3 Gee-Gees are in the middle of tight playoff race and need a win to keep pace with the 4-2 Windsor Lancers. The Lancers play the No. 1 Western Mustangs this weekend, but then they travel to Ottawa for a week eight showdown with the Gee-Gees. The No. 9 McMaster Marauders (2-3) are also chasing the Gee-Gees and play their final three games against the OUA’s bottom three.

Losing the Panda Game and ground in the playoff race; a Carleton upset would sting two-fold for Ottawa.

“(Carleton) are going to be excited to play and they are going to be very emotional,” Gee-Gees head coach Jamie Barresi said. “There are a lot of kids on that team that I would love to have on our team. They are good players, so we definitely can’t take them for granted.”

As for Carleton, the 0-5 season has had its lumps, but the team is improving and gaining valuable experience with every snap. Until last week’s 50-10 loss at Toronto, the Ravens had increased their point totals in four straight games, topping out at 34 points in a 50-34 loss to the York Lions.

“The challenges of having a new program is guys are starting to get to know and trust each other,” Sumarah said. “I think that’s our biggest improvement. Defence is about trust and not hesitating. Last week unfortunately we were a little untrusting of each other and hesitating.”

The bid for their first win could be bolstered by an injury to Gee-Gees starting quarterbackns Aaron Colbon (Ottawa). Colbon, who is second in the league in yards (1920), touchdowns (15) and completions (221), dislocated his right thumb against No. 5 Queen’s on Sept. 21 and only threw seven passes before leaving last weeks’ game agait York. Coach Barresi is holding on hope for his star QB, but he has a capable backup in Derek Wendel should Colbon not play. The Belleville, Ont. native, threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns in the 46-16 win last week.

“(Derek) did a decent job,” Barresi said. “It was a good start for him. Hopefully he can build on it. He’ll be the first to tell you that he did miss some things, but it was a decent foundation anyways.”

Either quarterback will be looking for the duo of Andrew Mullings (Ottawa) and Nicolas Dagher (Beirut, Lebanon), who are having fantastic seasons at receiver. Mullings has 536 yards for six touchdowns, while Dagher has caught for 481 yards and three scores. 

In the pocket for Carleton is second-year quarterback Jesse Mills, one of the stars on the young Ravens team. The Halifax, N.S., native threw for 450 yards and three touchdowns against the York Lions on Sept. 21, his most successful game of the season. He wasn’t able to keep that momentum in the night game against Toronto – completing 13 of 32 passes for 136 yards – but he showed his raw talent and tremendous upside.

Mills is the foundation of the team drives the offence with his favourite target, Kyle van Wynsberghe (Delhi, India). The first-year criminology major leads the team with 421 yards and three touchdowns this season. The passing game is where Carleton finds their offence while Ottawa has struggled with defending the air attack, conceding 285 yards per game.

The Gee-Gees enter the contest with the second most yardage (3103) and yards per game (517) in the OUA. Unfortunately those numbers haven’t translated into wins and the Gee-Gees have fallen victim to a tough schedule, losing to No. 1 Western, No. 5 Queen’s and No. 9 McMaster. They’ve picked up wins where they can, beating Waterloo, Toronto and York, but they can’t afford to drop this one.

While the Gee-Gees are also a pass-first team, they have a presence on the ground. Running back Brendan Gillanders (Orleans, Ont.) is having another stellar season for the Gee-Gees rushing for 484 yards and one score. The second team all-star is fourth in the OUA and has more rushing yards than the entire Ravens team. Gillanders has moved the chains up the field for Colbon, who boasts 330 rushing yards and three majors of his own.

Stopping the Ottawa offence is no easy task and defensively it’s been a tough season for Carleton. However, the Ravens do have a future star in linebacker Leon Cenerini (La Salle, Que.). The 5’10”, 215lbs. rookie leads the CIS with 46 tackles this season (9.2 per game) and has three forced fumbles. With 42 solo tackles, Cenerini will be on the prowl and can handle one-on-one matchups.

Ottawa counters with linebackers Marc-Antoine Laurin (Gatineau, Que.) and Kevin Hanson (Edmonton, Alta.). The pair brings size and hurt to the Gee-Gees lineup, but coach Barresi is counting on his teams experience to be the deciding factor.

“We’re older than they are, so that is something we have to bank on and tap into,” he said. “Our seniors have to step up for us and be productive.”

The buildup, hype and spectacle surrounding this game should make for an electric atmosphere on Saturday in Ottawa. Tim Micallef and Mike Morreale have the call when the Gee-Gees and Ravens write a new chapter in Ottawa’s rich football history.

The Panda Game goes live from Gee-Gees field at 1 p.m., on Sportsnet 360, presented by Pizza Pizza.   
CARLETON LEADERS

Passing

Jesse Mills
69 completions, 126 attempts, 940 yards, 5 touchdowns

Nick Gorgichuk
24 completions, 52 attempts, 276 yards

Rushing

Keith Graham
43 carries, 217 yards, 1 touchdown

Jesse Mills
17 carries, 68 yards, 1 touchdown

Receiving

Kyle van Wynsberghe
30 catches, 421 yards, 3 touchdowns

Dexter Brown
9 catches, 263 yards, 1 touchdown

Defence

Leon Cenerini
46 tackles, 42 solo tackles, 3 forced fumbles

Tunde Adeleke
25 tackles, 18 solo tackles

Elliot Nelson
23.5 tackles, 19 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
 
OTTAWA LEADERS

Passing

Aaron Colbon
142 completions, 221 attempts, 1920 yards, 15 touchdowns

Derek Wendel
24 completions, 38 attempts, 362 yards, 4 touchdowns

Rushing

Brendan Gillanders
78 carries, 484 yards, 1 touchdown

Aaron Colbon
31 carries, 330 yards, 2 touchdowns

Receiving

Andrew Mullings
37 catches, 536 yards, 6 touchdowns

Nicholas Dagher
29 catches, 481 yards, 3 touchdowns

Defence

Marc-Antoine Laurin
29.5 tackles, 26 solo tackles

Kevin Hanson
22 tackles, 15 solo tackles

Ty Cranston
21 tackles, 19 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble

ALSO ON TELEVISION THIS WEEKEND

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Sat. Oct. 5 @ 1 p.m. – OUA Football/Waterloo @ McMaster LIVE HOMECOMING GAME

Cogeco Windsor
Sat. Oct. 5 @ 1 p.m. - OUA Football/Western @ Windsor LIVE



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