BURLINGTON, Ont. - The last time the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Laurier Golden Hawks met on the gridiron, most of their players were still in high school, and both head coaches were coaching elsewhere. Naturally when these two teams connect on Friday night in the OUA.tv Marquee Matchup, it will be a new experience for everyone involved.
The last matchup between these two squads was back in 2012, a long time for two teams in the 11 school conference to avoid each other. Laurier took the matchup 35-27, which featured the likes of QB Steve Fantham and RB Tyrrel Wilson leading the way for Laurier, while QB Aaron Colbon and WR Vincent Campbell were the stars of the day for Ottawa.
None of these players are playing OUA football anymore, with a new generation of players stepping up and taking their places.
On the sidelines, Golden Hawks' head coach Michael Faulds was still the offensive coordinator with the York Lions, and Ottawa coach Jamie Barresi was run game coordinator and running backs coach with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos.
The lack of experience playing each other sets up an interesting matchup, as usually teams have at least of sense of what the other squad will bring to the table.
Laurier is coming off a huge win against their crosstown rivals, the Waterloo Warriors, in the "Battle of Waterloo," which not only cements their bragging rights for the year but also keeps them in the playoff conversation.
The win improves the Golden Hawks record to 2-3, and puts them in a three-way tie for sixth place in OUA. Last week, Laurier mauled the last-place Warriors 42-0, while fifth-year running back Dillon Campbell (Whitby, Ont.) became Laurier's all-time leading rusher after a stellar rushing performance. Campbell broke the previous rushing record of Andy Cecchini's 3,061 yards, set in 1991, after tallying 241 yards on the ground to go with three touchdowns, pushing his career total to 3,069 yards.
"It's great having Dillon back [for a fifth year]. He's one of our leaders, he's also a guy we can lean on during games," said Laurier head coach Michael Faulds.
"Both of our quarterbacks are playing through injuries, and they are doing a good job, but it's our run game that's really kept us in games and allowed us win a couple. We know we have to do more through the air, but it's nice whenever you are stuck thinking of a play call, you can just hand it off to 34 [Campbell], and a lot of times he can make magic happen," continued Faulds.
The last time these two teams met up, Campbell was just a young second-year running back with punt return responsibilities. Campbell was one of only a few players on Laurier who was around for their last matchup against the Gee-Gees. The Whitby, Ont. native returned four punts for 28 yards, and pulled in one reception for 12 yards on the day, a very modest stat line compared to the ones fans are used to seeing out of the first-team CIS all-Canadian.
But as Campbell's reps increased, so did his production. Last year, Campbell put together a season for the ages, becoming just the second player in OUA history to rush for 1,400+ yards. His 1,458 rushing yards were the third most ever by an OUA running back, trailing only the historical 2003 and 2004 seasons put together by former Marauder running back Jesse Lumsden.
Along with leading CIS in rushing yards, Campbell also led the nation in rushing touchdowns with 13, and was a big reason Laurier made a playoff appearance after a 1-7 season in 2013. Campbell was named a second-team OUA all-star in 2013 and led OUA in rushing yards that season as well. So far this season he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, sitting in second place in rushing yards per game (123.2) to go along with four touchdowns.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Gee-Gees quarterbak Derek Wendel (Belleville, Ont.) is looking to have a career year of his own, leading the league in passing yards, averaging a baffling 415.8 yards per game while throwing for 18 touchdowns. Wendel is also averaging 5.5 yards per rush on 21 attempts while adding another three touchdowns on the ground.
Against Carleton, Wendel threw for a school-best 542 yards, topping the previous record of 523 passing yards set by Aaron Colbon in 2013. Despite the all-star statistics, the Gee-Gees are off to a disappointing 2-3 start and sit tied in sixth with the Toronto Varisty Blues and their Friday night foe, Laurier.
Ottawa is coming off a devastating loss in double overtime to the crosstown rival Carleton Ravens in the Panda Game, the annual rivalry matchup between the two schools. Wendel threw four touchdowns while rushing in for another in the contest, but also threw two interceptions, one of which was on the Carleton two yard line after marching down the field from their own 14 yard line.
Be sure to keep an eye on both running backs, as Ottawa and Laurier both have dynamic players suiting up for them at the position.
Second year running back Bryce Vieira (Montreal, Que.) has been a dual threat for the Gee-Gees all year, averaging 107.0 all-purpose yards per game. Vieira isn't just a threat out of the backfield either, as last year the Montreal native added 477 punt return yards to his extensive portfolio.
For Laurier, Campbell heads up the backfield, and will be running behind a solid line of veteran offensive linemen who have played together for a while now. Four of the Golden Hawks linemen are third year players who have been getting serious game action over the course of their careers, while at the right tackle position Matthew Gillies has been holding it down, starting for his first year.
A win on Friday will put either team in the driver's seat as the lone possessor of sixth place and a playoff spot (unless Toronto upsets Western on Thursday night). Whatever the outcomes, expect another action-packed weekend of OUA football as the Quest for the Cup continues.
Catch all the action live on OUA.tv Friday night starting at 7:00 p.m.
OUA.tv Marquee Matchup By the Numbers
5 - Players who saw action the last time the Laurier Golden Hawks and Ottawa Gee-Gees met up, back in 2012.
542 - Passing yards for Ottawa quarterback Derek Wendel, which broke the Gee-Gees single game passing record. Wendel completed 33 of 55 passes for 542 and four touchdowns.
3,069 - Laurier's brand new all-time rushing record, thanks to fifth-year running back Dillon Campbell. Campbell is second in the league in rushing right now, sitting only behind Jesse Andrews of Queen's who is averaging 147.6 yards per game.
2-3 - Three teams in OUA sit in a tie for sixth place with a record of 2-3, including Ottawa and Laurier. Toronto, the other team in sixth, faces off against No. 3 ranked Western Mustangs on Thursday night in what will a tough battle to get to .500.