QUEBEC CITY, QC – A disappointing second-half collapse saw the Carleton Ravens drop a highly-anticipated preseason encounter, 36-29, in overtime to the Laval Rouge et Or on Saturday evening at Telus Stadium.
Carleton, who was competing against Laval for the first time since 1998, made a dream start to its exhibition matchup against the juggernaut Rouge et Or, but relinquished a 26-5 halftime lead, making way for a massive Laval second-half comeback and overtime victory.
"Tonight, our first group proved that they can compete with anyone, which is pretty exciting," said Ravens head coach Steve Sumarah post-game. "Our younger guys need more experience and we made way too many mistakes in the second half, which really hurt us."
Laval got off to a quick start as the Rouge et Or defence forced Carleton to take a 2-point team safety. The home side went up 5-0 just five minutes into the game, as Laval's kicker Dom. Levesque converted a 27-yard field goal.
The Ravens took some time to get going on offence, but they finally breached the Laval defence thanks to a 3-yard touchdown pass reception by receiver Wilson Birch (Niagara Falls, ON). Ravens fifth-year QB Jesse Mills (Halifax, NS) had an impressive first quarter as he led Carleton back into the game by throwing for 93 yards (7-of-10 passing) and 1 TD.
Carleton sustained its momentum heading into the second quarter, where the team capped off an 8 play, 74-yard drive with a Matt Pickens (Amherstburg, ON) 7-yard touchdown to go up 14-5.
A Michael Domagala (St. Catharines, ON) field goal at the 2:39 mark of the second quarter increased the Ravens' lead to 15-5, giving the visitors a massive boost of confidence in the early stages of the game.
With Laval down in front of its home supporters, the Rouge et Or looked to strike back, but it was the Ravens defence that made a timely play. Fourth-year linebacker Leon Cenerini (La Salle, MB) intercepted Laval's Hugo Richard for a 102-yard pick-6 touchdown return as part of a 19-0 second quarter to give the Ravens a commanding 26-5 lead heading into the third.
Laval wasted little time to start the second half as they went out on a 9-0 run, which included a Ravens team safety, a 1-point rouge score off a punt, and two Dom. Levesque field goals from 34 and 37 yards, respectively. Carleton's lead had been trimmed to only twelve points, 26-14, with one quarter remaining.
With Ravens QB Jesse Mills sitting out the second half, rookie quarterbacks Giordy Belfiore (Vanouver, BC) and Tanner Dejong (Brockville, ON) shared snaps as they took turns leading the offence. Belfiore got the Ravens in field goal range early in the fourth before kicker Jonah Zlatinszky (London, ON) hit he ball through the uprights to make it 29-14 for Carleton.
On the following possession, Laval's quarterback Samuel Chenard led a 10-play, 75-yard drive resulting in a touchdown to make it a 29-21 contest.
With Chenard at the helm, the Rouge et Or looked like the better side for much of the quarter, but it was Ravens rookie linebacker Vincent Viau-Duval (Gatineau, QC) who intercepted Chenard with under four minutes to play to seemingly put the game back in Carleton's control.
However, the Ravens were unable to generate anything on offence, providing one last opportunity for Laval to tie the game in regulation. Chenard led the Rouge et Or 67 yards in just over a minute, and eventually found daylight on a QB sneak with 0:04 seconds left on the game clock. A safety conversion stood in the way of Laval sending the game to overtime, but Chenard was automatic once again, connecting on a pass attempt with J. Breton Robert to tie the game at 29-29 to force an overtime period.
Laval started with the ball in overtime, and only needed two plays to hit paydirt. Chenard found receiver Chadrick Harvey for a 21-yard TD. Needing to respond with a touchdown score of their own to keep the game alive, the Ravens faced a long second and thirty, but the desperation play resulted in a Tanner Dejong sack and fumble, and a Rouge et Or recovery to end the game.
The Ravens only managed to rack up 18 first downs compared with Laval's 27, as the Rouge et Or (48:34) controlled more possession than the Ravens (41:36) in the contest.
Carleton's Jahvari Bennett (Mississauga, ON), who racked up over 1000 yards on the ground last season, was active for this game, but did not see any of his team's snaps, certainly one of the reasons why the Rouge et Or outgained the Ravens by a substantial margin in the rushing attack.
"We took a bit of a different approach than Laval where we took our first-string players out to provide us with an opportunity to evaluate a bunch of guys," stated head coach Steve Sumarah, whose team still drew plenty of positives from the exhibition loss. "Despite not coming out on top, the players can look at this game as a great stepping stone for the program – our guys were pretty excited by the whole experience."
The Ravens will certainly benefit from a tough road game against Laval early in the season as they step up their preparations for an equally difficult challenge in Week 1 of the OUA regular season. Carleton prepares to do battle with the McMaster Marauders on Sunday, August 28 in Hamilton, ON. The game is slated for a 7 p.m. kick-off and can be seen on OUA.tv.
Source: Carleton Ravens