Written By: Mike Hogan
The Panda Game has been so much more than just a meeting of crosstown football rivals.
This year’s game sold out a week in advance. Over 24,000 people will watch it live, with thousands more on CHCH and OUA.tv. It’s become a highlight of the Ottawa sports scene.
For the 50th time, the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens will meet to see who gets possession of Pedro the Panda for the year. More importantly, they’ll decide who can lay claim to second place in the OUA standings.
Western is first in the conference, and barring something unforeseen will finish in that spot. But who is number two?
Laurier was the consensus pick heading into the season, but back-to-back losses to Waterloo and McMaster have moved them down in the standings as well as the power rankings.
Carleton is riding shotgun to the Mustangs right now with a 4-1 record, Ottawa right behind them at 3-1.
So how big is this year’s Panda Game?
“Huge,” was Jamie Barresi’s one-word answer.
U-of-O’s Head Coach appreciates the bells and whistles that go with playing in the most-watched regular-season game in all of U SPORTS, but knows that this year, there’s way more on the line than just bragging rights.
“For us, hopefully we can win this and stay at that one loss level,” Barresi told OUA.ca. “Everybody else would have two losses, except for Western.”
“There’s also the crosstown discussion we have to live with,” he added.
Barresi can live with the rivalry, the trash talk, and the added external focus on the game; what he can’t live with is his team’s undisciplined play. The Gee-Gees lead the OUA with 137 penalty yards per game, 34 more than second-place Guelph and 67 yards more per game than Queen’s, the most disciplined team in the conference.
But the penalty problem goes beyond the provincial borders.
“The biggest issue we have is that we’re leading the country in penalties,” the coach told ‘In The Huddle’. “It’s tough to get an indication of where we are. We did a lot at practice on Sunday, stepping up the discussion (on how penalties have to be reduced). We can’t be where we are. We’re trying to educate our guys.”
Discipline and execution are always preached by coaches, and for good reason. Barresi is almost certain that those factors will decide Pedro’s next place of residence.
“The team that survives will be the most resilient and most competitive,” he said. “The team that takes the least penalties and makes the least errors.”
The opportunity to make mistakes is increased because the Gee-Gees have historically been Air Barresi. They are capable of running the ball, but that’s not the way the head coach rolls.
“I’ve always been, perhaps to a fault, someone who prefers to throw the ball,” confessed the coach. “I made a pact to game planning and organizing the run game better. We’ve always had good people up front and we want to take advantage of that and our good running backs.”
While the team has won three of its four games, the statistics are either not where the Gee-Gees expected to be, the result of intentionally having a more balanced attack, or a little of both.
Ottawa surprisingly ranks tenth in the conference with just 226 passing yards per game, while ranking fifth in the OUA with 149 rushing yards per outing.
It’s not a typical offence for the Gee-Gees, perhaps fitting as they head into the Panda Game, which has been anything but predictable over the last few seasons.
OTTAWA 42 YORK 16
The Gee-Gees trailed 10-7 late in the first quarter before Jamie Harry picked off a pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown, giving Ottawa the lead for good. Cody Baranyk also had a pick six of 32 yards. His came in the fourth quarter and put the game away for U-of-O, who also had a couple of huge plays offensively. Kalem Beaver opened the scoring with a 52-yard TD catch from Sawyer Buettner, while Dylan St. Pierre had a 61-yard catch for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Buettner threw for just 238 yards; 125 yards aside from the two big plays. Dawson Odei carried the ball ten times for 71 yards. The Gee-Gees defence picked off Brett Hunchak four times. Once again, his brother Colton was York’s top receiver, catching 11 passes for 126 yards and a TD. Luke Griese had the other two Ottawa interceptions and also picked up a sack. The Gee-Gees took 14 penalties for 168 yards.
CARLETON 38 TORONTO 26
Ottawa wasn’t the only NCR team to struggle with its GTA opponent. The Ravens spotted U-of-T a 19-10 halftime lead before mounting a comeback. Touchdowns by Nolan Lovegrove and Daniel Diodati gave the Blues their lead at the break. After Carleton came back to take a 32-19 lead, Diodati returned a punt 99 yards for a TD to cut the lead to six points, but Varsity couldn’t get any closer. Michael Arruda threw for 352 yards and a pair of TDs, one a 60-yarder to Nathan Carter. Quinton Soares led the Ravens with eight catches for 119 yards and a TD. Michael Domagala hit all five of his field goal attempts, the longest from 44 yards out. Trevor Hoyte was all over the field for Carleton with two sacks, two tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, and an interception.
WESTERN 67 WATERLOO 7
While nobody was surprised that the Mustangs won this game, most were shocked by the score. Western jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead before Tre Ford hit Tyler Ternowski with a 26-yard TD pass on a third-and-eight gamble, but that was it for the previously high-flying Waterloo offence. Western finished with 602 yards of total offence. Chris Merchant won the battle of the QBs, passing for 348 yards and six touchdowns, compared to Ford’s 130 yards and one TD pass. Cole Majoros and Brett Ellerman each caught three TD passes. Majoros finished with five catches for 123 yards, while Ternowski led Waterloo with four for 101. Five Mustangs ran for at least 35 yards.
QUEEN’S 33 GUELPH 32
The Gaels and Gryphons have had some memorable games in the last decade, and the latest almost became one that would be talked about for a long, long time. The Gaels took a 33-7 lead late in the third quarter, before Guelph stormed back with 25 straight point; the comeback falling short as Gabe Ferraro missed a 32-yard FG with nine seconds left that would have given the Gryphs a comeback win for the ages. Guelph’s Theo Landers had his best game of the season by far, passing for 312 yards and three TDs, adding a team-high 85 rushing yards. His counterpart, Nate Hobbs, threw for 306 yards and one score. He also led the team with 41 yards rushing with one TD. Kian Schaffer-Baker caught eight passes for 130 yards to lead the Gryphs, while Benjamin Arhen was Queen’s leading receiver with three catches for 128 yards. Guelph’s Luke Korol led all defenders with 11.5 tackles. Guelph won the week with a crowd of 4,269, by far the biggest crowd of any of the five OUA games.
McMASTER 21 LAURIER 20
A missed field goal was also the difference in this game. Laurier’s Nathan Mesher missed a 43-yarder in the last minute, preserving Mac’s victory. It was an intense game, perhaps with memories of last year’s physical playoff meeting still fresh. Neither team could get its passing game going. The Hawks Tristan Arndt passed for just 202 yards and was replaced by Connor Carusello for the first two series of the fourth quarter. Mac’s Andreas Dueck finished 12/26 for 135 yards, one TD, and three interceptions. Both starting running backs finished with over 100 yards – Jordan Lyons of the Marauders with 117 and the Hawks Levondre Gordon with 119. The biggest play of the game came late in the third quarter. Arndt was pressured by Mac, and instead of throwing the ball away, or even taking a sack for a safety, threw the ball to the middle of the field, where Mitch Garland caught it and scored an easy pick six. That gave Mac the lead for good.