OTTAWA, Ont. – Pedro is once again on the line, but who will prevail?
One of the most anticipated university sporting events, which first kicked off in 1955 at Landsdowne Park, is slated for Saturday, September 29, with the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens ready to pen the latest chapter of the iconic Panda Game story; this week’s Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters.
A rivalry that is tough to match, the annual football game in our nation’s capital is ready for its 50th edition, with the Gee-Gees leading the all-time series 32-17. Despite the decisive edge overall, it is the Carleton Ravens who have earned the bragging rights since Pedro’s return in 2013, having won four out of five during that span. The team’s current four-game stretch is their best in the Panda Game’s historic run and they’ll have a chance to make it five in a row as the No. 5 squad in the country.
The Ravens have done well to rise the ranks this season after falling short of the playoffs a year ago. Coming into Saturday, the team has won four straight games; a stretch that could have been five had it not been for a dramatic second half comeback and eventual overtime win from the reigning Vanier Cup champion Mustangs in Week 1. Carleton has managed wins against Windsor, Waterloo, Queen’s, and most recently, Toronto, and have done so with a plethora of offensive weapons.
Michael Arruda (Gatineau, Que.) has been strong under centre and has been key in spreading the wealth on offence thus far. In fact, last year’s Panda Game hero has connected with seven different players for at least one receiving major on the year, and has seen significant yardage contributions from no less than five. Leading the way on the receiving end is Quinton Soares (London, Ont.), who checks in with 339 yards on the year, followed closely by Phil Iloki (Montreal, Que.) at 322.
Also contributing to the team’s fourth-ranked offence this year is RB Nathan Carter (Ottawa, Ont.), who has racked up 445 yards on the ground. His dynamic play coupled with the multiple threats in the receiving game have made the Ravens’ group one of the more well-rounded when it comes to moving the ball; something they’ve done to the tune of 414.8 yards per game and more than 32 PPG on the year.
But even when they aren’t managing to find the endzone – a feat they have done 16 times this season – they have still put up some serious points behind the big boot of Michael Domagala (St. Catharines, Ont.). The Ravens’ kicker has connected on a conference-high 14 field goals this season and has done so in pressure-laden situations, including a 50-yarder to tie the game against Western with no time on the clock and a 44-yard make to give his side the double-OT win against Queen’s. And coming off his 5-for-5 outing against Toronto a week ago, Domagala will be lining up with the hopes of continued success in Saturday’s crosstown rivalry.
As much as the Ravens have shone on offence, the Gee-Gees have been equally as menacing on defence. Certainly, Ottawa has some key offensive weapons that can put up points – with the likes of Dawson Odei (Oshawa, Ont.) leading the rushing game, Carter Matheson (Kingston, Ont.) and Dylan St. Pierre (Gloucester, Ont.) wreaking havoc in the passing game, and dual-threat Bryce Vieira (Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que.) causing headaches both on the ground and in the air – but the team’s calling card has largely been their defence thus far.
The team, who checks in with a 3-1 record on the year thanks to wins against McMaster, Guelph, and York, ranks second in the OUA in points allowed per contest. One of the main reasons behind them surrendering just 19 per contest on the year is their smothering approach against the pass. The Gee-Gees have been able to put pressure on the opposing quarterback all season long, picking up 11 sacks along the way, but have done the most damage when it comes to their sure-handed defenders racking up the turnovers.
Among those who have made the biggest impact on the score sheet for the No. 9 ranked Gee-Gees are Jamie Harry (Lachine, Que.) and Luke Griese (Newmarket, Ont.). The former, one of the top-20 CFL draft prospects in the August ranks, is tied for the team lead in tackles (21.0 for the season), but is also tied for the league lead in interceptions with three. Sharing top spot with Harry, in fact, is Griese, who has also come away with three picks on the year to go along with just under five tackles per game, two sacks, and one forced fumble.
Looking beyond the numbers and stats, however, the Panda Game offers fans much more; it offers yet another opportunity to see something they’ve never seen before. Just like in any sporting rivalry, it is nearly impossible to predict what may happen when the two teams take the field, especially this year with both sides entering top-10 in the nation with winning streaks on the line.
Whether it is the 33-30 double-OT thriller from a year ago that saw Arruda scamper in for a six-yard TD to end the game; the Hail Mary touchdown from Nate Behar on the game’s final play in 2014 that sent Ravens fans into a frenzy; or any of the other must-see moments from the storied Panda past, the only thing we really know is that it will take something special to stake claim to the ever-coveted Pedro.
Fans can catch all of the action from this marquee matchup live on CHCH starting at 1:00pm. The game, which will take place in front of a sold-out crowd at TD Place in Ottawa, is also available on oua.tv or via the corresponding app on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.