Warriors, Gryphons ready for round two after ending regular seasons with a bang
Guelph, Ont. – So nice, they'll do it twice. After ending the regular season with one of the most entertaining games of football you'll see, the Waterloo Warriors and Guelph Gryphons will do it all again to open their respective playoff pushes, going head-to-head in quarterfinal action this Saturday.
While losing last week's game didn't seal either team's fate, their play certainly suggested that it was a win-or-go-home scenario, as opposed to a win-and-you're in. Perhaps deservedly so, after putting up a top-tier effort in their final kick of the can before the postseason, both the Gryphons and Warriors will be continuing their quest for Yates Cup glory. And after two overtimes, eight lead changes, and 91 combined points, a rematch just seven days later should have football fans salivating.
Even without the edge-of-your-seat action a week ago, there is plenty of intrigue in this quarterfinal meeting. The Warriors' history is well-documented – a team that has gone through some of the biggest trials and tribulations that a university program can go through, turning their fortunes a year ago with a .500 record after back-to-back winless years, and now, finally punch their ticket to the postseason for the first time in 15 seasons.
Guelph, meanwhile, since winning the Yates Cup three years ago, have seen their own ups and downs during their following campaigns. Heartbreaking losses, timely wins, and just about everything in between has guided the Gryphons to middle-of-the-pack finishes. But while the results may not always be there, the talent sure is; something that has helped both teams come into the postseason with lofty expectations on their minds.
All the storylines aside, however, this playoff opener will be a highly-anticipated rematch of what may have been the game of the year in the OUA. Waterloo kicked off the scoring with a Mitch Kernick (Elmira, Ont.) touchdown, but that was merely the appetizer to what was a multi-course meal.
A blocked punt and recovery led to Guelph's first major of the day, something they'd follow up with a crafty 53-yard touchdown run from Kian Schaffer-Baker (Mississauga, Ont.). Richmond Nketiah (Brampton, Ont.) would reel in a 2-yard major just before the half to cut the lead to two after 30 minutes of play, setting up fireworks in the second half.
Waterloo regained the lead on a Tyler Ternowski (Hamilton, Ont.) touchdown, but a Kade Belyk (Regina, Sask.) major answered just four minutes later. The black and gold took the lead back in record-setting fashion, as Ternowski's second score of the day, and 14th of the season, gave him the new all-time leading mark for single-season touchdown receptions in the OUA. Schaffer-Baker would respond with his second touchdown of the day, before Tre Ford (Niagara Falls, Ont.) punched one in from one yard out with just over a minute to play.
Gabe Ferraro (Mississauga, Ont.) stepped up with the game-tying field goal as time expired to send the instant-classic to overtime. The teams traded touchdowns in the first extra frame before Guelph's veteran kicker etched his name into the record books to end it. Ferraro connected on a 42-yarder – his fourth of the game – to not only seal the Guelph win, but to put him in a tie for top spot in all of U SPORTS for career field goals made. And while the win gave Guelph the No. 3 seed overall, the Laurier Golden Hawks loss allowed Waterloo to come in as the sixth seed and set up what fans can only hope is a fraction of Week 9's marquee matchup.
Both teams will be looking for the big names to produce in similar fashion to last week if they want to earn the edge on Saturday. Ford capped off his MVP-caliber campaign with nearly 400 yards in the air and five touchdowns, to go along with 73 rushing yards and a touchdown. Ford is one of the most dynamic players the conference has to offer, ranking atop the OUA in passing yards to go along with a 27:2 touchdown to interception ratio, but it doesn't stop there. The reigning OUA and U SPORTS top rookie also ranks sixth in rushing, with over 80 YPG, wreaking havocs on the opposition all season long. Add in the record-setting connection he's had with Ternowski, along with second-ranked receiver Gordon Lam (Kitchener, Ont.), and they have become one of the most electrifying offences in all of Canada.
On the flip side, the Gryphons, who boast plenty of potent playmakers of their own on offence, offer up one of the top defensive players this year. Luke Korol (Dundas, Ont.) added to his league-leading tackle total with another 6.5 last week, but as is usually the case, his impact didn't stop there. The fifth-year linebacker added two forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, while the defence as a whole tacked on a blocked punt and major, as well as an additional fumble in double-overtime to clinch the win. The points surrendered may not have been where they wanted, but Korol and the relentless Gryphon defence will be ready to present their pedigree once again in their encore with the Warriors.
So whether you want to weigh this heavyweight matchup as offence vs. defence, playoff pedigree vs. postseason inexperience, or any other seemingly key separators, both teams will be looking to score the knockout punch in round two to ensure their postseason push is by no means a one-and-done. And while the Week 9 numbers were just a taste of what all of these dynamic players did all season long, the start of the playoffs comes with it a fresh start, a clean slate, and a new opportunity to shine.
To find out which side will outshine the other en route to a semifinal clash with the one of the top-seeded Western Mustangs or Ottawa Gee-Gees, fans can tune in to oua.tv on Saturday at 1:00pm, with kick-off set to go at Alumni Field in Guelph. The game will also be available via the oua.tv app, available for download via Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.