Waterloo, Ont. – Three words that bring a sense of excitement to many across the province’s university landscape will once again come to fruition this Thursday – Battle of Waterloo. With the two schools diving into their head-to-head encounters in a few other sports to start the season, the battle will hit the gridiron in the penultimate week of the football regular season and this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup has plenty on the line for both the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks and Waterloo Warriors.
In a matchup that had been largely dominated by the Hawks in recent years, the Warriors were finally able to flip the script a year ago when they took home their first Battle of Waterloo win since 2002. It was the feather in the cap of a turnaround season for the Warriors in which they also punched their postseason ticket for the firs time in 15 years, while their purple and gold combatants were left on the outside looking in. This year, with just two weeks left to play, both sides find themselves in the conference’s top-six, which means more than just bragging rights are on the line.
Certainly, a focal point in this game will come under centre, and while Laurier pivot Connor Carusello (Caledonia, Ont.) is coming off his best game of the season, it’s the Warriors weapon who will be hoping to wreak the havoc in this one. Tre Ford (Niagara Galls, Ont.) has been a dynamic force on the field once again and the reigning MVP will need to be reeled in if the Hawks want to get back in the win column after last year’s defeat. Laurier will need to manage both his potent passing, wherein Ford ranks fifth in the OUA (275 YPG) and his fleet footwork (6th in OUA; 77 YPG on the ground), but they might have the individual to take on this tough task.
Sam Acheampong (Brampton, Ont.) is a menace on the defensive side of the ball and has caused headaches for the opposing quarterback all season long. His 4.5 sacks are good enough for sixth in the conference, but his overall presence and leadership anchor the team’s suffocating defence. With the fourth-year lineman at the forefront, Laurier will turn to their fourth-ranked point preventers – a group that has surrendered just 21.8 per contest – to stymie the Warriors on their home turf, which is exactly what the team has managed to do en route to their league-best marks in passing (202.0) and rushing (79.7) yards against.
Not only do the Warriors boast the league’s sixth-best rusher in Ford to help attack the Laurier rush defence, but they also have the best, as Dion Pellerin (Abbotsford, B.C.) will also be one to watch in the Waterloo backfield. The fourth-year back has been as productive as they come this season on offence, with his top-ranked 131 YPG on the ground and OUA-best nine rushing touchdowns. He is coming in as one of the hottest players right now, having totaled six of those majors in the last two games and the two-time OUA Offensive Player of the Week will be eyeing continued good fortune to buck the stingy trend the Golden Hawks have been setting.
If the Hawks want to put points on the board, meanwhile, they’ll look to a streaking player of their own. Brentyn Hall (Toronto, Ont.) has been a focal point through the air for Carusello this season, but also throughout his entire Laurier career, regardless of who is under centre. Last week, Hall became the fifth player in school history to surpass the 2,000-yard receiving mark for his career, and while he has accomplished the feat with several eye-popping efforts, the senior wideout certainly loves playing against their crosstown rivals. Hall pulled in 123 yards and two TDs on just four catches in last year’s meeting with the black and gold, and with 373 receiving yards and three touchdowns to his name this year, he’ll be seeking continued success in this latest encounter as well.
The Hawks will need to be at their best to outduel to the Warriors in this rare Thursday night matchup, but if they want to play host to a postseason game this season, they have no other option. With help from the steady hands of Hall, the nearly 130 yards per game from veteran Levondre Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.), and a smothering defence that takes no prisoners, the team has been peaking at the right time. They’ve evened their record at .500 for the year after back-to-back 50-point performances put their 1-3 start in the rear view, but they aren’t the only group that has gotten this pristine production out of their players.
Waterloo has been the league’s most fruitful offence this season with their 37.3 points and 495.5 yards per contest, and even though their last game went down as a loss to bring their record to 4-2, the 10th-ranked team in the nation pushed the two-time reigning Yates Cup champs to the brink in the 45-42 loss at Western. And with their program’s new career passing leader (Ford, 5,145 yards); the league’s leading rusher; and the conference’s top tackler, Michael Reid (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; 8 TKL/G) at their disposal, they will certainly be looking to enter the final week of regular season action with back-to-back Battle of Waterloo wins in-hand.
It will be a critical 60 minutes on the field for both the Laurier Golden Hawks and Waterloo Warriors, but one thing is for sure – both sides will be giving it their all (and then some) to help earn them the edge in this critical late-season clash.
Fans can head to Warrior Field on Thursday night at 7:00pm to see the OUA Marquee Matchup action in person, but for those who can’t make it out to the game, tune in to oua.tv for all of your Battle of Waterloo needs.