Ottawa – For the 51st time in its illustrious history, Panda is back.
It is a game that football fans from our nation’s capital, but also those across the country, have circled on their calendars every year, and once again, it will be one of the true spectacles of the university football campaign. As we’ve seen time and time again, anything is possible when Pedro the Panda is on the line, and in the OUA Marquee Matchup of the week between the Carleton Ravens and Ottawa Gee-Gees on Saturday afternoon, fans can only hope for more of the same.
While neither team is entering this game with the same momentum they had a year ago, when both sides came into the contest as top-10 squads on the national scene, there will be plenty on the line for the rival schools when they kickoff at TD Place in Ottawa. The Gee-Gees, who are one game above .500 (3-2) through six weeks and the Ravens, one game below (2-3), understand what a Panda Game win can do to their team down the home stretch, and both will be eyeing that game-changing result and standings boost when the final whistle blows.
Certainly, football fans near and far understand the magnitude of the Panda Game backdrop and the eye-popping moments that have been etched on this monumental canvas. From overtime thrillers, to Hail Mary connections, to everything in between, these two schools have put on many a show in front of their packed stands, but it’s the Gee-Gees who are hoping for a similar script to the latest rendition.
The Garnet and Grey picked up the 38-27 win in the 50th anniversary of the event and buoyed that result into a 6-2 finish and second spot in the OUA standings. Despite Carleton opening the game with a bang thanks to a deep touchdown pass from WR Quinton Soares (Ottawa, Ont.), the Ravens fell behind from there and weren’t able to claw their way back against their cross-town foes. A pair of touchdowns apiece from Kalem Beaver (Dartmouth, N.S.) and Carter Matheson (Kingston, Ont.) helped build the Gee-Gees lead, and despite a pair of rushing majors from Nathan Carter (Ottawa, Ont.) down the stretch that helped lessen the gap, it was too little, too late for the black birds to overcome the lofty Gee-Gees numbers.
If Ottawa wants to put up a similar result this time around, they’ll certainly hope that at least one of last year’s standouts can double down on his breakout performance. Beaver’s 128 yards and two touchdowns in 2018 were instrumental to the win, but he has been just as important to the Gee-Gees this year, racking up over 150 all-purpose yards per contest. Coming off a game in which the speedy receiver took over second place in the school history books for punt return yards (1,134), Beaver will look to turn on the jets yet again to help his side gallop past Carleton on Saturday.
The Ravens, however, are also coming into this week’s affair with a player eyeing continued success after their Week 6 performance. Tanner DeJong (Brockville, Ont.) was thrust into the starting role under centre for Carleton this season, and the fourth-year pivot has looked the part in his first kick of the can. Picking up over 1,500 yards passing and seven touchdowns on a 66% completion rate for the season, his latest effort was his best after tossing for 385 yards – fourth highest mark in school history – in his team’s 29-19 win over Toronto.
Offence hasn’t always come easy for these teams this season; however, and if either of these two offensive standouts want to help buck that trend on Saturday, they’ll need to do so against two of the better defensive players in the league as well. Manning the line for the Gee-Gees is the havoc-wreaking DL Tramayne Stephen (Toronto, Ont.), who has lived in opponents’ backfields this season. The third-year lineman is top-five in the conference in tackles for loss (7) and recorded three sacks on the year to boot. He has also forced a pair of fumbles and recovered one for his Ottawa squad, who he represented at the 2019 East-West Bowl.
The Ravens will counter with one of the premier tacklers in the country – Jack Cassar (Mississauga, Ont.). The team’s leading tackler already has one OUA Defensive Player of the Week nod under his belt, after kicking off the campaign with a 10.5-tackle performance, and has gone on to record another 25.5 since then to rank him third in the province with 7.2 takedowns per game. Ottawa will need to be on high alert when the fourth-year linebacker is on the prowl, as he’ll certainly be looking to make an impact in the latest chapter of this storied rivalry.
Well-matched on the field, this contest already has instant-classic potential, but when you add in the prolific Panda history, imaginations can truly run wild. The Gee-Gees hold the edge all-time in Panda outings, picking up their 33rd win in 50 games a year ago, but that victory snapped what was a four-game winning streak for the Ravens, who have earned the edge since the rivalry returned in 2013. But with another 24,000+ fans ready to pack TD Place on Saturday afternoon, the past becomes just a memory and focus is turned to the present to see which side will produce a Pedro-winning performance and give themselves that all-important boost in the middle of the clustered OUA standings.
Football fans won’t want to miss this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup, so for those who are waiting anxiously to see whether Ottawa or Carleton will stake claim to Pedro the Panda this season, be sure to tune in to oua.tv at 12:00pm on Saturday, October 5 for all of the action or listen live on TSN 1200