Photo Credit Kha Vo
by Charlie Pinkerton, U Sports Correspondent
After a pair of 4-4 seasons under head coach Michael Faulds, it all came together for the Laurier Golden Hawks in 2016. The Golden Hawks won their first Yates Cup since 2005. While it may have shocked the rest of the OUA, which ranked Laurier sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll, no one on the Golden Hawks will say they’re surprised.
“We’re kind of that little school that could,” said Faulds. “No one wants to believe that we’re able to be at this point, but the reality is that our guys work extremely hard and they’ve earned the right to make it this far.”
The Golden Hawks finished second in the OUA in the regular season with a 7-1 record. In the conference semifinals, Laurier defended their home turf against McMaster with a 21-19 victory to advance to the Yates Cup, where they won the rematch of their only regular season loss against the Western Mustangs.
Leading the Golden Hawks all year has been the team’s defense. The unit featured five first-team OUA all-stars, including defensive lineman, Jalen Price, defensive backs, Malcolm Thompson and Godfrey Onyeka. The D-line also showcases top-20 Canadian Football League prospects, Nakas Onyeka who Faulds called the team’s most valuable player, and Laurier’s all-time sack leader, Kwaku Boateng. Laurier’s defense ranked first in U Sports football in forced turnovers, defensive touchdowns and sacks, as well as fourth in scoring, allowing just 15.8 points per contest.
Laurier’s offense underwent a midseason transformation. In week four, against the Ravens at Carleton’s homecoming, quarterback Michael Knevel stepped in to lead the Golden Hawks back from a 16-7 deficit to win 17-16. From there, Knevel never relinquished the starting spot.
Knevel’s favourite targets through the air were second-year OUA second team all-star, Kurleigh Gittens Jr., who led the team with 27 receptions and four touchdowns, and first-year big play threat Brentyn Hall, who had a team-high 558 receiving yards.
Laurier’s run game was tops in the nation this season, despite the loss of 2015 first-team all-Canadian running back, Dillon Campbell. Fifth-year running back Eric Guiltinan averaged 105.1 yards per game for the Golden Hawks, while second-year backs, Levondre Gordon and Osayi Iginuan, averaged 79.6 and 44.5 yards per game apiece.
With Guiltinan’s health uncertain moving forward, Laurier’s underclassmen will see a heavier workload in their pursuit of the national prize.
“Our internal expectations were to win a Yates Cup and then to win a Vanier Cup. I know a lot of teams say that, but we truly feel that we have the talent,” said Faulds. “We’re exactly where we thought we would be at this point.”