Waterloo, Ont. – Both teams have seen a growing familiarity with each other over the last several seasons, but while the Western Mustangs’ 2018 season played out in a similarly recognizable fashion, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks went off-script in what was a surprising non-playoff campaign. After both sides see some big names come off the roster this year, however, expectations will remain high as usual when they kick off their 2019 campaigns head-to-head as part of the OUA Marquee Matchup.
Much like their 2017 campaign, the Mustangs ran the table against their conference competition last season, capping off a perfect regular season with a decisive semifinal win against Carleton, followed by a blistering championship performance against Guelph in their second consecutive Yates Cup win. Unlike recent years, however, their Yates Cup foes did not sport purple and gold on their uniforms; something that fans were accustomed to seeing over the preview two seasons.
In fact, a defeat at the hands of the purple ponies in the regular season finale proved to be the final nail in the coffin of the Golden Hawks playoff hopes, as Laurier fell to 4-4 on the year and missed out on the postseason in unexpected fashion. Despite the .500 record, the Hawks remained competitive all year long, as three of their losses came by a combined six points. With their eyes set on closing out more games this season and bouncing back into the championship contender that football fans are used to seeing since coach Michael Faulds took the reins, Laurier will surely be eyeing an electrifying start to say the least.
Hoping to buoy that desired debut is one of the team’s veterans and a true workhorse in the back field. Levondre Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.) churned out over 800 yards on the ground a year ago, to go along with seven touchdowns. Both those marks, along with his lofty 139 carries, were good enough for second in the conference, and after his second consecutive season with per game averages over 100 yards, the first-team all-star will aim for similarly impressive numbers in his fifth and final season.
The running game has long been a strong suit for the Hawks, but their counterparts have bolstered a multi-headed wrecking crew of their own over the years. Despite the loss of both Cedric Joseph and Alex Taylor to graduation, the ‘Stangs are still able to roll out the ever-dangerous Trey Humes (Ajax, Ont.), who will be a feature back for Western this season. In limited time last year, Humes averaged nearly seven yards per carry, rushing for 298 yards on 43 attempts. Those numbers should see a boost this year, but when it comes to the offence that led the league in 2018, it all starts under centre.
Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) returns for Western after spending time with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes in the offseason. The veteran pivot and reigning Yates Cup MVP will once again bring poise, leadership, and efficient play to the Mustangs offence, and despite losing last year’s top receiver, Harry McMaster, to graduation, will still have plenty of weapons at his disposal.
The aerial attack, led by Brett Ellerman (Calgary, Alta.) will surely need to keep their eyes on the prize on Sunday, as the Golden Hawks should once again be a force on the defensive side. And one of the big reasons why is their electrifying first-team All-Canadian, Will Amoah (Kitchener, Ont.).
Amoah ranked second in the country last year with five interceptions, including one against Merchant in their 2018 encounter, and will be tasked with leading Laurier’s talented secondary in shutting down the potent purple pony play. The breakout star of 2018 will be joined by fellow returnee Trevaughan James (Whitby, Ont.), who ranked second on the team last year in sacks en route to a first-team all-star selection, in helping the Hawks get off on the right foot this year.
Like Western, Laurier also lost some significant pieces, including 2017 OUA Most Valuable Player and career receptions leader Kurleigh Gittens Jr., as well as perennial all-stars Robbie Smith and Scott Hutter, all of whom have risen the ranks to the CFL. But also like their opening day counterparts, the pieces that will take the field still boast top-of-the-standings potential, and it will be a must-see meeting to kick off this year’s quest for the Yates Cup.
On the one side, you’ve got a team that is motivated to get back to championship contention after a year on the outside looking in, while on the other is a squad that has been the crème of the crop en route to their 20-game winning streak against OUA opponents. They’ve battled hard in the past, including matchups in two of the last three Yates Cups, and with a fresh start at their disposal in this year’s encounter, it should be much of the same on Sunday. The only question left to be answered is who will come out victorious in the season’s first OUA Marquee Matchup.
To see how the answer unfolds, fans can tune in to oua.tv for all the action on Sunday, August 25, with kickoff set to take place at 1:00pm at Laurier’s University Stadium.