It wasn't supposed to be like this.
The Laurier Golden Hawks entered the 2015 season with a great deal of optimism. They had the defending CIS rushing champion back from CFL camp, their quarterback had another full off-season of preparation, the offensive line had another year of maturity, and the defence was supposed to be athletic and relentless.
The Hawks, however, are 2-3 and in grave danger of seeing their playoff chances die, but a win on Saturday against the Ottawa Gee-Gees would keep their post-season dreams on life support.
Laurier beat the Warriors 42-0 at Waterloo on Saturday and head coach Michael Faulds told OUA.ca they needed that win to get their mojo back.
"We really did," admitted Faulds. "Our confidence was as low as I've seen it in the few years I've been here."
The reason for the slumped shoulders was obvious. A week earlier the Hawks lost 22-18 to Windsor, giving the Lancers their only win of the season so far. To make things even worse, the Hawks decided to lay the golden egg in the Homecoming game, on a day where the 2005 Vanier Cup champs were being honoured.
"Heartbreaking," was the way Faulds described the loss. "You can't go back in time. I was sitting at my desk at six or seven o'clock that night wishing I could go back six hours and change things, but you can't. It was a depressing week."
How did the Hawks go about getting the swagger back? A heavy dose of Dillon Campbell. He carried the ball 31 times for 241 yards at Waterloo.
The defending national rushing champion had a remarkable season in 2014, rushing for 1,458 yards and winning the CIS rushing title by a whopping 471 yards. But the first four games of the season were not up to the standard set a year ago. Were the expectations of a repeat performance by Campbell too high?
"Dillon sets big expectations for himself," said Faulds, before giving "In The Huddle" an explanation as to why the numbers are down this season. "He's only at 70 percent. He's been battling three different injuries every week. He's missing a little of that next gear, but he's still fearless and loves to initiate contact."
The head coach is happy that there are signs of life from that aspect of the game.
"I like what our o-line, our fullback and our tight ends are doing in our blocking scheme," said Faulds. "Dillon is special if you can just give him a seam."
Something else that would help Campbell would be some semblance of a passing attack. Through five games this season, the Golden Hawks have averaged a pedestrian 225 yards per game. That aspect of the offence must particularly stick in the craw of Faulds, the all-time leading passer in CIS history.
"I'm concerned that we really have no passing game," admitted a very blunt coach. "We really have to be able to pass to beat Ottawa. Our completion percentage (63.4 %) isn't where it needs to be."
Despite the incredibly costly loss to Windsor, the opportunity is there for the Hawks to soar into the playoffs. For that to happen they would have to win two of their final three games, Ottawa and McMaster at home and Queen's on the road in the final game of the season.
Possible, but incredibly tough. It all starts with this Friday night's game against the Gee-Gees. Before the Waterloo game Faulds made his message clear to his players.
"Enough screwing around. Every game is a playoff must-win game. It's more evident now."
It's now a question of whether or not they can rebound from a 1-3 start.
The Hawks warmed up for the Gee-Gees with a 42-0 win at Waterloo. Dillon Campbell carried the ball 31 times for 241 yards and three touchdowns. The team totaled 395 yards on the ground. Quarterback Eric Morelli threw the ball just 19 times for Laurier, partly due to a strong wind during the game. The Golden Hawk defence also came to play, limiting the Warriors to under a hundred total yards of offence. Waterloo's Brandon Corelli had a busy day, recording 10 tackles.
The title of last week's column was "A Tough Act To Follow." Thankfully for those who watched the Panda Game, it absolutely was worthy of the 2014 affair. Big play was followed by huge play, followed by gigantic play, followed by enormous play. When Michael Domagala's 17-yard field goal attempt sailed between the goalposts, Carleton had escaped with a 48-45 win over Ottawa in double overtime. The first half alone featured 45 total points and five lead changes. Gee-Gees QB Derek Wendel threw for 542 yards and two TDs, while receiver Ian Stewart had 10 catches for 228 yards. The Ravens top offensive player was Jahvari Bennett, who rushed for 175 yards. The teams combined for 1,166 yards of offence. Wendel put the ball in the air 55 times, but was not sacked once. Perhaps the key play of the game came in the first OT when the Ravens gambled third-and-nine from the 34. Bennett caught a pass for 19 yards and the Ravens eventually found the end zone on that drive. An impressive crowd of 17,596 took in the game. As the OT sessions ended, #PandaGame was atop the Twitter trending list in Canada and surprisingly in Toronto as well.
The upset of the week happened in Kingston, Ont., where the Queen's Gaels put a straight number in the Guelph Gryphons' loss column. There was an obvious turning point of the game. After starting the second half with a two-and-out, the Gaels punted to the Gryphons, who took over on their own 33. Moving into a strong wind, the Gryphons put together a 16-play drive that took 8:22 off the clock, but there was one problem: they didn't score. Guelph had a first and goal from the Queen's one-yard line, but the Gaels stopped them all three times. On their first play after the dramatic stop, Nate Hobbs hit Matteo Del Brocco for a 108-yard TD pass, the longest in the storied history of Queen's football. Guelph had the ball for 12:49 in the third quarter, but did not score a point. Johnny Augustine led the Guelph attack with 179 rushing yards. Gryphons QB James Roberts would like to forget about this one, as he passed for just 156 yards and threw three interceptions. Gaels kicker Dillon Wamsley didn't make it to the game on time. Queen's play-b-play voice Bill Miklas mentioned during the broadcast that Wamsley was writing his LSAT exam Saturday morning and didn't get on the field until just before halftime.
Alex Malone had himself a night to remember for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. The diminutive back carried the ball 31 times for 257 yards in the Blues 40-3 win over York in the Red & Blue Bowl. It was 21-0 for Varsity at the half. Corey Williams had a huge game defensively for Toronto, recording two sacks, two tackles for a loss, forcing one fumble and recovering another. Simon Nassar threw a couple of TD passes. York took 20 penalties to Varsity's eight. Freshman Brett Hunchak struggled at QB for York and was replaced by fellow first-year player Eric Kimmerly.
The Asher Hastings show continued for McMaster as the Marauders hammered Windsor 44-19. The first-year starter threw for 374 yards and four TDs to four different receivers in the win. He now has 21 touchdown passes against just a pair of interceptions. Dan Petermann and Dan Vandervoort each had over 100 receiving yards. Windsor freshman QB Liam Putt had a much tougher afternoon, completing just nine of his 28 passing attempts while being sacked five times. McMaster played a pretty clean game, not turning the ball over and not allowing a sack.
Mike Hogan is a host on TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto, providing play-by-play commentary for the station's live coverage of the Toronto Argonauts. Hogan is also a long-time member of the CIS Football Top 10 Committee and also serves as the Vice-President of the Football Reporters of Canada.