BURLINGTON, Ont. - The runway of the regular season is coming to an end in OUA, and as teams try to make their playoff hopes take off, tension runs high in football locker rooms across Ontario.
Include McMaster and Laurier in that conversation, as they face off in Waterloo, Ont. this Saturday for the Week 8 OUA.tv Marquee Matchup.
If the season ended today, both of these teams would be in playoffs, but with two games remaining in the regular season, there is still a lot of football to be played.
McMaster comes into this matchup sitting in a three way tie for second with a record of 5-1, coming off a strong win against the Waterloo Warriors 55-7.
Keeping with the trend this year, the Marauders aerial assault bombarded the Waterloo defence, as third-year quarterback Asher Hastings completed almost 75% of his passes to go along with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Hastings hit a milestone in the bout, as through only six games this season the third-year psychology student-athlete has already thrown 25 touchdown passes to break the OUA record for passing touchdowns in a season.
Hastings broke the previous record of 24 held by a pair of Queen's Gaels quarterbacks, Tommy Denison (2003) and Danny Brannagan (2008).
With two games still remaining in the 2015 season, the 6'4" 218 lbs standout pivot from Regina, Sask. now appears poised to attack the CIS record of 30 touchdown passes held by Saint Mary's quarterback Chris Flynn set in 1989.
"It's cool. It's something that I'll look back on when I'm done playing, and it's nice to have your name in a record book next to guys like Brannagan and Denison," said Hastings after the performance. "That's pretty special, but I'll focus on it when I'm done playing, and we'll focus on Laurier now."
The Golden Hawks had a similar focus as they took on the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees under the Friday night lights, rolling over the garnet and grey 65-30.
It was a critical game for Laurier, as both teams walked into the matchup with 2-3 records, vying for a playoff spot. But Laurier came at the Gee-Gees with something unexpected: a balanced offensive attack.
For a team that had struggled finding success through the air, quarterback Eric Morelli was a saviour for the Golden Hawks, connecting on 20 of his 24 pass attempts to go for 298 yards while adding six touchdowns. The purple and gold blew open the doors in an incredible first-half performance, led by Dillon Campbell's stellar 203 yards and a touchdown over the first two quarters. The second-year starter Morelli threw four first-half touchdowns to give the Hawks a 41-10 half time lead, and Laurier never looked back.
After losing a disappointing game to Windsor two weeks earlier, which put them in a dangerous position in the playoff race, Laurier was able to bounce back in a big way, blanking the Waterloo Warriors 42-0 in the annual rivalry matchup, the Battle of Waterloo.
The Hawks made it two in a row with the win against Ottawa and have vaulted themselves into the sixth and final playoff spot for the time being.
McMaster knows that they are facing a team who is heating up at the right time, and that is is a team playing way above its modest record right now.
"There is no chance we are getting anything but their best football game," said McMaster Head Coach Stefan Ptaszek. "We have to be prepared for exactly what we saw last week against Ottawa, that is them with their backs against the wall, and they came out and played their best game. They are peaking at the right time and we are going to get nothing short of their best football game."
For now Laurier has to focus on McMaster, a team that has run through most of the league, other than a tough loss to a nationally-ranked Guelph Gryphons squad.
The Marauders boast a very well-balanced offence with Hastings at the helm, and a core of all-star calibre receivers which includes first-team OUA all-star Danny Vandervoort, who currently holds the McMaster record for career touchdowns at 22. Leading the backfield for the Marauders is fourth-year running back Wayne Moore, who has already rushed for 480 yards to go along with three touchdowns. Mac has averaged just over 50 points a game over the course of their first six outings, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
Despite the looming challenge, Laurier head coach Michael Faulds is confident in his team coming into this matchup, noting a strong confidence in the locker room and a desire to control their own destiny with a win against McMaster.
"We know we can play with them," said Faulds. "They are a very high powered offence, and we respect them, but we are not scared of them. We believe we can win, but we have to prove we can play with them."
The last time these teams met McMaster took the game by a score of 27-10, improving to 7-0 on their way to a Vanier Cup appearance.
Led by the boot of former kicker Tyler Crapigna, who connected on four field goals, McMaster took over against the Hawks who struggled under a three interception performance by quarterback James Fracas.
Despite remaining undefeated, Mac struggled to find the endzone against Laurier and was forced to rely on Crapigna to extend their lead.
If Laurier's defence can limit the production of McMaster's "Air Force" again, they should give Morelli and Campbell a chance to find the endzone themselves. Expect Laurier to come out with a win or go home mentality, but if McMaster can keep their cool under that pressure, they will be hard to stop.
Catch all the action live on OUA.tv Saturday afternoon starting at 1:00pm. Fans can also listen to the game on TSN Radio 1150 or Radio Laurier.