Laurier Golden Hawks (4-4) at McMaster Marauders (6-2)
This game offers something for everyone. If you like a passing attack, McMaster's Asher Hastings set the CIS single-season record with 31 touchdown strikes. Prefer a running game? Laurier's Dillon Campbell is capable of breaking one for a TD from any spot on the field. Prefer good defence? The Hawks Kwaku Boateng is showing why CFL scouts are drooling, while if you like hard hits, the Marauders' Robbie Yochim will provide you a highlight or three.
McMaster is coming off a humbling 46-24 loss to Western. The Marauders had been on a roll offensively, but a purple slap in face will no doubt get their attention. Hastings has been fantastic this year, his first as a starter. He has the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the conference, if not the country. Dan Petermann leads all CIS receivers with 61 catches, Dan Vandervoort leads the country with 11 TD catches, while Josh Vanderweerd, Max Cameron and Mitch O'Connor provide Hastings with multiple targets.
Heading into the season there were several questions about McMaster on the defensive side of the ball. The veteran secondary had moved on, while other dominant defenders also either graduated, or moved on to the CFL.
If there's one player that Laurier may need to focus on, it's Mike Kashak. The defensive end recorded 8.5 sacks in the regular season, third best in the CIS. Mark Mackie is also a very effective pass rusher. In the secondary, not only does Yochim bring a physical presence, but Jake Heathcote proved he has a nose for the football, as his four interceptions is just one off the CIS lead.
An injury to James Fracas meant the keys to the Laurier offence would be flipped to Eric Morelli. Three weeks ago head coach Michael Faulds told 'In The Huddle', "I'm concerned that we really have no passing game. We really have to be able to pass to beat Ottawa. Our completion percentage isn't where it needs to be (63.4 %)."
Since then the Hawks have played Ottawa, McMaster and Queen's. In those games Morelli has gone 50-76, a slightly better 65.8%, but he's thrown eight TD passes against just two interceptions.
The Hawks have multiple targets as well. The most intriguing is Kurleigh Gittens Jr. The freshman has stepped up his game in recent weeks, posting an eight catch, 104-yard performance against McMaster two weeks ago.
Despite the newly-found passing attack, it's still Laurier's running game that may cause an opposing coach to have a restless night or two. Campbell had an off year, battling multiple injuries, but still was able to rush for a CIS-best 1,115 yards. Eric Guiltinan will give him a breather when necessary and he's been very effective when called upon.
If Laurier is going to pull off the upset, the defence is going to have to come up big. The Hawks are very fast up front led by Boateng, who had a 2-sack, 3.5 tackles for a loss game against McMaster. Linebacker Nakas Onyeka flies to the football. The secondary will be tested big time against Hastings and company. They picked him off twice in their previous meeting.
McMaster scores so many touchdowns it doesn't leave many field goal attempts for Bobby Frame, who connected on just five of his eight attempts. His longest was 42 yards. Nathan Mesher of the Hawks was much busier, going 17-22 with a long of 47 yards. Neither team has been particularly effective punting the football.
The teams met just met two weeks ago at Laurier. The first quarter was insane, finishing tied at 21 all with Laurier jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead. McMaster tightened up after the first 15 minutes, shutting out the Hawks the rest of the way in a 30-21 win in Waterloo. Campbell had one big run of 40 yards, but aside from that was held to 76 yards on 19 carries. They also held the Hawks to fewer than 200 yards passing.
Laurier did a nice job on the Marauders running game, holding Moore and Pezzetta to 90 yards on 20 carries. Hastings had a solid day, 31-43 for 365 yards, with four TDs and a couple of interceptions.
Carleton Ravens (5-3) at Queen's Gaels (5-3)
Richardson Stadium will host one more football game. The deconstruction of the 44-year old facility has already begun, and few will be sorry to see it go. A new building is scheduled to be in place in time for kickoff next season, and it's somewhat fitting the Ravens, a rival from their days together in the old O-QIFC, will be there to shut it down.
The Gaels have been, to be kind, an inconsistent team this year. Their win over Guelph led many to think the program may be a little ahead of schedule. However struggles against non-playoff teams Waterloo, Toronto and York inspire more questions than confidence. A one-sided 49-26 loss to Laurier last week in Queen's Homecoming game didn't raise the level of optimism.
If the Gaels are to beat Carleton they will have to provide Nate Hobbs more protection than they did a week ago against Laurier. It was almost as if the Hawks were in the Gaels backfield as much as Hobbs was. There were four sacks, but many more pressures which resulted in turnovers. The o-line has to step it up.
If Hobbs has time he'll be able to find Doug Corby, one of the best receivers in the country. He averaged 118 yards per game, third best in the CIS. Curtis Carmichael and Matteo Del Brocco will have to give Hobbs legitimate options on Saturday.
The Gaels secondary tightened up against Laurier after a head-scratching performance the week before against York, where the Lions torched them for just under 400 yards. The Gaels didn't get a ton of pressure on opposing QB's, as they were tied with Waterloo for the lowest sack total in the OUA. Zac Sauer had 4.5 of the Gaels 12 sacks this year.
This fact may be getting lost, but don't forget the Ravens are just a third-year team. They haven't gone through a full recruiting cycle yet and enter this game as no worse than a co-favourite to win it.
The Ravens are a run first team. Only Laurier and Western ran the ball more often. Jahvari Bennett gets most of the work and is one of just three 1,000-yard rushers in the country. He will have to be careful with the football as he fumbled four times this year.
The Ravens defence is very young and very athletic. There are few, if any stars, but as a group they are relentless. They were sixth in the country with 21 sacks.
There's one distinct advantage in this game and it's Carleton's kicking game. Michael Domagala leads the CIS with an 84-percent success rate. Queen's Dillon Wamsley has had a surprisingly tough year, hitting on just six of his 11 field-goal attempts.
If you're looking for any comparables, this may work. The week before Queen's beat York by one point, the Ravens handled the Lions 52-0. That said, Queen's beat Guelph, while last week the Ravens were humbled 44-12 by the Gryphons.
In other words, predicting this game is impossible.
These two teams met in the opening week of the season. Queen's hosted Carleton and beat the Ravens 34-24 despite Carleton jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead. In this game the offensive stars were just that, with Bennett, Andrews, Corby and Behar all having huge days.
The Ottawa Gee-Gees can point to their cross-town rivals as to why they missed the playoffs. The Ravens 48-45 double-overtime win turned out to be one of the main reasons why the U-of-O isn't moving on. Windsor was also a disappointment, but this year was a key season in the development of their young quarterbacks. U-of-T was in the thick of things until the end of the season, while York's young talent showed flashes of potential good times ahead. Coach Bertoia threw himself at the Waterloo job and has reignited the alumni. There's reason for optimism in each case.
A big part of "In The Huddle" is the cooperation of the coaches. A big thank you to Jamie Barresi, Greg Gary, Joe D'Amore, Warren Craney and Chris Bertoia for their time this season.
How ironic is this? Greg Marshall's 100th regular-season win as a head coach came against McMaster. Of those 100 wins, 58 have come at Western, 42 at MAC.
While it's a great time of year as the playoffs begin, it's bittersweet because we also have to start saying goodbye to players whose OUA careers have come to an end. A giant tip of the chapeau to players like Simon Nassar and Ian Stewart who were bonafide stars at this level and will be missed a great deal. Best of luck to all graduates and I hope you stay connected to your program in the years to come. While your playing careers may have ended, you're still vitally important to the future success of your programs.