OTTAWA, ON – The Carleton Ravens (CIS No. 10) football team soared to a #3Peat victory in the 48th Panda Game match-up, putting a stop the Ottawa Gee-Gees' (CIS No. 7) perfect season in a 43-23 final. The game took place at the TD Stadium in Ottawa on Saturday in front of 23,329 fans, the highest CIS regular season attendance on record in the past two decades.
"It truly is the biggest game that these guys play in the regular season," said Ravens head coach Steve Sumarah. "You say 'Panda' and the antennas go up. They are ready to go!"
The Gee-Gees were first to get on the board early in the first quarter with a field goal. Ottawa's defence shut down the Ravens offence on the first drive, however, Jay Dearborne (Yarker, ON) set Carleton up in great field position with an interception. Jesse Mills (Halifax, ON) threw to Nate Behar (London, ON) for a first down, then handed off to Jayde Rowe (Scarborough, ON) for another six yards. The next play, Mills found Behar in the end zone to give the Ravens the lead, 7-3.
Ravens kicker Mike Domagala (St. Catharines, ON) booted a 32-yard field-goal to bring their lead up to 10-3. However, the Gee-Gees ended the first quarter by driving down the field and scoring a touchdown to tie the game at ten.
The Gee-Gees regained their lead for the first time since the start of the first quarter with a field goal, 13-10. The Ravens responded by driving downfield with a couple of big runs by Jayde Rowe. With 5:45 left in the first half, Rowe plowed his way into the end zone for another Ravens touchdown. This allowed Carleton to take back the lead, 17-13.
Ravens kickers Mike Domagala secured the Ravens lead going into half with another field-goal, pushing the advantage to 21-13 in favour of Carleton.
On Carleton's first drive of the third quarter, Ottawa forced a third down. The Ravens special teams unit responded with a play that would confuse the Gee-Gees and allow them to gain a fresh set of downs. Only the three players directly involved in the play knew the plan. Domagala faked the punt and passed to receiver Wilson Birch (Niagara Falls, ON) for 33 yards. The following play, Mills found Nate Behar once again for the duo's second touchdown of the game. Carleton began to pull away, and a safety brought the Ravens lead to 30-13.
The third quarter came to an end after a field goal by Ottawa, and another Ravens field goal by Domagala. Going into the fourth and final quarter, the score was 33-16 in favour of Carleton.
"We took the wind for the fourth quarter, and we were really concerned what would happen in the third," explained Sumarah. "We made a couple big plays, and I think that changed the momentum in the game."
Midway through the final frame, the Gee-Gees went for a 37-yard field goal, but Ottawa's Lewis Ward kicked wide left where the ball landed in the arms of Tunde Adeleke (Ottawa, ON) in the end zone. Carleton fans were brought to their feet as Adeleke – the most dangerous return man in Canada – sprinted past the Gee-Gees and ran back the missed attempt 120-yards for a touchdown.
"When [Adeleke] gets the ball, and he gets space, he is pretty impressive," said Sumarah. "The guys on the field know he can score at any second."
The Ravens ruled the field in the fourth quarter, and Domagala nailed his fourth field goal of the game. Carleton remained in the lead, 43-16.
Ottawa answered with a touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation, but it was not enough, and they watched as the Ravens fans stormed the field to celebrate a third consecutive victory over the Gee-Gees and another year with Pedro.
"We can calmly go into the victory with a little bit of excitement, rather than having to hold our breath until the end," said Behar, reminiscing on the last two Panda Games which the Ravens won on the last play of the game. "The big thing about this is we have to keep working every week. We know what the conference is like this year, so any team you are going to play in the first round of the playoffs is going be able to knock you off […] You can't just sit back and coast on [the win]."
The Ravens win over the Gee-Gees had big playoff implications as well
"For us to now be at four and two, as opposed to being at three and three this week, is big," said coach Sumarah. "We have two more [games] to close out and it could be the difference between travelling for a first round playoff game or hosting, and I'll tell you, you would much rather be hosting."
Linebacker Kene Onyeka (Brampton, ON), who recorded a team-high 9.5 tackles (7 solo, 5 assisted) against the Gee-Gees, added, "The difference between this game and the ones we lost is the week of practice prior to the game. Now that we can see the results, I doubt we are going to have a lacklustre week of practice no matter who the opponent."
Carleton (4-2) looks to build off of this week's win as they face the Windsor Lancers in the team's regular season home finale on October 7.