The defending Yates Cup champion Laurier Golden Hawks make their first appearance in the OUA Marquee Matchup of the Week, hosting Steve Sumarah and the Carleton Ravens.
Laurier went on the road last September to MNP Park, only to be greeted by a steady downpour for a large portion of the contest. The Hawks turned to their dominant run game to set the tone, with Eric Guiltinan becoming just the sixth player in Laurier history at the time to record a 200-yard rushing performance, winning 17-16.
The Ravens come into the contest sitting at 1-1 on the young season, after winning their season opener on the road at Queen's before losing at home last weekend to McMaster. Meanwhile, the Golden Hawks come in well-rested after a week two bye. Laurier began their title defence with a 39-0 victory over the Toronto Varsity Blues in week one, behind a 341-yard performance from quarterback Michael Knevel.
Games may be won by the offence, but defence wins championships, and this game features the top two in the league early on this season.
The Golden Hawks, who are notorious for being an opportunistic defence under head coach Michael Faulds, are off to a solid start this season. In their 39-point victory over the Varsity Blues, not only did Laurier hold Toronto to zero points on the score board, but only allowed 113 yards total in the game, 58 through the air and 55 on the ground. They also recorded three sacks, despite the loss of playmakers Nakas Onyeka and Kwaku Boateng, who were the anchors of their defence last season.
That stout effort in their title opener is due in large part to a defence that has a nice blend of senior and young talent. Isiah Messam led all Golden Hawks with 5.5 tackles in the opening game, while OUA cover vote winner Godfrey Onyeka had 4.5 tackles. Laurier's talent on the defensive side of the ball is among the best in the country, with Brandon Calver leading the linebackers, Rashari Henry anchoring the defensive line, and a ball-hawking and physical secondary that includes Scott Hutter, Ron Kinga and the aforementioned Onyeka.
Carleton on the other hand, sits second overall in the league in yards allowed per game, while also sitting third against the run and against the pass. The Ravens stout defence should not a surprise to anyone, given that last season they finished second overall in yards allowed and first against the pass. What does have head coaches and offensive coordinators on high alert though is their uncanny ability to get to the quarterback.
The Ravens already have 16 sacks on the season, four more than the rival Gee-Gees and eight more than double of that of the third-highest total. Leading the way is defensive end Kene Onyeka (brother of Godrey), who has four sacks on season, to go along with six tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. Carleton has four other players that have two or more sacks. Leading the defence is OUA Cover Vote athlete and middle linebacker Leon Cenerinini. The fifth-year senior has 19.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for a loss in two games this season.
One area that Sumarah and his team will look to clean up on is in the penalty department. Carleton leads the OUA with 28 penalties called against them this season, averaging 119.5 yards in penalty yardage per game.
Offensively, Laurier boasts playmakers across the board, thanks in large part to one of the best offensive lines in the league. In the backfield, Levondre Gordon leads the way, picking up 52 yards on the ground and 35 through the air in the Hawks season opener. Kurleigh Gittens Jr picked up where he left off in the playoffs, with nine catches for 110 yards, while Bredan McCracken caught five passes for 52 yards. Brentyn Hall, Carson Ouellette, and heralded freshman Nicholas Petermann are all dangerous weapons Michael Knevel will look to distribute the ball to.
The Ravens loss two of their biggest offensive weapons this past offseason with the departure of long-time starter Jesse Mills and star receiver Nate Behar, but have some returning playmakers and a dynamic freshman quarterback that has the team set up for the future. Michael Arruda, a 5'9 200lb quarterback from Gatineau, Quebec , is learning the ropes of the OUA game, but already has over 300 yards passing in his first two starts. Leading the backfield is Nathan Carter, who has 37 carries for 206 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per touch. Meanwhile, play-making receivers Dexter Brown and Kyle VanWynsberghe have combined for 264 yards and 23 receptions in the Ravens first two games.
The kicking department is not a headline story, but both teams' kickers have had a solid start to the season thus far. Laurier's Nathan Mesher is 3 of 4 on the season, including one from 44-yards long, while Carleton's Michael Domagala is 3 of 5, his longest make coming from 37 yards.
Kickoff is at 7:30 pm at Alumni Stadium, so be sure to tune into OUA.tv for this Marquee Matchup and all other action from around the league.