WATERLOO, Ont. – The No. 5 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks earned the opportunity to defend their Yates Cup title after they shut down the No. 7 McMaster Marauders 19-6 in the OUA Semifinals on Saturday afternoon at University Stadium.
The Hawks, who recorded their sixth straight playoff win over McMaster, found the endzone on their opening drive of the game. That advantage would hold up over the remaining four quarters thanks to an outstanding defensive effort that held the Marauders to just 287 yards and four field goals from Nathan Mesher of Waterloo, Ont.
Rookie quarterback Tristan Arndt of London, Ont., made his second start in a row for the purple and gold and was strong in managing the game in windy conditions. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 189 yards but more importantly, didn't turn over the ball against an aggressive McMaster defence.
"That's the key in playoff football, Tristan didn't turn the ball over and managed it well," said Faulds of his young quarterback. "A couple of throws early on he would love to have back but when it counted most, he made some outstanding throws."
Arndt did a great job of getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Third year running back Levondre Gordon of Mississauga, Ont., led the purple and gold's offence as he rushed the ball 21 times for 121 yards and the game's lone touchdown. The nation's leading receiver, Kurleigh Gittens Jr. of Ottawa, led all players with six catches for 70 yards, including three key receptions in the fourth quarter that helped set up Mesher's third field goal of the game that gave Laurier a 16-6 lead.
As for Mesher, he finished the game 4-for-6 on field goal attempts including three into the wind in the fourth quarter.
Laurier's defence also shone across the board as they intercepted McMaster quarterback Jackson White of Cambridge, Ont., on two occasions while also holding Marauders' running back Jordon Lyons of Burlington, Ont., to just 115 yards a week after he ran for 319 yards in the OUA Quarter-finals.
"I cannot say enough about our defence," added Faulds. "Anytime you can hold a team to just six points in the playoffs, you're not going to lose too many games when you do that."
In a rematch of last year's OUA Semifinals, marking the third consecutive year the teams have met in the postseason, Laurier took control of the contest with a touchdown on their opening drive of the contest. Posting 52 yards rushing on the opening drive, Gordon finished the eight-play, 71-yard march with a four-yard plunge to stake the Hawks to an early 7-0 lead.
That scoreline would hold until late in the second quarter when McMaster put together their best drive of the half, an eight-play, 50-yard drive highlighted by a fake punt on third and two that put the Marauders on field goal position. After completing a 20-yard pass on that fake, kicker Adam Preocanin of Burlington, Ont., hit from 23-yards out to cut Laurier's lead to 7-3 entering halftime.
Laurier had a great opportunity to stretch the lead to 11 on their first drive of the second half but Gordon was stuffed on third and goal from the two-yard line.
However, two possessions later, the Hawks would extend their lead as Mesher hit his first field goal of the day from 27 yards out to give Laurier a 10-3 advantage after three quarters.
In the fourth, Preocanin hit his second field goal of the game early in the quarter, appearing to give the Marauders momentum.
But Laurier answered right back with an impressive six-play, 60-yard drive into the wind, capped by a 22-yard field goal from Mesher to re-establish the 10-point cushion.
"It was a huge response from our team," said Faulds. "Levondre broke a couple of big runs in the fourth and what can you say about Kurleigh Gittens. Some outstanding catches, big plays that were jump ball scenarios. And Daniel Bennettis another guy, made two outstanding catches on second down conversions."
From there, the Hawks' defence would shut down White and the Marauders and two more field goals from Mesher sent Laurier to their 23rd Yates Cup appearance.
The 110th edition of the Yates Cup will be overflowing with storylines as Laurier will meet Western in a rematch of last year's classic, a 43-40 win for the Hawks that saw them post the largest fourth quarter comeback in OUA Championship history. The game will also mark the 15th time the two schools have met in the Yates Cup.