Written By: Mike Hogan
Fifteen years. Fifteen long, painful years. A decade and a half of no playoff games for the Waterloo Warriors, and for one year, no football period for the Waterloo Warriors.
Mercifully, the streak is over. The Warriors are in the playoffs after finishing the regular season with a 4-4 record.
“It’s important,” said Warriors Head Coach Chris Bertoia. “It’s another box we’re able to check in the process of building the program.”
You can say Bertoia’s team entered the playoffs through the front door because their dramatic 34-32 win over Laurier served as the tiebreaker, or you can say they backed into the playoffs because they lost their final regular season game, a 47-44 double-overtime thriller at Guelph last week.
“The players were down. The players were emotional,” Bertoia told ‘In The Huddle’. “Tre Ford felt like he let the team down.”
Ford’s heroics – he passed for 395 yards and five touchdowns in the game – were tempered after he fumbled in overtime, the turnover securing Guelph’s win and assuring the Gryphons a spot in the postseason fun. But Ford wasn’t alone, the Warriors fumbled the ball a whopping five times in the game, losing four of them.
After the game the painful waiting process began. For Waterloo to make the playoffs, Laurier had to lose to the Mustangs at Western. There was a 30-minute lightning delay in that game, so it ended well after the Warriors had finished their game. Western was up by two TDs when Waterloo’s game ended and the players, coaches, and supporters were able to get an update. Needless to say, there was a whole lot of Twitter refreshing going on.
Eventually, Bertoia’s previous team did him a solid, eliminating Waterloo’s next-door neighbours, and setting up a rematch of last week’s game as the Warriors will once again travel to Guelph, this time in an elimination game.
What do the black-and-gold have to do to win the rematch?
“Don’t turn over the ball five times,” deadpanned Bertoia. “We lost it twice inside their 25-yard line. Our special teams weren’t good enough last week. We have to be disciplined and not do so much freelancing.”
The rematch is unusual. It’s not the norm for OUA teams to play each other in back-to-back weeks. It’s something Bertoia has never faced in his coaching career, so he asked around for some advice.
“I reached out to friends like (Calgary Stampeders DC) DeVone Claybrooks. I contacted (Hamilton Ticats Assistant Coach) Chris Butler, and I relied on (Waterloo assistants) Darrell Adams and Jykine Bradley. In each case the message was the same. You can’t change much in three practices. Just do whatever you did well and know they’re going to prepare for it.”
Asking the two teams to give fans a repeat performance of last week’s game is asking for too much. But with everything on the line this week, both teams will be bringing a ton of intensity.
The Warriors are just hoping they can find stickier gloves.
The O Zone:
WATERLOO WARRIORS (4-4) at GUELPH GRYPHONS (5-3)
The Warriors are the cream of the OUA crop in terms of the passing game. In fact, Tre Ford is No. 2 in the country, averaging 353 passing yards per game, while leading all U SPORTS players with 27 TD passes against just two interceptions. His main target is Tyler Ternowski, who leads the country with 1,159 yards, 325 more than his closest challenger, while his 14 TD catches are twice as many as any other receiver in the country. He finished with 63 catches, tied with Laurier’s Kurleigh Gittens Jr. for most in U SPORTS. If you pay too much attention to him, Gordon Lam will burn you. He’s third in the country in two major categories with 60 catches for 815 yards.
Contrarily, Guelph has the least passing yardage per game with just 180 per contest. They also scored just 10 TDs through the air compared to Waterloo’s 27. Theo Landers’ favourite target is Kade Belyk, who had 36 catches for 370 yards. Kian Schaffer-Baker led the Gryphons with 5 TD catches, averaging an impressive 17.6 yards per catch.
On the ground, it’s Guelph that holds the advantage, but the difference between the two isn’t as substantial. The Gryphons average 204 yards on the ground, second in the OUA behind Western, compared to the Warriors who are fourth in the conference with 174 yards per game. QB Landers is the Gryphs leading rusher with 526 yards. Running back Jean-Paul Cimankinda is coming off back-to-back games with over 100 yards, including a 157-yard effort against Waterloo last week.
Ford is also a threat to run the football, averaging an OUA-best 8.7 yards per carry, finishing the season with a total of 641. Dion Pellerin is the No. 1 back, rushing for 131 yards last week, just shy of his career high. He finished seventh in the conference with 547 yards.
Defensively is where the Gryphons hold a sizable advantage. They surrendered 22 points per game, a full dozen fewer than Waterloo’s 34. Only Windsor, York, and Toronto allowed more points than did the Warriors. Guelph was fourth in the OUA allowing an average of 393 yards against, compared to Waterloo and their second-to-last average of 478.
Guelph intercepted or recovered fumbles 17 times, while somehow Waterloo only forced four turnovers all season. The Gryphs were one off the conference lead with 23 sacks, eight more than Waterloo. Luke Korol and Job Reinhart will no doubt be around the football all day. Korol leads the country by a wide margin with 92 tackles.
It’s an interesting matchup. A dangerous offence against an aggressive defence. A team that struggles throwing the ball against a team that has problems defending the pass.
Guelph has a sizable advantage in kicking. After struggling early, Gabe Ferraro is on fire, going 10/10 in field goal attempts over his last two games. Caleb Girard has only attempted 11 field goals all season, connecting on seven. Ferraro is also the better punter.
The last time they met: Last week. Guelph beat Waterloo 47-44 in double overtime. The Warriors took a lead with just over a minute left on a Ford TD run, but Ferraro tied it up on the last play of regulation with a 32-yard FG. He won it with a 42-yarder in the second OT. Ford passed for 396 yards and five TDs. Lam had 10 catches for 130 yards, Ternowski six for 107. The Gryphs were led by Cimankinda with 157 yards on 16 carries, and a defence that forced five fumbles, recovering four of them. Job Reinhart led the way with 11.5 tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, and a pass breakup. Jason Richards blocked a punt, recovered it, and returned it for a second-quarter touchdown.
McMASTER MARAUDERS (5-3) at CARLETON RAVENS (5-3)
The Marauders will have a tall task on their hands this weekend, as they head on the road to face a team that’s coming off a bye and has ample opportunity to prepare for their opponents.
The Ravens opened the season with an overtime loss to Western, their only other losses coming at the hands of Laurier and the Gee-Gees in the Panda Game.
Mac won a trio of nail biters over Guelph, Laurier, and Queen’s. Their losses came against Western, Ottawa and Waterloo, the latter coming in a fourth-quarter collapse two weeks ago.
Ravens QB Michael Arruda didn’t start the season the way he wanted, but is fourth in the country with 2,263 passing yards. Only Tre Ford threw more OUA touchdown passes than his 17, but his eight interceptions slotted him in a four-way tie for the most in the conference.
Andreas Dueck of Mac is also in that foursome. He left Saturday with an apparent shoulder injury and didn’t finish the game against Windsor. Jackson White started the season opener against Ottawa. The two split the next two games before Dueck started against Toronto and has held the job since. The Mac passing attack is middle of the pack, but they’re only thrown six TD passes all season, with twice as many interceptions.
McMaster is also an average team rushing the ball, but surprisingly have only scored five TDs on the ground. Unbelievably, they have but 11 offensive TDs all season. That’s particularly surprising because of the talent of Jordan Lyons, who is fourth among OUA rushers with 759 yards, but has just 3 TDs. It will be interesting to see how Mac utilizes dual threat Justice Allin, who missed the first half of the season with an injury.
Carleton’s running game is similar. They finished with 58 fewer rushing yards than the Marauders, but scored nine TDs on the ground. Nathan Carter finished just three yards behind Lyons, but scored two more majors.
The Ravens possess a dangerous one-two punch at receiver with Phil Iloki and Quinton Soares; both are underrated by the majority of fans. The best big-play receiver at Mac is second-year Marauder Tommy Nield, who caught half of his team’s TD passes this season.
McMaster has to be better in the red zone. They’ve converted just 36 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns, which is the worst conversion percentage in the league.
The Marauders defence has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. There was a huge turnover in players, but only Western gave up fewer OUA points and yards. That success came with a bit of a statistical anomaly. Known for their pressure packages, Mac only sacked the quarterback 12 times, half the number posted by the league-leading Ravens. Kene Onyeka led the conference with 7 sacks, part of a dynamic front seven for Carleton.
We can call the kicking game a draw, as both Michael Domagala and Adam Preocanin are solid.
One potential problem for the Ravens is discipline. The Ravens were the most penalized team in the OUA, averaging 109 yards per game. Conversely, McMaster was flagged for just 66 yards per game, lowest in the conference.
The last time they met: September 3, 2017, they didn’t face each other this season. The Marauders headed to Carleton last year and beat the black birds 23-9. They would love to see history repeat itself on Saturday.