In The Huddle: Warriors are imperfectly perfect

Photo by Waterloo Warriors
Photo by Waterloo Warriors

Burlington, Ont. (by Mike Hogan) - It’s been a perfect start to the season in some respects for the Waterloo Warriors. A 2-0 record – just one of two unbeaten OUA teams – a powerful ground game, a quarterback who may be the best player in the country, and an offence averaging 39 points per game.

Yet there are those who are worried about the black and gold’s early season results. A hard-fought, three-point win over Toronto, followed by a last-play triumph over Windsor.

As happy as most people are about the early-season success for both the Blues and Lancers, neither are considered conference powerhouses just yet, while Waterloo was expected to be a serious Yates Cup contender.

So, does it feel like the Warriors are 2-0?

“We absolutely feel like we’re 2-0,” Waterloo Head Coach Chris Bertoia told In The Huddle. “That’s because we are 2-0.”

It hasn’t been easy though, which has confused many. Bertoia’s boys were supposed to roll over their first two opponents, which may say more about the prognosticators than the Blues and Lancers.

“They’re both competitive teams,” acknowledged the coach. “U of T beating Laurier says they’re better than anyone anticipated. We’re 2-0 and we’re right where we want to be.”

The Warriors are certainly getting there offensively, though by their own high standards, the opener against Toronto left them underwhelmed – especially Tre Ford, their MVP quarterback.

“Tre thought it was the worst game he’s played in his life,” Bertoia told OUA.ca. “He passed for 225 yards, a couple of touchdowns, and ran for about a hundred more. If that’s the worst game he’s played in his life we’re in pretty good shape.”

As a group, the Warriors took the game to heart. They had a bye in Week Two and treated it like Training Camp 2.0.

“We had two-a-days for a week, including our normal evening practice” said the coach. “We took advantage of the kids not yet being in school.”

It paid off, especially on offence, where the Warriors put up 599 total yards against Windsor. The defence again looked lost at times. Sam Girard threw five TD passes adding credence to the widely-held belief that the Warriors simply need to hold opponents to fewer than 30 points for them to win.

It’s a low bar, but in each of the first two games they could limbo under it.

“Our goal is to do that,” Bertoia said of the 30-point plateau. “To hold our opponents to 25 or 30 points. We’re still awfully young there. Against Windsor we had four kids playing in their second OUA game at their position – two on the defensive line, one at linebacker, and one at safety.”

So, there is the formula, score more than 30, surrender fewer than 30. Both seem doable, but last year in the playoffs, the latter wasn’t attainable and they were eliminated 45-34 at Guelph.

The two teams meet this Saturday afternoon at Warrior Field.

“I’d be remiss not to think our players want to be extra motivated,” admitted Bertoia. “We should be motivated every game. There’s no need for any more rah-rah speeches. The rest of our schedule is tough and we’re playing a good team this week that beat us twice last year.”

The coach was on a roll.

“We want to protect our house,” he emphasized. “We want to prove to people that we’re in the upper tier of the conference and Saturday is a good test.”

Game time is 1:00.

THE O ZONE:

WATERLOO 45, WINDSOR 42

For the second time in as many games, the Warriors were taken to the limit by an improving team. After holding on against the U of T, Waterloo needed a 23-yard field goal from Jonah Zlatinszky on the last play of the game to beat the hometown Lancers. He’d be named the OUA’s Special Teams Player of the Week. The offence was again stellar for the Warriors, finishing a yard shy of 600 for the game. OUA Offensive Player of the Week Dion Pellerin was virtually unstoppable, gaining an even 200 of Waterloo’s 335 rushing yards, while Tre Ford added 132 on the ground and 274 through the air. Ford actually punted once as well, booting a 64-yarder for a single. Gordon Lam was again the leading receiver with six catches for 114 yards. Windsor QB Sam Girard did a nice job dissecting the Waterloo defence, passing for 351 yards and five TDs, though he did throw three interceptions. The running game was back as the Lancers rolled up 192 yards on the ground, led by 91 from Marvin Gaynor. Chris Osei-Kusi tied the game with a TD grab with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter, but Waterloo marched down the field for the winning three-pointer. Osei-Kusi finished with six catches, 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Windsor led 28-25 at halftime. Waterloo took 13 penalties for 143 yards.

GUELPH 53, YORK 19

The Clark Barnes show continued as the transfer from Maine returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the third consecutive game. He’d add a TD catch in the win over the Lions. Theo Landers threw for 230 yards and four touchdowns, rushing for another 76 yards. Brett Hunchak threw for 355 yards and a pair of TDs, but also threw two interceptions, one a pick six by Justin Lauzon, who would add a sack and a tackle for loss on his way to being named OUA Defensive Player of the Week. The Guelph defence would not allow York to get its running game going, limiting the Lions to just 18 net yards on 16 carries. Luther Hakunavanhu had a nice receiving day though, catching eight passes for 166 yards and two TDs.  The game was close through three quarters with the Gryphons leading 26-19 at that point, but Guelph outscored York 27-0 in the final 15 minutes.

TORONTO 38, LAURIER 34

The Varsity Blues fell behind the No. 10-ranked Hawks 17-0 after one quarter before storming back for the upset. It was the first win for Toronto over Laurier since 2013, and its first win over a top-10 team since 2010. Clay Sequeira led the comeback, tossing for 322 yards and four TDs; the final one being a 57-yarder to Nolan Lovegrove with just 40 seconds left. Both he and Will Corby finished with just over 100 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. The loss ruined a huge night for Laurier’s Levondre Gordon, who carried the ball 27 times for 176 yards and one score.  The Hawks dominated the game in two areas – one good, one bad. They won the time of possession battle by a whopping 12 minutes, but were flagged 15 times for 158 yards. The teams traded huge plays in the first half; Laurier’s Tanner Nelmes blocked a punt and returned it 42 yards for a TD, then one play after the Blues scored their first TD when Caleb Zigby picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards to the end zone. This was a wildly entertaining football game.

OTTAWA 44, QUEEN’S 27

The Gee-Gees won their home opener for the seventh consecutive season with a high-scoring victory over Queen’s. Ottawa’s Ben Maracle made his first OUA start at quarterback for the injured Sawyer Buettner and like most first-game starters showed some good along with some bad. He passed for 290 yards and three TDs, but also threw three interceptions. Kalem Beaver and Carter Matheson each had over 100 receiving yards while adding a touchdown. Starting Queen’s QB James Keenan was replaced by Ryan Licandro after throwing an interception on the Gaels’ first possession of the third quarter. The pair combined for 229 passing yards, one TD, and one interception. Rasheed Tucker rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown for the Tricolour. Ottawa’s Cody Cranston put away what had been a close game with a 61-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery with less than two minutes left.

WESTERN 34, McMASTER 17

Western dug into its bag of tricks en route to the win over visiting McMaster. Leading 24-14 and at the Marauders 15-yard line, quarterback Chris Merchant handed the ball to running back Trey Humes, who flipped it to receiver Brett Ellerman, who passed it to a wide-open Merchant for the touchdown. Western pounded Mac on the ground, rolling up 232 rushing yards, led by Humes’ 129 and Merchant accounting for the other 103 and a pair of TDs. The Marauders relied on the arm of Andreas Dueck for the most part, passing for 384 yards and two touchdowns. Tyson Middlemost caught five passes for 112 yards. Mac only rushed the ball 13 times for 43 yards. Linebacker Eryk Bujalski had 11 tackes for McMaster.