Golden Hawks comeback leads to Yates Cup

Nathan Mesher lined up to kick his fifth field goal of the game with one second left. Mesher had a chance to finish a massive comeback and help Laurier win their first Yates Cup since 2005.

The 26-yard field goal was hit between the uprights giving Laurier a 43-40 upset win over Western. Laurier will travel to Quebec City next weekend to play Laval, the top team in the country. A win would send Laurier to the Vanier Cup for a chance to win their first national championship since 2005.

After trailing 40-19 with 11:23 left in the game, the Laurier passing offence came alive for the first time all season with Michael Knevel throwing three touchdowns to tie the game. Trailing 40-19, and facing a key third down, Knevel turned to Laurier’s key receiver, Kurleigh Gittens Jr. The pair connected on a 28-yard pass. A few plays later Knevel showed no nerves on third and 18, tossing a 29-yard touchdown to Freshman Brentyn Hall.

On their next drive another key third down throw from Knevel, this time to Carson Ouellette, brought Laurier within seven points of Western with 2:55 left. Their next drive started on the Western three after a fumble recovery. A catch by Gittens Jr. in the back of the end zone tied the game with 1:23 left.

The defence, which struggled in the third quarter, returned to their regular season form, giving Laurier one last chance to win. Laurier started at the Western 52 and marched down to the Western 19 to set up Mesher. Mesher finished his day without missing a kick, giving Laurier the win. Mesher had lost the starting job at the end of the season. The sophomore regained it to start the playoffs, and has gone 7-7 on field goal attempts.

The Golden Hawks had to make the comeback after allowing Western to score 27 straight to start the second half. Western Quarterback Chris Merchant started the second half with a 39-yard touchdown throw to George Johnson. The touchdown gave Western a 20-19 lead that they would build on quickly. A 61-yard touchdown pass to Harry McMaster gave the Mustangs a 40-19 lead.

The Laurier defence, which had been the strong unit on the team all season, tightened up and limited Western to 22 yards on their final eight plays. Nakas Onyeka played a large role all game after the Linebacker was named OUA defensive player of the year. The Linebacker forced the fumble that gave Laurier the ball back on the Mustangs’ three near the end of the game.  N. Onyeka also tipped a pass earlier in the game that his cousin Godfrey Onyeka intercepted with one hand. The Golden Hawks forced four turnovers in the game, after leading the OUA with 26 during the season.

The MVP of the game was Michael Knevel, who is starting for the first time in his fourth season. Knevel finished the game 22-36 for 309 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and added eight yards on four carries. With senior Running Back Eric Guiltinan out with an injury sophomore Lavondre Gordon stepped up and delivered 164 yards on 18 carries, and added a catch of 41 yards to his total. The three-headed receiving trio of Gittens Jr. (six receptions for 71 yards), Hall (4-89), and Ouellette (4-61) proved deadly for the whole game, especially during the comeback.

Head Coach Michael Faulds helped Laurier defeat his alma mater for the first time in 15 games. Faulds has turned the program around after his first year ended with a 1-7 record in 2013. Laurier appears to be returning to an elite team again and should provide a tough challenge for Laval on Saturday, Nov. 19.

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