July 21st, 2024

Top-ranked Western to host rival Laurier in battle of unbeaten football teams

By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press on October 20, 2023.

Western University and Wilfrid Laurier University will renew their football rivalry Saturday in a battle of unbeaten teams looking to enter the U Sports post-season on a high.

The winner will secure the top seed in the Ontario conference and a first-round bye. The loser will become the No. 2 seed and host a quarterfinal next week.

“I think everyone kind of predicted in the summer months that both teams were going to be strong,” said Golden Hawks head coach Michael Faulds. “I don’t know if anyone predicted that both teams would get through seven games and be undefeated at this time.

“So that definitely adds to what is already a fun rivalry.”

Western (7-0) occupies top spot in the Canadian rankings ahead of the Montreal Carabins (7-0) and the third-ranked Golden Hawks (7-0).

The reigning Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or (5-2) hold the No. 4 position ahead of the St. Francis Xavier X-Men (7-0).

Regular-season play in the Ontario conference wraps up Saturday, a week earlier than the Quebec, Atlantic and Canada West conferences.

The ninth-ranked Windsor Lancers (5-2) have secured the third seed in Ontario. Conference seeds No. 4 through No. 7 have yet to be finalized.

The Queen’s Gaels (4-3) will play the Ottawa Gee-Gees (4-3) with the winner to get the fourth seed and the right to host a rematch in next week’s playoffs.

Entering Week 9, the Carleton Ravens (3-4), Guelph Gryphons (3-4) and Waterloo Warriors (2-5) still had a shot at making the post-season.

The Golden Hawks are looking for their first undefeated regular season since 2005.

Laurier quarterback Taylor Elgersma leads the conference in several categories including yards per game (324.6), completions (183) and completion percentage (75.6).

Western pivot Evan Hillock, meanwhile, is tops in Ontario with 18 touchdown passes and is right behind Elgersma in yards per game (301.7) and completion percentage (70.3).

The Mustangs lead the conference in rushing yards (1,488) and total yards per game (526.1) but the Golden Hawks are No. 1 with 2,310 passing yards.

“Their offence is extremely dangerous,” said Western head coach Greg Marshall. “I think one thing about (Laurier) is they’re balanced.”

The Mustangs won the Vanier Cup in 2021 in Quebec City but missed a chance to defend the title at home when they lost to Laval in the national semifinal.

Marshall said that defeat provided extra motivation for his squad this season.

“You can’t make mistakes against great teams like Laval,” he said. “It’s the same thing moving forward. We realize that when you’re playing against an opponent like Wilfrid Laurier, you can’t make mistakes.

“You have to force them to beat you. You can’t beat yourselves.”

The Rouge et Or went on to beat the Saskatchewan Huskies 30-24 in last year’s championship at Western Alumni Stadium.

With Saturday’s forecast calling for a partly cloudy afternoon and a high of 12 C, chances are good that Western’s 8,000-seat home venue will be well-attended.

It’s also a short road trip for Laurier fans. The school’s main campus is only 75 kilometres away in Waterloo, Ont.

In the five-team Atlantic conference, the X-Men and 4-2 Bishop’s Gaiters have secured playoff berths. The Mount Allison Mounties and Saint Mary’s Huskies were next at 2-4.

In Canada West, the 5-1 Alberta Golden Bears enter the weekend atop the six-team standings. The Saskatchewan Huskies and UBC Thunderbirds were 4-2 and the Manitoba Bisons were 3-3.

Montreal and Laval were positioned 1-2 in the Quebec conference standings ahead of the 3-3 Concordia Stingers.

The four conference championship games are scheduled for Nov. 11. Winners will advance to the national semifinals on Nov. 18.

The Dunsmore Cup champion (Quebec) will host the Yates Cup winner (Ontario) in the Uteck Bowl. The Hardy Cup champion (Canada West) will entertain the Jewett Trophy winners (Atlantic) in the Mitchell Bowl.

The Vanier Cup is set for Nov. 25 at Richardson Memorial Stadium in Kingston, Ont. Queen’s will also serve as host in 2024.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2023.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on X.

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