WATERLOO, Ont. (October 9, 2014) - The No. 10 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s football team faces their first test as a nationally-ranked squad on Thursday night as they tangle with the No. 4 Western Mustangs at TD Stadium.
There are plenty of storylines surrounding this game as the 4-1 Golden Hawks square off against their rivals, the 4-1 Mustangs, for second place in the conference. Laurier enters the game as the newcomers to the CIS Top 10 rankings after cracking the exclusive list earlier this week. With Western sitting at No. 4, it represents the first time that the two foes have faced each other as nationally-ranked teams since the opening game of the 2010 season when the No. 6 Hawks lost 46-1 to the No. 9 Mustangs on the road in London.
That defeat came right in the middle of Laurier’s eight-game losing streak to Western, a string of losses which the purple and gold will be looking to end on Thursday night. The Hawks have not handed the Mustangs a notch in the loss column since the 2006 OUA Semifinal, a 20-15 victory at University Stadium, and the last time Laurier won a road game in London was during the regular season in 2005.
However, this is a different Golden Hawk team than the editions that have face the Mustangs over the past number of years. After giving Western their toughest game of the season a year ago, a game in which the Hawks led at halftime and held the Mustangs to their lowest point-total in a record-breaking season, Laurier promises to be full of confidence entering this showdown. Called the “best 1-7 football team” last season, the purple and gold have carried the confidence gained from that game against Western into this year and are off to their best start since they posted a 7-1 record back in 2007.
A big reason for that success rests squarely on the shoulders of running back Dillon Campbell of Whitby, Ont., and the Golden Hawks offensive line. Campbell, last season’s OUA leading rusher, has carried that success into this season and last week, broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark in just his fifth game. Behind the strength of a bigger and stronger offensive line, Laurier’s fourth-year back has 1,021 yards this season, just 58 yards shy of breaking Jim Reid’s all-time school record of 1,078.
Campbell will face his toughest challenge of the year on Thursday as the Hawks go up against the number one rush defence in the conference. Western is allowing just 57.8 yards per game on the ground, proving they have been stingy against the run all season. However, a similar situation exists for the Mustangs, a team that also enjoys running the ball, as they go up against a Laurier defence that is second in the OUA, allowing just 86.4 yards per game.
One final key storyline to examine is the health situation of both teams. According to head coach MICHAEL FAULDS, the Hawks enter Thursday’s game with their healthiest lineup of the season. One of the big reasons for that statement is the fact that top receiver Greg Nyhof of Georgetown, Ont., will make his return to the Hawks against Western. Staying healthy has been one of the top priorities for Faulds and his coaching staff this season and gives his group confidence heading into one of their biggest games of the year.
On the other side of the ball, Western appears to be a banged up group following their games against McMaster last week. A number of players have gone down to injury this season for the Mustangs and if the Hawks can take advantage of a weakened opponent, it could spell the end of their losing streak.
HAWKS TO WATCH
- RB Dillon Campbell leads the country in both rushing yards (1,021) and touchdowns (10) and last season, had 155 yards on 15 carries who the purple and gold against Western, highlighted by a 100-yard touchdown run.
- QB James Fracas threw his first interception of the season last week, ending his unblemished record of four-straight games without throwing a pick. He will need to bring his best effort in the same stadium where he made his first appearance for Laurier back in 2012.
- DL Kwaku Boateng is second in the OUA in sacks this season with six, a number which is just 3.5 shy of the single-season record at Laurier. If the second year defensive end can get into the backfield against the Mustangs, it could make for a long day for their starting quarterback.
- REC Greg Nyhof will be a primary target for Fracas on Thursday in his return to the lineup. Despite only playing two games this season, the third year receiver still ranked second on the team in receiving yards with 155, demonstrating the chemistry that he has with his starting pivot.