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Knocking Western off the top of the mountain won’t be easy

August 30, 2014

COLUMN Claude Scilley

COLUMN
Claude Scilley

In the old schoolyard game, the biggest and the strongest gets to the top of the mountain. A few others may get a hand hold, but most of the players end up clamouring around the base, struggling to get anywhere.

That’s what it will be like this year in the Ontario University Athletics football league.

The defending Yates Cup champion Western Mustangs are still the kings of the heap, and the big snowbank is really slick this year. The ones struggling for a grip won’t find it easy to challenge, and they may end up just getting in each other’s way.

Two teams that thought they had aspirations to the top a year ago don’t appear to be any better; indeed the Guelph Gryphons and Queen’s Golden Gaels have probably slipped.

The McMaster Marauders may be better, but they’re not the team they were two and three years ago. The Laurier Golden Hawks will be better than they were in 2013 but it’s a long way back from 1-7; the Toronto Blues and Windsor Lancers will be perhaps about as good.

The rest of the teams will get stepped on at the bottom of the hill, as those six squads struggle to establish playoff positions somewhere on the steep slope that will lead some poor saps to another Yates Cup game in London this November.

The Mustangs lost some elite players, particularly three all-Canadians on defence, but they recruited well and who knows who’s been stockpiled in Western’s larder of reserves? It’s probably safe to say it’s unlikely there will be much of a drop in the level of play. Quarterback Will Finch set league records for passing yards and touchdowns in just his second intercollegiate year and with four returning all-star linemen, two superb backs and two all-Canadian receivers also returning, it’s just as unlikely there will be much decline in offensive production.

The staggering loss of 25 players at Queen’s will render the Gaels a long shot to repeat their 7-1 season of a year ago. The Gaels lost a lot, everywhere—offence, defence; quality, depth, coaching staff—leaving question marks littering the field like hotdog wrappers on a windy day:

  • Jesse Andrews may be the best back in the province, but how will he fare behind an all-new offensive line?
  • Derek Wiggan and Yann Dika-Balotoken are among the premier defensive players in the land, but without John Miniaci and Cory Dyer beside him, will opponents be able to double- and triple-team Wiggan into submission? Without T.J. Chase-Dunawa and Andrew Lue roaming the backfield, will opponents just avoid throwing the ball in Dika-Balotoken’s area?
  • Billy McPhee is a capable quarterback. Will the acumen of a fifth-year man lead the youngsters surrounding him, or it will be wasted on their lack of experience. Oh, yeah. Who plays if he gets hurt? One of the three guys who backed him up in the exhibition against Concordia, who were a collective 3-for-9 with three interceptions? That chunk of snow the Gaels were clinging to near the middle of the mountain will break loose quickly if McPhee ever goes down.
  • Can any team survive the loss of four starting linebackers?
  • Will the loss of respected defensive co-ordinator Pat Tracey to the CFL hurt the Gaels, or will new man Greg Marshall make people forget that even with Tracey, Queen’s allowed 30 points or more in seven of its last 10 playoff games (including three they won in 2009)?

If the replacements do as well as the Gaels believe they can, Queen’s will again be strong but no realist will put genuine championship aspirations in this team’s immediate future.

At Guelph, where the darlings of 2012 won hearts with their storybook finishes and the fact they reached the league final without a single first-team all-star, the Gryphons took a step back last year, bowing in the semifinals to a Queen’s team they defeated twice in 2012. The Gryphons also have the league’s most difficult schedule this year, without an opportunity to play either Waterloo or York.

(That reminds me: when do you suppose the “randomness” of the schedule draw will result in a year when Laurier doesn’t play Waterloo, Toronto doesn’t play York or Ottawa doesn’t play Carleton? Just wondering.)

Back to the Gryphons. Perhaps their appearance in the Yates Cup game two years ago was premature, one of those magical moments where good fortune and heart trump logic, and unsuspecting opponents slow to take you seriously allow you to over-achieve. Perhaps 2014 was always supposed to be the year when this group was meant to peak. Or perhaps 2012 was as good as it was going to get.

We’ll see.

McMaster should be good, but not the Kyle Quinlan good of 2011-12. There were some significant personnel losses and it’s not clear whether there’s a supporting cast ready to step up. The Marauders did close last season strong and they’ll probably be semifinalists again this year but going beyond that depends on whether they can extend the growth curve that arose in the second half last year.

Laurier will be better, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Sure, the Hawks lost twice in overtime to playoff-bound teams last year and they gave Western the best game of any Ontario opponent, but they still lost to York. Young quarterback James Fracas showed in the second half of the season he can play and if he has the competitive fire of his grandfather, Hall of Famer Gino Fracas, the Hawks will be tough to beat.

Toronto? One of these days the Varsity Blues will bite some unsuspecting team in the ass and regain their dignity, but they first have to prove they can survive the loss of two all-star receivers. This may be one of those one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of years.

Windsor is a bit of a wild card because if Austin Kennedy has the kind of year people have predicted since his freshman campaign, they will be a playoff team again. If he excels, the Lancers will be formidable; if he plays no better than he has, the Lancers will smoke the bad teams, his supporting cast will get exposed by the good ones, and if they make the playoffs it will only be to travel somewhere and get beaten in the first round.

The losses in the offensive backfield at Ottawa are significant, not the least of which is quarterback Aaron Colbon. Despite having one of the softest schedule in the league—second only to Waterloo, they miss Western and Laurier, and they play all the softies, or, should we say this year, all the other softies—the Gee-Gees will be expecting a lot from his replacement. Derek Wendel, last year’s backup, did complete 59 per cent of his passes, he threw just two interceptions among his 49 attempts and he won his only start, a 297-yard, four-TD performance at York, but he’ll have to replicate those numbers without an all-star running back and two elite receivers.

Waterloo, Carleton and York? We’re sorry. Maybe not as sorry as these teams will be, but it is a shame they simply won’t compete this year. At least Carleton has the crutch that this will be only its second year back in the league on which to lean but the other two continue to struggle mightily to attract top talent. Will we look back in two months and see Carleton’s 53-11 preseason win over York as an indication of how far the Ravens have progressed, or how low the Lions have sunk?

Again, we’ll see.

As a learned coach once said: That’s why we play the games.

Here’s a look at the 11 football teams in Ontario University Athletics, as they prepare to open the season Monday:

Carleton Ravens

Coach: Steve Sumarah (2nd year, 8th year in CIS)

Last year: 0-8, 11th place, did not make the playoffs

Key returnees: Rec Kyle Van Wynsberghe had 37 receptions in 2013 (26 per cent of the team’s catches); LB Leon Cenerini led the nation in tackles last year; QB Jesse Mills, OL Kwabena Asare, OL Eric Fowler, DL Stefan Carty, DL Zach Annen, DB Tunde Adeleke

Key losses: None, apparently, since all 24 starters are returning.

Recruits to watch: RB Raishaun Provo (Pickering St. Mary) and LB Trevelle Wisdom (Toronto Downsview) were members of the Canadian team at the International Bowl series in Texas in February; OL Ryan MacPherson (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.); DB Kadeem Vaillancourt, a former Ottawa Sooners junior, transfers from Laval to join his brother, freshman Rec Dimitri Vaillancourt.

Local content: OL Jason McGinn (Holy Cross), OL Nolan McGreer (Frontenac), OL Matt Lapointe (ex-Queen’s), WR Joey MacDonald (Holy Cross)

They don’t play: Western, York

Last championship: 1985 (Dunsmore Cup)

Synopsis: The lowest-scoring team in Canada as they returned to intercollegiate football for the first time in 15 years, the Ravens return all their 2013 starters but that’s only a good thing if those young players improved as they took their initiative lumps. Though they didn’t win, the Ravens hung tough with several opponents in their maiden campaign, but the hard part comes now, as they seek to avoid getting comfortable as loveable losers. If a 53-11 preseason win over York means anything, it appears they’re about to assert themselves.

Prediction: 2-6

Guelph Gryphons

Coach: Stu Lang (fifth year)

Last year: 7-1, third place, lost semifinal 34-17 at Queen’s

Key returnees: RB Rob Farquharson, third-leading rusher in Canada in 2012, missed half the season last year to a hamstring injury; RB Johnny Augustine had two 100-yard games in the four he started in Farquharson’s place; QB Jazz Lindsey; Rec Alex Charette played in the East-West Bowl; 2012 OUA all-star LB John Rush returns after missing six games last year to a knee injury; two-time conference all-star DE Cam Walker; all-star LB Andrew Graham; DB Tristan Doughlin.

Key losses: All-star G Cameron Thorn (first team) and T Jakob Piotrowski (second team) from the offensive line, second-team all-star DB Taylor Palmer, who tied for the CIS lead with five interceptions

Recruits to watch: WR Khaleil James (Windsor Catholic Central), DB Nick Parisotta (Guelph Lady of Lourdes) and DB Royce Metchie (Brampton St. Edmund Campion) were members of the Canada’s silver medal-winning team at the world junior championship in Kuwait.

Local content: LB Jacob Harpell (Holy Cross), RB Rob Carnegie (Frontenac), OL Arran MacRae (Frontenac via Kent School in Kent, Ct.)

They don’t play: Waterloo, York

Last championship: 1996 (Yates Cup)

Synopsis: All but two players return from a defence that was tops in the conference in fewest yards allowed (332 per game) and fewest points allowed (17 per game) and was second with 34 quarterback sacks. Though the Gryphons have won more regular-season games in the last two years than anyone else in the conference, they took a step backwards last year, failing to survive the semifinals after reaching the Yates Cup game in 2012. We’re still waiting for QB Jazz Lindsey (sixth in the OUA in passing yards a year ago, 11th in completion percentage) to show he’s a championship-calibre quarterback. The Guelph schedule is the toughest in the conference, as the Gryphons miss the two worst teams and play all the contenders.

Prediction: 6-2

McMaster Marauders

Coach: Stefan Ptaszek (ninth year)

Last year: 5-3, fourth place, lost semifinal 32-3 to Western

Key returnees: QB Marshall Ferguson was sixth in the nation with 2,410 yards passing and he threw for a school record 21 touchdowns; WR Danny Vandervoort was the Gorman Trophy winner as national rookie of the year; T Sean Smith played in the East-West Bowl; WR Josh Vanderweerd caught 47 balls in 2013; 2012 all-Canadian CB Joey Cupido; conference all-star DB Steven Ventresca; second-team conference all-star LB Nick Shortill; K Tyler Crapigna was third in the league in scoring.

Key losses: Rec Michael DiCroce led the nation in receiving yards in 2011 and was MVP that year, he caught 40 balls last year after missing all of 2012 with an injury; T Matt Sewell (Toronto) and all-star S Michael Daly (Hamilton) are in the CFL, second-team all-star LB Aram Eisho.

Recruits to watch: SB Esale Mboko (St. Thomas St. Joseph’s), T Dan Younan (Windsor Holy Names), WR Dan Petermann (Hamilton Cardinal Newman), LB Santino Gallo (Hamilton St. Thomas More), DT Andrew Ziebart (Oakville Iroquois Ridge), DB Steve McNicholl (Hamilton St. Jean de Brebeuf)

Local content: Ferguson, WR Ben O’Connor, Rec Mitch O’Connor (who starts the season with a hand injury)

They don’t play: Toronto, Windsor

Last championship: 2012 (Yates Cup)

Synopsis: There are some significant losses but nothing compared to the turnover that preceded the 2013 season. After losing two of its first three games, McMaster ended the year by winning four of its last five and defeated Ottawa handily in the quarter-finals, suggesting the replacements — Ferguson among them — adapted well to playing at the intercollegiate level. How much that growth, stunted by a semifinal defeat at Western, will continue this year will determine where the Marauders will finish and if confidence is a factor, the calendar has York, Waterloo and Carleton as three of the first four opponents. They could be on a roll by the time they host Queen’s in Week 5.

Prediction: 6-2

Ottawa Gee-Gees

Coach: Jamie Barresi (second year)

Last year: 5-3, fifth place, lost 41-7 to McMaster in quarter-finals

Key returnees: Rec Ian Stewart had two 100-yard games last year; SB Nic Dagher caught 39 balls for 657 yards; DT Ettore Latanzio, the conference’s lineman of the year and a first-team all-Canadian, led the nation with 10 quarterback sacks; LB Nick Lecour and DL Andrew Randall return after missing all of last year with injuries; DB Dustin Wilson played in the East-West Bowl.

Key losses: QB Aaron Colbon was fourth in the nation in passing yards; RB Brendan Gillanders, fourth in the conference in rushing, is in the CFL (Toronto); Rec Andrew Mullings (41 catches last year) was seventh in the conference in receiving yards; Rec Simon LeMarquand (110 catches the last three years); second-team OUA all-star DB Matt Bond-Lapointe.

Recruits to watch: LB Tanner Care transfers from Bishop’s; RB Jackson Bennett (Ottawa), RB Greg Cherniak (London), RB Bryce Vierra (St. Anne-de-Bellevue, Que.), DB James Flemming (Belleville), DL Osas Obas (Montreal).

Local content: Freshmen LB David Hron, Rec Harris McEachern, DL Nick Zanet and DB Tyler Ling (Regiopolis Notre Dame), DL Matt Amey (Napanee), DL Jacob Pardy (Gananoque), DL Joel Ferland and DL Tony Van Hooser (Frontenac); second-year K Lewis Ward (Bayridge), Rec Ben Fisher (Sydenham)

They don’t play: Western, Laurier

Last championship: 2006 (Yates Cup)

Synopsis: Ottawa’s winning record doesn’t tell the whole story of 2013. The three losses came to Western, Queen’s and McMaster, in games where the Gee-Gees gave up 170 points, and they allowed 41 more in the quarter-final loss at Mac, which suggests they were little more than the best of a poor-to-mediocre bunch that occupied the bottom two-thirds of the league. They lost their quarterback, two receivers and their second-team all-Canadian running back from the nation’s No. 2 offence (as measured by total yards), so it’s hard to imagine them scoring enough points to support such a weak defence, or, conversely the defence improving to the degree necessary to support an offence being directed by a quarterback in his first year as a starter. The Gee-Gees do benefit from a soft schedule.

Prediction: 3-5

Queen’s Golden Gaels

Coach: Pat Sheahan, 15th season (26th in the CIS)

Last year: 7-1, second place, lost Yates Cup final 51-22 at Western

Key returnees: Fifth-year QB Billy McPhee was fourth in the conference in passing yards last year; RB Jesse Andrews averaged a CIS-best 8.6 yards per carry; DB Yann Dika-Balotoken tied for the national lead with five interceptions; all-Canadian DE Derek Wiggan; DB Brendan Morgan played in the East-West Bowl; fifth-year Rec Alex Carroll; K Dillon Wamsley was second in the league in scoring

Key losses: Are you ready for this? Among 25 departed players are RB Ryan Granberg, the school’s all-time leading rusher; all five offensive linemen, including two-time conference all-star G Derek Morris and second-team all-Canadian T Josh Prinsen; five receivers—Giovanni Aprile (Hamilton) and Scott Macdonell (Ottawa) are in the CFL, Aaron Gazendam Justin Chapdelaine and Chris Patrician; DB Matt Webster (Saskatchewan) and all-Canadian CB Andrew Lue (Montreal) are also in the CFL; two-time conference all-star DB T.J. Chase-Dunawa, three-time conference all-star LB Sam Sabourin, second-team OUA all-stars DT John Miniaci and LB Justin Baronaitis

Recruits to watch: QB Nate Hobbs (Mississauga St. Joan of Arc) won a gold medal with the Ontario team at the 2013 Canada Cup; DE Carson O’Sullivan (Pickering St. Mary), DL Palmer Simpson (Sault Ste. Marie Superior Heights); DB Chris Mackey (Whitby Sinclair), DB Justin Bowman (Mississauga Lorne Park); DB Jason Shamatutu (Coqiuitlam, B.C.), LB Nelkas Kwemo (Montreal via Kents Hill School in Maine); LB Michael Moore (Toronto St. Michael’s), Rec Matteo Del Brocco (Leamington)

Local content: DL Luke Ball (Holy Cross), OL Rob Bogle (La Salle), FB Eric Dodwell (Holy Cross), FB Aaron Dowd (La Salle), LB Nick Dowd (La Salle), DL Corey Flude (Holy Cross), OL Brendan Ginn (Holy Cross via Niagara Academy), DB Farhan Imtiaz (Frontenac), DB Matt Pendergast (Holy Cross), DL Jeff Vanderspank (Ernestown)

They don’t play: Laurier, Waterloo

Last championship: 2009 (Vanier Cup)

Synopsis: It’s difficult to imagine any team graduating 18 players who dressed for the Yates Cup game a year ago—and two others who, but for injuries, would have played—could hope for any kind of success in the subsequent campaign. The Gaels are doing just that, banking on the fruits of the last two recruiting classes. Questions abound on a team that could be as good as 6-2 or struggle to finish 3-5. I guess we’ll see.

Prediction: 5-3

Toronto Blues

Coach: Greg Gary (fourth year)

Last year: 4-4, seventh place, did not make the playoffs

Key returnees: QB Simon Nasser passed for 1,549 yards in four games after replacing the injured Chris Jugovic; Rec Llevi Noel had 26 catches for 502 yards as a rookie; fifth-year OL Aaron Wheaton; T Danny Sprukulis was the school’s male rookie athlete of the year; LB Dylan Gordon was 12th in Canada with 39 solo tackles; DB John Connors returns after missing most of 2013 with an injury; all-Canadian return man Kevin Bradfield led the nation and set a school record for punt-return yardage.

Key losses: All-Canadian WR Paul de Pass, second-team conference all-star Rec Alex Pierzchalski, RB Aaron Milton, LB Harrison Beeforth, LB Christopher Johnson, S Kevin Kinahan.

Recruits to watch: RB Divante Smith (Mississauga St. Marcellinus), OL Ryan Searle transfers from Guelph; Rec Rahul Madan transfers from Western, LB Robert Welch (Vancouver College), DL Gurjant Singh (Mississauga St. Joseph), DL Javin Haughton (Brampton St. Roch)

Local content: Aaron Gazendam (Holy Cross) is studying medicine and will audition as punter; fellow ex-Queen’s receiver Boris Isakov is pursuing his Masters in Applied Science; former Kingston Grenadiers FB Dylan Howes (Smiths Falls) and Rec Alex Lockridge (Newburgh)

They don’t play: McMaster, Windsor

Last championship: 1993 (Vanier Cup)

Synopsis: Toronto won its last three games last year, scoring 156 points in the process, in a vain attempt to claim a playoff spot after a 1-4 start, and there are enough bad teams in the league that this could be the year when the post-season drought finally ends. One of these years the Varsity Blues are going to climb the mountain and surprise a good team and when that happens, who knows what will be the boost to the fragile psyche of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1995, and hasn’t won a playoff game in the lifetime of many of the current players.

Prediction: 4-4

Waterloo Warriors

Coach: Marshall Bingeman (second year)

Last year: 1-7, 10th place, did not make the playoffs

Key returnees: LB Greg Zaltz was fourth in the land with 54.5 tackles in 2013 and he played in the East-West Bowl; QB Jamie Cook; RBs Ryan Di Risio and Danny Silvestri; T Matt Kielo has moved to DE; DB Christian Mahler; LB Brandon Corelli

Key losses: All-Canadian Rec Nick Anapolsky had a CIS-record 74 receptions; OL Matt Vonk, DT Djordje Gavrilovic, DL Matt Tolliver, DB Harrison Mair

Recruits to watch: QB Lucas McConnell (Waterford), RB Richmond Nketiah (Brampton Cardinal Ambrozic), RB Mitch Kernick (Elmira), FB Ben Koczwara (London St. Thomas Aquinas), DB Ethan McDonagh (London Catholic Central), DB Lucas Merlin (Burlington Nelson), DL Matt Macera (Burlington Corpus Christi), DL Cage Maracle (Guelph J.S. Ross)

Local content: Kielo (Frontenac), DB Jeff Kuipers (Frontenac)

They don’t play: Queen’s, Guelph

Last championship: 1999 (Yates Cup)

Synopsis: A team that owed its only win in 2013 to the return of the Carleton Ravens and has won just three of 24 games since its year-long self-imposed drug suspension in 2010 will be hard-pressed to move any higher. Its defence last year allowed 51 points per game—that’s a touchdown every nine minutes, kids—almost 600 yards per game and sacked the quarterback just 10 times all season. It’s difficult to believe Jamie Cook, the 17th ranked QB in Canada last year (by completion percentage), or a rushing attack that averaged fewer yards per game (104.8) than four individual backs will overcome the deficits that kind of defence is likely to continue to provide. Thank goodness for York

Prediction: 1-7

Western Mustangs

Coach: Greg Marshall (eighth season; 15th in the CIS)

Last year: 8-0, first place, lost 44-3 to Calgary in the Mitchell Bowl

Key returnees: QB Will Finch, the OUA’s most valuable player, set conference records for completion percentage (.697) and passing yards (3,047); all-star C Matt Van Praet; RB Garret Sanvido led the nation in rushing in 2012; all-Canadian WR George Johnson led the league with 982 receiving yards from 60 catches; all-Canadian IR Brian Marshall had 753 yards receiving; second-team all-Canadian DL Daryl Waud; Rec-return man Matt Uren; second-team conference all-stars G Joe Circelli, T Eddie Meredith, DL Ricky Osei-Kusi, CB Simon Bahru.

Key losses: OUA all-star K-P Lirim Hajrullahu, good on 22 of 27 field goal attempts and averaged 40.8 yards per punt, is now in the CFL (Winnipeg); fifth-year OL Eric Armitage; all-Canadian LBs Beau Landry and Pawel Kruba; second-team all-Canadian DL Dylan Ainsworth

Recruits to watch: K Zach Medeiros transfers from Montreal and was a Canadian junior all-star in 2012; OL Greg Bouchard (Choucitimi, Que., Vanier College) was a tournament all-star at the Canada Cup; RB Mitchell Smiley (Sarnia Northern) played in the International Bowl in February; DB Mackenzie Ferguson (London Banting) holds the OVFL record with five interceptions in a game; DB Craig Hinschberger (London Mother Teresa) was a tournament all-star at the 2013 Canada Cup and also played in the International Bowl in February; LB Phil N’Djore transfers from Bishop’s; LB Jean-Gabriel Poulin helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2013 world junior championship.

Local content: OL Jeremy O’Neil (Kingston Grenadiers)

They don’t play: Carleton, Ottawa

Last championship: 2013 (Yates Cup)

Synopsis: If any team could survive the loss of such quality personnel as Hajrullahu, Landry, Kruba and Ainsworth it would be Western, a team that doesn’t need to match its all-time OUA record 458 points to be the class of the conference once again. Consider that Finch and Johnson are entering just their third seasons and the only player to graduate from that powerful offence is the only lineman who wasn’t an all-star last year. Even if the defence suffers from its losses to graduation—and that’s not certain, given the incoming talent—it’s likely the Mustangs will score enough to overcome it. Don’t forget, three teams scored 24 points or more against Western last year, but the Mustangs won all those games by three touchdowns or more. The motivation that surely arises from the spanking administered by Calgary in the national semifinal will keep the Purple Ponies from becoming complacent as they kick the butts of every team in the conference.

Prediction: 1st place and the Yates Cup.

Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks

Coach: Michael Faulds (second year)

Last year: 1-7, ninth place, did not make the playoffs

Key returnees: QB James Fracas completed almost 63 per cent of his passes, fifth-best in Canada, in 2013; RB Dillon Campbell led the league with 867 yards rushing and played in the East-West Bowl with DL Ese Mrabure-Ajufo; Rec Greg Nyhof averaged better than 20 yards per catch; Rec Kelvin Muamba led the team with 36 receptions; second-team all-star LB-DB Chris Ackie is in the preseason Top 10 for CFL draft prospects; LB Brandon Calver led the team with 42 tackles as a rookie; return man William Pitt-Doe established a school record for kick-return yards (590) as a freshman last year.

Key losses: Rec Isaac Dell, second-team all-star DB Felix Odum

Recruits to watch: RB Eli Fera (Windsor Catholic Central) set an OVFL record with seven touchdowns in a game this season with the Essex Ravens; OL Jamie Lalonde transfers from Guelph; DL Rashari Henry had 12 sacks with the Orleans Bengals of the National Capital Amateur Football Association; DB Isaiah Gyzylak (Hamilton Sir Allan MacNab) played in Texas this year with Team Ontario; Rec Brendan McCracken (Kitchener Huron Heights)

Local content: Ex-Queen’s player Mark Surya coaches the receivers

They don’t play: Ottawa, Queen’s

Last championship: 2005 (Vanier Cup)

Synopsis: When 1-3 was all the Hawks could show for the weak part of their schedule, James Fracas, grandson of the Hall of Fame Windsor coach, was installed as quarterback and Laurier responded by giving eventual league champion Western its closest game and taking playoff-bound Windsor and Queen’s to overtime. The Hawks would appear to be a team on the rise and, with 22 of 24 starters returning, they’re a threat to unseat Windsor or Ottawa from the post-season, if not challenge to finish higher.

Prediction: 5-3

Windsor Lancers

Coach: Joe D’Amore (fourth season)

Last year: 4-4, sixth place, lost 31-21 to Guelph in the quarter-finals

Key returnees: QB Austin Kennedy goes into his fifth year already holding four school passing records; OUA all-star Rec Evan Pszczonak averaged 92 yards receiving per game; RB Nathan O’Hollaran and second-team all-star DL Tai Pham played in the East-West Bowl; OL Randy Beardy, OL Brett Boersma, DL Stephon Miller, fifth-year DB Josh Burns, LB Frank Renaud, DB Austin Crumb, DB Jordan Deneau.

Key losses: DB Akeem Whonder was third in the league in tackles; RB Mitch Dender, OL Nick Corrado, DL Taras Potopilnyj, K Dan Cerino

Recruits to watch: RB Terrance Crawford and LB Joe Iatzko (both from Windsor) transfer from Simon Fraser; OL Devin Desjardins (Windsor Herman) played on a provincial under-19 team in Texas; WR Noah Akharoh (Brampton Notre Dame), OL Lucas Moore (Belle River), LB Rick Van Espen (LaSalle Sandwich), DL Courtney Ellis (Hamilton St. Thomas More), DL Nick Simone (LaSalle Villanova), K Hugh Paulin (Windsor Vincent Massey)

Local content: None

They don’t play: McMaster, Toronto

Last championship: 1975 (Yates Cup)

Synopsis: Kennedy has been touted as a potential Hec Crighton candidate, after being an all-star in his second and third seasons, 2011 and 2012—though notably not last year. Despite his obvious talent, he’s yet to take his team into the second round of playoffs (perhaps because Windsor hasn’t had an all-star offensive lineman since Mike Morencie in 2009). So will he make the most of his last intercollegiate season, or have we already seen the best of him? How that question gets answered will largely determine Windsor’s fate. The Lancers were a .500 team last year in a season when they didn’t play Western and while they beat up the league’s dogs, they were 0-4 against teams ahead of them and they were close only once, giving up 49, 51 and 45 points in the other three defeats. Even an MVP season by Kennedy may not be enough to overcome that kind of defence.

Prediction: 4-4

York Lions

Coach: Warren Craney (fifth season)

Last year: 2-6, eighth place, did not make the playoffs

Key returnees: OL Jordyn Moore has played in every game since arriving at York and played in the East-West Bowl, as did LB Hussein Hazime; WR Jarrett Carson and DL Cole Austen played as freshmen last year; LB Michael Runowski, DB Josh Small, RB Connor Anderson, WR Jarrett Carson, OL Trevor King

Key losses: OUA all-star RB Errol Brooks; DE James Tuck (Montreal) is in the CFL; QB Myles Gibbon, WR William Austin

Recruits to watch: DB Rees Paterson (Sherwood Park, Alta.) was a member of Team World at the 2013 International Bowl and Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the world junior championship in 2012; RB Jon Howard (Burlington M.M. Robinson) played in the 2012 Canada Cup; WR Mahlique Marks (Toronto Don Bosco) played in the 2011 Canada Cup; FB Anthony Mandalfino (Burlington), DE Trey Cordle (Waterloo Resurrection), DE Broderick Martin (North York Chaminade), LB AndrewMasson-Wong (Quebec, College Notre Dame de St-Foy), LB Kobena Toku (Brampton St. Marguerite D’Youville).

Local content: None

They don’t play: Carleton, Guelph

Last championship: York has never won a football championship

Synopsis: Let’s put it this way: Yikes! Their best receiver in 2013, Austin, was 45th in Canada in receiving yards (460); their best back, Brooks, rushed for 701; Gibbon rushed for 531 more. That’s 53 per cent of the team’s total offence from a year ago and not only is it all gone, there appear to be no heirs apparent. The preseason prospectus doesn’t list a quarterback among “key recruits” and the backup last year, Todd Hoover, got into games long enough to throw just 17 passes. The Lions used four different QBs in that 53-11 preseason pasting at the hands of Carleton, apparently none of them to any distinction, so it doesn’t look good. At Waterloo they must have been licking their lips as they circled Oct. 25 on the calendar; the week before that the Lions come to Kingston for Homecoming. Won’t they be a dainty dish to set before the Queen’s faithful?

Prediction: 0-8

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From → CIS football

2 Comments
  1. JohnV permalink

    Well researched (as always) and a great primer for OUA football fans. Thanks Chuck. It will be an easy year to despise Western again 😎

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  1. 2014 OUA season kicks off Monday | Gryphons Football Blog

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