Photo by Shelby Blackley
The Marquee Matchup of the week for Ontario University Athletics proved to be anything but -- with another blowout again on the horizon.

The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks hosted the Carleton Ravens in what was anticipated as one of the "more exciting" games of the week. Carleton was coming off a tremendous hail mary pass to win the Panda Bowl, and the Hawks were back from a bye week after obliterating the Waterloo Warriors, and were playing in front of around 7,500 fans.

Coming into the game, expectations were that this game would be "close" -- people I talked to thought maybe a 14-point spread in favour of the Hawks, but nothing like what they saw on Saturday.

Laurier walked away handedly with a 36-3 victory and moved into fourth in the OUA.

"You're never quite sure coming off a bye week. We tried to keep our schedule as close to normal as we could, and our guys came out and played. Offence, defence, special teams all played really well," head coach Michael Faulds said.

Laurier's team is improved -- they're one of the few teams that was a "have-not" last year (albeit also considered one of the "best 1-7 teams in recent history), but found a way to reformulate their team and turn into a contender.

Their script has gone as expected -- defeat Toronto, Waterloo and Carleton and lose a close game against the Windsor Lancers, one of three teams left undefeated.

But the big issue here is that the teams that Laurier played have a combined record of 7-11.

Doesn't seem like that big of a spread, right? How about the teams that the top-seeded Western Mustangs played through the course of their first four games -- which have a combined record of 3-16.

There's a distinct line within the OUA, with four teams sitting with a 1-4 record of worse, while five teams sit with a 3-1 record or better.

The issue isn't even just with the OUA. Look at Quebec, where the Laval Rouge et Or make the RSEQ look like the easiest route back to the Vanier Cup with a recent 70-3 victory over the McGill football team.

In Week 4/5 (depending on the conference), the closest game was a 42-41 victory for the Calgary Dinos over the Manitoba Bisons Friday night.

The spread for every other game (winner/loser, not including the Calgary/Manitoba game)? Let me pull out my calculator.


I know I'm preaching to the choir when I complain about the parity issue across the CIS. As Morris Dalla Costa said in his most recent piece on the Western Mustangs,

"Those four wins made as an emphatic statement on the weakness of Canadian university football as one can make. There are far more have-nots than haves and except in exceptional years, the haves continue to have while the have-nots are embarrassed.

How to fix the weekly beating the have-nots are forced to suffer is something that won't be easy to figure out, but in some fashion a solution needs to be found or the popularity of university football, and on some campuses its very existence, will remain on a razor's edge."

So, how do we fix this? The lack of parity has always existed in university football, but the issue has become more and more prominent in recent years. There are those exceptional teams that make every other game interesting, but you're lucky if you get two games that keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Those have-nots are without for years and have no way to rebuild their programs while the haves run the score up; some coaches even use it as an extra practice before playing the "harder" teams.

This is the reason that major sports broadcasting stations don't take a second look at the regular season games. If the conferences can't guarantee competitive games, and most of the time will martyr their weaker opponents in lieu of their more promising candidates for the national title, how do you expect viewers nationally to be intrigued?

Laurier pulled Dillon Campbell out of the game 2.5 quarters in on Saturday. Even including the Windsor game, Campbell hasn't played a full four quarters and still leads the country in rushing yards and touchdowns. He has more rushing yards on his own than the entire York Lions team.

Laval's journey back to the ever-desired Vanier Cup becomes infinitely easier the more parity becomes a common practice in the CIS. With a sanction just laid on the Calgary Dinos, there could be some interesting weeks ahead.

But it's taken an ineligible player to make things intriguing in CanWest. What's it going to take to make the entire country interesting?

Photo by Kyle Brown
With just 25 seconds on the clock, the Carleton Ravens were staring down 105 yards of turf separating them from a shocking upset.

As time expired, Jesse Mills launched a hail mary pass from 55-yards out and the football gods answered.

Nathaniel Behar scooped the ball into his hands off a deflection of Ottawa Gee-Gees defensive back Randy Williams. From there, he ran uncontested for 10 yards into the endzone and Panda Game history.

This year’s Panda Game marked the first time the game was played at Lansdowne since 1998. Carleton disbanded their football program following the 1998 season, and last year’s game was played at Ottawa’s on-campus stadium.

Saturday, 12,500 students descended on Ottawa’s brand-new stadium, TD Place. Whereas last year’s game lacked any real energy, fans of both schools hurled “F**k you, Ottawa/Carleton U” chants as they walked down Bank Street and through the front gates prior to kickoff. They kept them going throughout the game.

Ottawa’s fans were lined up at the stairwells in the north side stands, ready to storm the field as the final five seconds ticked off. As Behar collapsed at the back of the endzone, the whole stadium went quiet for just a split second as everyone tried decipher what had happen. Then the south side stands cleared. It is the stuff legends are made of, and for Behar it was certainly a legendary day.

The sophomore wide receiver from London had a whopping 13 receptions totalling 276 yards. In addition to the winning touchdown with no time on the clock, Behar had two others, including an 18-yard reception where he broke through three tackles and leaped across the goal line to reinvigorate his team.

Photo by Kyle Brown
For Mills, the pass was the only one he made all game. Starting quarterback Nick Gorgichuk went 23 of 34 for 318 yards with two touchdowns.

Speaking to the Ottawa Citizen after the game, Gorgichuk commented on the Ravens’ decision to let Mills launch the ball towards the endzone.

“He has the arm to put it 80 yards down the field,” he said. “We had drawn that play up … and Nate came down with it. We couldn’t have drawn it up better and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”

The victory comes 20 years following Carleton’s last Panda Game win. While Ottawa still leads the all-time series by a 33-13 record, today’s game will immediately become one of the most legendary in this brutal rivalry.

It brought back memories of the old Panda Games. Fans from both schools were lobbing chants across the field throughout the game. As Ravens fans stormed the field following the catch, they instantly went to the north side stands to voice their pleasure, so to speak. Ottawa fans quickly responded with beer cans, water bottles and yes, one half-eaten hot dog.

Following the game, fullback Stefano Napolitano expressed his shock and excitement at the conclusion.

“I’m shocked right now, I knew what play we were calling, I knew that was the plan, like I said earlier that was like a one per cent chance play. I’m just in shock right now, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Coming off a winless season, Carleton now find themselves at 2-2 on the year. With 500 total yards on offence, the Ravens are proving that they can compete, and that the way they built their program is paying off. Of course, they remain a young team, and their nerves were obvious in this big game. They racked up close to 150 penalty yards and fumbled the ball five times, but were lucky to only lose possession twice.

Still, with a .500 record and two winnable games coming up -- Laurier and Toronto --, they aren’t counting out anything.

“Honestly last year was kind of, I hate to say a write off, but we were going into games thinking 'hey, we’ve got to get better today, obviously we wanted to win, but this year at this point, we’re for real and we’re trying to prove to everyone that we’re for real.”

For the Gee-Gees, the loss now marks two straight, following a 42-7 thrashing at home last week against Guelph. Still, they showed flashes of brilliance, especially in their ground attack. They racked up over 300 yards on the ground, and had three different players with 70 or more rushing yards.

While the defeat will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Ottawa’s players, they too can look forward to two bounce-back games, as they will face Toronto (1-3) and Waterloo (0-4).

As far as Ottawa sports go, Carleton hold on to bragging rights for the time being. Perhaps Gorgichuk said it best: "I don't think anyone at Carleton is going to forget it any time soon."
(Photo by Heather Davidson)
Originally when I titled this piece, it was going to say "Dillon Campbell is a scary force in the OUA."

But after watching DC post over 200 rushing yards quietly Saturday afternoon for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks to bring his season total after three games to over 650, I started thinking "who in the CIS would be even close to him?"

Last year's Hec Crighton Trophy winner was Bishop's quarterback Jordan Heather after he set a new CIS record with 3,132 passing yards in a season. He beat Will Finch, Western's poster boy, who also set the CIS record that year, previously held by Michael Faulds, former Mustang quarterback and now bench boss of the Hawks.

Heather was good -- he deserved that trophy. No only did he shatter Finch's record posted just a week previous, but Heather played for a team that had to deal with the Laval Rouge et Or on a regular basis. But he was a fifth-year golden boy and his time to shine is gone.

So, who else could possibly be boasting a better track record three weeks into the CIS season?

It's not Will Finch, who has been mediocre thus far through two games for the 'Stangs: He's 42-for-57 with an impressive and country-high completion percentage of 73.7 per cent, with 572 yards.

The only reason I say "mediocre" is because five of his OUA counterparts boast the top-5 yardage in the OUA, followed by Laval and then James Fracas of the Hawks. Finch was the main contender in the offseason to be the OUA nominee for the Hec.

Derek Wendel of Ottawa, a quarterback who came out of nowhere this season, currently boasts 70-for-110 for 844 yards -- a CIS high. Queen's Billy McPhee, Toronto's Simon Nassar, Windsor's Austin Kennedy (who also has 362 yards per game after two games) and McMaster's Marshall Ferguson round out the top five.

But do any of them really have a huge, impressive number ratio like Finch or Heather had last year?

Now, we move to D. Campbell, who after three games is off on his own in the world of rushing. Although most teams in the CIS haven't played three games, Campbell's numbers are still obscene.

According to the CIS website, after three games, DC has 68 rushing attempts for 674 yards, averaging 224.7 yards per game and 9.9 yards a carry. He has scored five touchdowns and his longest rush was 98 yards against Toronto.

In a media scrum Saturday, we asked if Dillon got his knitting done in the second half of the game, as his day ended at 204 yards through just over two quarters.

"It's crazy to think about," Campbell smiled as five recorders were held in front of him. "The guys joked about it at half, 'DC, only 169 [yards] so far. What's going on?' When realistically, that's a great game, right?"

"Last season, my most in one game was 180 against Waterloo. And now, I'm averaging 200 a game through three games."

After three games, Campbell is already only 193 yards away from his OUA-leading 867 yards a year ago. THREE GAMES.

The next closest in the CIS is Ashton Dickson from St. FX, who has 369 yards after two games -- averaging about 184.5 yards a game.

It's hard to argue with the numbers, but it's also very early in the season. Laurier heads into a bye week this week while the rest of the CIS beats each other up. Laurier has five games when they return, three of which are against harder opponents than Waterloo or Toronto (Western, McMaster and Guelph to finish off the season respectively).

But if Campbell can continue to boast numbers where he's en route to beating his record from a year ago -- he's en route for 1,800 yards if he continues where he is now -- that made him a sensation after once being buried in a depth chart, I will be the first to start the #CampbellforHec campaign.

Disclaimer: Shelby has covered the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks for over three years.

Gord Grace, a lifer in the Canadian university sports sphere, has been hired to take helm of the new OUA Chief Executive Officer position.

Grace has been everywhere in the CIS it seems, starting as an athlete in the late 70's and then becoming a coach in the early 90's. He completed his Master of Science at the University of Michigan before moving up and taking roles at Mount Allison University, then the University of Windsor before worked in a variety of positions for the OUA.

His most recent position was Chief Marketing Officer of the CIS, a role he will continue with in a smaller capacity as the governing body rolls out the Vanier Cup 50th anniversary tour.

From a critical angle, it is tough for me to take a strong stance one way or the other. It is a new position, so you probably want someone who knows the conference and challenges that come with the territory. But at the same time, an in-the-family hire leaves something to be desired.

With the loss of Sportsnet football and basketball coverage - a corporation Grace worked with to get national championships broadcast - the OUA is at a crossroads for growth. "Conventional television" is a stated goal for the OUA as per the league's 2014-2020 Strategic Plan (which, given the lack of actual tangible goals, should not be labelled "plan").

There are some critics I have spoken with that think OUA leadership is stale. That is a criticism I do not have the insight or experience to chime in on. It is worth considering, as the conference seems to have reached their plateau, if they have not already started their decline. There are too many teams that are simply not competitive, parity is non-existent and, in a combination of those two factors, the league cannot draw a television audience. 

And that's where I think it could be positive to have Grace come in as CEO. He has to know these problems - he has seen the league change over the past 25 years. It is yet to be seen whether he has the ideas and creativity to fix the issues. 
Huge shout out to the Queen's Gaels, who are making waves for the second time this year for nothing related to on-field performance.

The Queen's Journal has been stripped of the majority of their credentials and, bizarrely, the athletic department told the paper it was because an article published that critiqued the team of the year vote and the behind-the-scenes decision making. (Update: I did not link to the original story "Access Denied" from the Journal. This is because a) I'm dumb b) it's frosh week.)

In a word, this is insecurity. The athletic department seems worried about potentially negative situations getting ink, and in order to protect themselves, they bully the student paper. I understand it, in a way - there are company secrets that would be damaging to your reputation.

But you know what else is damaging to your reputation? Telling a media outlet that because of their coverage, they will not be getting the same level of access.

It is dumb to limit access for no reason, but it is horrifyingly stupid that a public relations department just told an outlet how to perform their job.

And we'll run down a couple of other quick points here:

  • Students fund athletics. Not entirely, but they do give a lot of money. The student paper should have the same level of access of anyone else.
  • Part of what makes CIS athletics awesome is the access we are granted as journalists. Limiting that will only hurt the sport.
  • @queensgaels Twitter mentions is filled with professional journalists chiding the department and university. Go check it out.
  • Last time the Journal called out the department, Queen's issued a letter to the author. That article was hyperlinked in a rundown I wrote earlier and it has since been removed. You get a 404 error from Dropbox. 
  • This is another instance of the CIS (potentially) making headlines for something negative instead of cool stories about the personalities in the league. Feels like we're spinning our tires here.
  • Don't invest in a huge athletic complex and cut off the people who tell your story. You're not going to raise your profile with students that way.
  • I'm assuming the department will reverse the decision, but there will still be an impact on the coverage. If they want, Queen's can make it tough on the Journal in a variety of ways. 
I hope they change their mind, because Queen's is a big player in CIS athletics and the more coverage of their teams the better. But the department was snooty towards the paper before, so I'm not optimistic.

Some thoughts from journalists and other notable voices:

(Photo by Heather Davidson)
It's back, and man did it make a sound.

Across the OUA, 10 out of 11 schools kicked off their seasons with Labour Day Classics. While most turned out to be exactly what most reporters, fans and analysts thought, others already created a a stir heading into Saturday's games.

Let me get one thing straight off the bat -- this is the first week. A lot can change in a nine-week, eight-game season, and one win or loss does not necessarily mean the team will win the Vanier Cup. But for a lot of people watching, there were signs of interest in the five openers.

The featured game for this week -- both slightly biased, but also rightfully so considering the outcome -- is the Laurier versus Toronto game, where the score took a back seat to the plethora of records broken.

Wilfrid Laurier (53) v. Toronto (17) 
A 1-7 record haunted the team for 10.5 months heading into the season opener on Monday, but Laurier didn't seem to miss a beat from the opening kickoff.

"This has been building inside since last year and after last season when it ended in October, we had this in mind," head coach Michael Faulds said as the rain poured down at Varsity Stadium. "We were waiting for this moment. This moment was building for 10 and a half months."

"A lot of built-up energy was just exploded right now."

Dillon Campbell, the 2013 OUA leading rusher, posted 293 yards on 16 carries to average out 18.3 yards per carry. He broke a Laurier single-game rushing record -- last held by Nick Cameron in the 2005 OUA semifinal with 251. Faulds says he's faster than he was last year -- does that scare anyone else aside from me?

"Honestly, I just ran, I didn't know," Campbell smiled when asked about his record. "[I didn't know] until the coaches on the sidelines told me I had this many yards or that many yards. I just did my thing and ran."

Kwaku Boateng recorded four sacks in the opener to set a Laurier single-game sack record.

Marcus Arkarakas recorded his first-career touchdown early in the game. Greg Nyhof eclipsed 100 yards in a game for only the second time in his career. Kicker Ronnie Pfeffer added almost 10 yards to his average punt, recording 46.4 yards per punt while sending his kickoffs 61.5 yards.

Laurier won their opening game for the first time since 2011 -- a win against York -- and recorded the most points in a game since scoring 69 against Waterloo, also in 2011.

Who is this team that just a year ago struggled with their worst record since 2002?

There are still glitches in the Hawks' system, and Faulds noted that after.

"There are a couple things. We need to correct the drop-balls by receivers and we need to correct how many penalties we had. By no means was it a perfect game regardless of how many points we put up. There's a lot to improve on here."

There were holes in the defence that allowed Toronto's Simon Nassar to switch to a passing game and gain some ground before the half. Laurier quarterback James Fracas -- while boasting impressive numbers in his first game back -- still held onto the ball too long at times and had Faulds yelling "throw it away" when Fracas was chased out of the pocket.

Does this mean he played bad? Absolutely not. But this does mean there's still work to be done for when they play the teams that boast stronger systems.

But for now, with the Windsor Lancers being the only "real" contender out of the first five games, Laurier could potentially go as good as 5-0 to start the season. If this happens, there's good potential for Laurier to not only have a record above .500 for the first time since 2009, but storm into the OUA playoffs.

Guelph (27) v. McMaster (34) - OT
My second-favourite game of the day. The game had a high tempo from the moment it began and proved that for the second year in a row, Mac and Guelph could be each other's biggest opponent. The defence on both ends of the field was solid -- defensive lines were holding everything, making both Marshall Ferguson and Jazz Lindsey look lackluster. It didn't help that both had issues with their systems - Ferguson couldn't stay consistent with the plays and Lindsey is a much better scrambler than a play-by-play quarterback -- he went 14-for-30 and 195 yards.

Queen's (39) v. Windsor (30)
I was entirely team Windsor for this game -- Queen's quarterback Billy McPhee lost almost all of his weapons going into this year and let's be honest -- I just don't want to see Queen's at the top of the margin anymore. While the outcome was predicted, Windsor deserves a lot of credit for staying with the Gaels for the majority of the match. Being down as much as 15-0 at one point, the Lancers stormed back behind the arm of Austin Kennedy to not only tie the Gaels, but take the lead. Kennedy went 26-for-41 with 393 yards and three touchdowns. Let it be noted: Queen's still has weapons despite the loss of Giovanni Aprile and Ryan Granberg, but McPhee is forced to focus on receivers with no running back with half the strength of the departed.

Carleton (33) v. Waterloo (14)
For a bottom-feeder matchup, this was interesting. I had no expectations of Carleton coming into this game -- yet they surprised me from the opening kickoff. Carleton jumped out to a 10-0 lead and forced Jamie Cook to throw two interceptions. Carleton had 510 yards of total offence compared to Waterloo's 336. This is the FIRST win for Carleton since coming back to the OUA last season. While yes, it's against Waterloo -- a team that has been notoriously known as an "easy" win -- the Warriors also stomped all over the Ravens last year with a 47-8 victory. Carleton fixed mistakes and can find the endzone. It'll be interesting to see if they can sneak out another win against a team like York.

Ottawa (51) v. York (7)
Probably the most anticlimactic game of Monday's affairs was the inevitable blowout everyone saw coming from a mile away. Ottawa rolled over York, and it was sad to just watch on my awesome split-screen set up. I never once turned on the audio because the score alone was enough to make me sigh. York has some work to do, friends.

The defending Yates Cup champions kick off their season on Saturday after a bye-week against a less-than-challenging opponent in the York Lions. I'm a little weary that Will Finch may break a hole in the Lions' defence.

Algoma University recently joined the OUA for women's and men's soccer. While yes, this is a huge advancement to moving into a full-OUA combatant and having teams join, how much is it really worth it?

Week one, we saw the women's team get destroyed by the Western Mustangs 17-0 and 13-0. The men felt the same pain, as Western defeated the Thunderbirds 11-0 and 6-0.

Four of the OUA West teams are going to have to go up to Sault Ste. Marie to play Algoma for a doubleheader -- no point sending them up there on an eight-hour drive for one game. Some cost-benefit analysis would go a long way.

Let's do math.

Say a team situated in Waterloo goes to Sault Ste. Marie for a weekend doubleheader against the Thunderbirds.

There are approximately 28 players, two coaches and three athletic therapists, which equates to approximately nine rooms. The team will stay at their sponsored hotel, which will drop the price from $130 a night to approximately $100 a night.

So for two nights:
9 rooms X $100/night (x2 nights) = $1,800 to stay in a hotel.

Oh yeah -- multiply that by two because of the men's and women's teams. So $3,600.

Transportation can be figured in two ways. Obviously the team will be on a team bus, which will also have a discounted price. The average price for a charter bus is about $950 a day, so let's say $2000 for three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).

Not including food and amenities, the price of a trip to Algoma to play four games (two men and two women) is approximately $5,600. 

Is $5,600 worth four almost inevitable wins with blowout written all over them? Schools that are dealing with cuts or do not have the same funding for their soccer teams as others may struggle to find a way to get their teams up to Sault Saint Marie just to play Algoma.

Not just that -- but what about the teams that don't play Algoma? An easy win comes to most, but if people are struggling for goal differential and never played the Thunderbirds, they could be out of luck for a playoff spot. It's an issue for the consistency of the OUA.

I applaud the OUA in trying to find a way to grow its organization to incorporate all schools across Ontario. But until some stronger competition comes out of a school that's an average of eight hours away from the majority of the other Ontario schools, it's not worth it to deteriorate the athletic department's funding practices.'s launch has been a success, but people have decided to pick at the loose threads.

There was widespread praise - especially for the McMaster game, a simulcast with Cogeco's Cable 14 - for the first slot of football games. The feeds are high quality and you can watch four games at once. It is a modern style of broadcasting games, and the OUA deserves a ton of credit for the smooth launch.

As most things seem to go in the Twittersphere, the praise did not last long. Quickly, people started criticizing the quality of commentary and making that the focus, rather than .

I knew this would happen, because I watched a soccer game earlier in the week and it was less-than-great. Terms were borrowed from a hockey lexicon and thrown in a soccer setting, creating for some hilarious phrasings.

But I'm asking for some perspective. You are watching live sports, for the cost of whatever you pay for Internet, most broadcasts are in HD, with running live stats, on your laptop/phone/tablet, and if you miss the game, you can rewatch it later. Yet here we are, complaining about the commentary of a game.

I get it. It hurts the broadcast and perpetuates the belief that the OUA isn't a big-time league. But really, if the commentary is that bad, why don't you just turn it off? The software is comprehensive, so you can get most of the same info from the platform or Twitter.

And students seem to be the targets of the criticism, which is frankly embarrassing. They are doing this as a learning experience because maybe they want to do some form of this work in the future. It is a university athletics broadcast and they are using a university setting to cut their teeth. Someone takes time out of their Saturday (or in this case, Monday) to a) help build the OUA's profile and b) learn. But here we are, hurling shade in 140 characters or less.

There are experienced people doing the broadcasts, a valuable and rare commodity. More veterans would be nice for the enjoyment of the viewer, but it might be hard to find them. Plus, if you're looking for people with real-world experience, they may want compensation (which is limited) and working a Saturday afternoon isn't an attractive option for people with families or M-F 9-5 jobs.

Just mute the broadcast and move on. Find the broadcast crews you can tolerate and tune out everything else. Let's stop complaining about the little things and just enjoy some sports.

(Oh, and if you've never broadcast a game before, please give it a go before continuing your criticism. It isn't easy and you find yourself saying weird, fumbled statements because of nerves. Let's go easy on everyone.)
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