The Waterloo Warriors used their last game of the regular season to squeak into the U Sports football playoffs with a 3-5 record. Their reward is a daunting first-round matchup against a longtime crosstown rival.
The 7-1 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks will host the Warriors in an Ontario quarterfinal on Saturday at University Stadium.
"It's going to be competitive and intense," said Warriors head coach Chris Bertoia. "These guys want to get after each other, that's for sure."
The Golden Hawks are heavy favourites after a strong campaign that was capped with a 33-30 loss to Western University last weekend. The top-seeded Mustangs (8-0) earned a bye to the Ontario semifinals with the win.
The big test for the Warriors will be trying to shut down Golden Hawks quarterback Taylor Elgersma and the high-powered Laurier offence.
Elgersma set a single-season conference record by completing 75.2 per cent of his passes. He also set all-time school marks with 2,641 passing yards and 206 completions.
When the teams last played on Sept. 16, Laurier jumped out to a 30-0 lead en route to a comfortable 47-20 victory.
"It has been a season full of peaks and valleys," Bertoia said. "The big thing is in the second half of our season we played some quality football."
Waterloo secured the seventh seed in the Ontario playoffs last weekend after a 26-21 win over the Toronto Varsity Blues. Justin Succar scored the go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
As the Warriors were completing their victory, they got some much-needed help from the Carleton Ravens (4-4) to secure the final berth.
Carleton trailed the Guelph Gryphons by 13 points late in the fourth quarter but pulled off a stunning 29-27 comeback win by scoring two touchdowns in the final minute.
Hunter Brown scored with 59 seconds left and Frederik Hachey capped a 101-yard drive with a 50-yard TD catch with 12 seconds remaining.
The Waterloo win and Guelph loss gave the Warriors the No. 7 seed since they won the head-to-head matchup between the teams in Week 6. The 3-5 Gryphons missed the playoff cut.
Bertoia shared the good news as he wrapped a post-game chat with his players near the end zone.
"I said it nonchalantly and the guys went crazy," he said. "It was a pretty cool moment."
In the other quarterfinals, the Ravens will visit the third-seeded Windsor Lancers (6-2) on Saturday and the No. 4 Queen's Gaels (5-3) will entertain the fifth-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees (4-4).
Regular-season play in the Atlantic conference wraps up Friday, one day before the Quebec and Canada West conferences.
Both Atlantic matchups are playoff previews. The St. Francis Xavier X-Men (8-0) rolled past the Saint Mary's Huskies (2-6) 40-10 and the Bishop's Gaiters (6-2) beat the Mount Allison Mounties (3-5) 18-8.
The same teams will square off again on Nov. 4 in the conference semifinals.
In Quebec, the Montreal Carabins (7-0) will visit the Concordia Stingers (4-3) and the Sherbrooke Vert & Or (0-7) will host the McGill Redbirds (1-6).
Concordia will visit the Laval Rouge et Or (6-2) in the conference semifinal next weekend and Montreal will host the fourth seed.
The Canada West playoff picture remains unsettled.
The 6-1 Alberta Golden Bears, who will host a playoff game next week for the first time since 2005, welcome the 5-2 UBC Thunderbirds. The winner will earn the first seed in the conference.
The Calgary Dinos (2-5) lost their first five games of the season but can sneak into the playoffs if they beat the visiting Manitoba Bisons (3-4) by 13 points or more.
The 4-3 Saskatchewan Huskies will visit the 1-6 Regina Rams in the other game.
The four conference championship games are scheduled for Nov. 11. Winners will advance to the national semifinals on Nov. 18.
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. 26, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press