October 30th, 2021. In the Southern Ontario city of Waterloo, the two local collegiate football teams take to the turf of Warrior Field in a match that with big playoff consequences on the line! For the second time in the season, the Wildrid Laurier Golden Hawks will take on the Waterloo Warriors in a game that will not only decide playoffs places, but also who has bragging rights in the Battle of Waterloo!
This rivalry isn’t typical, it’s hasn’t always been competitive. But make no mistake, there is a trophy laden history involved in this fixture, and a recent competitive resurgence in this rivalry that has seen it once again take it’s place at the forefront of Canadian Sports Rivalries! This is Waterloo Warriors vs Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, the Battle of Waterloo.
Wilfrid Laurier University is the older of the two institutions. Despite only being known as Wilfrid Laurier University since 1973, the instruction can trace its roots back to the early nineteen hundreds as The Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada opened in 1911 and it wouldn’t be until 1959 that The University of Waterloo was fully established thus giving the city of Waterloo two universities. Both universities were quick to establish varsity football teams, first with the Waterloo Mules (who became the warriors in 1960) in 1957, and afterwards the (then known as) Waterloo Lutheran Golden Hawks in 1961! It wouldn’t be long for the two sides to lock horns on a football field.
On the 1st September 1962, the two sides met on the first game of the season at University Stadium, which was home to both Waterloo teams and hosted all games between the two sides until 2008. That first ever game was a tight affair, with the Hawks edging the Warriors by a score of just 7-6 on their way to a perfect 6-0 record that season. The following season’s matchup was also a close game, this time with Waterloo edging out Laurier 13-12. But despite an initial close run competitiveness to the rivalry, the Hawks would establish themselves in the late sixties and seventies as one the of the strongest teams in Canadian collegiate football!
In 1966, Laurier was invited to participate in the second ever Vanier Cup final, a trophy that was established to determine the best collegiate football team in Canada and despite losing 40–14 to St. Francis Xavier, it was a start of run that cemented the Hawks as Waterloo’s premium football side.
From 1966 to 1991, with legendary head coach Tuffy Knight in charge from 1965-1983…the Hawks won the Yates Cup – Ontario’s biggest college football prize five times and reached the Vanier Cup final four times – winning the Vanier Cup for the first time in 1991 against Mount Allison thanks to a MVP performance from running back Andy Cecchin! Laurier dominated the Battle of Waterloo, winning seventeen consecutive games from 1972-1988, including a 1978 playoff win which they won 30-23. But by the late eighties and the nineties, the rivalry was changing.
Tuffy Knight was appointed head coach of Waterloo in 1988, a role he held until 1997 and quickly began turning the program around! In 1989, Waterloo played Wilfrid Laurier, and the Warriors defeated the Golden Hawks 7-6 recording their first win over Laurier since 1971, playing a key part in the Hawks missing the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
The University of Waterloo football program was starting to build some momentum, culminating with five playoff games between the two sides in the next decade as Waterloo built towards being one of Ontario’s best college football sides!
In 1991, Laurier avenged an earlier loss in the season to Waterloo by besting their city rivals in the OUA Semi-final on their way to winning the Vainer Cup that year, and just three years later, the two sides again met in the 1994 OUA Semi-final, with the Golden Hawks winning a close game between the two sides 29-26!
But in 1996, the tables had finally turned. Waterloo had a 7-1 regular season record and topped the OUA regular season standings, they played the 4-5 Golden Hawks once again at the Semi-final stage and despite losing to the Hawks in the regular season, the Warriors won their first ever playoff game against their cross town rivals with a 26-23 win! After decades of Wilfred Laurier dominance, The Battle of Waterloo was now a fiercely competitive fixture.
In 1997, Waterloo finished second in the standings, and travelled to London to face the Western Mustangs in their first ever Yates Cup final. Led by 150 rushing yards from Jarret Smith, and 18 points from kicker Arek Bigos, the Warriors upset the Mustangs to win their first ever Yates Cup!
It was the first of three Yates Cup final appearances from the Warriors, even beating Laurier at the Semi-final stage again in 1998 before coming up short in a rematch against Western. Having met at the Semi-final stage five times, the following season would see Waterloo and Laurier clash on Ontario college football’s biggest stage!
In 1999, University Stadium hosted the first ever all Waterloo Yates Cup final between the two sides. Laurier won the regular season game between the two sides 36-15 and finished above Waterloo in the regular season, but in front of a passionate and sold out crowd, Warriors Quarterback Ryan Wilkinson and running back Mike Bradley combined for 393 yards on offence in a 32-20 win for the University of Waterloo to win the programmes second Yates Cup in three years in what is arguably the biggest win in Waterloo Warriors football history!
The nineties brought a competitive edge to the Battle of Waterloo that had never been seen before, the regular season head-to-head was a very close 5-4-1 with Wilfrid Laurier holding the slight edge but Waterloo won three of the five playoff games. The two sides combined for three Yates Cups, and a Vainer Cup in what was the golden age for The Battle of Waterloo!
In 2002, the Waterloo Warriors won their second consecutive Battle of Waterloo fixture by a score of 18-16, but the success of the previous decade was starting to wither. After the 1999 Yates Cup, the Warriors lost five consecutive playoff games, culminating in a 70-7 blowout loss to McMaster in 2003 that truly marked the end of an era. Meanwhile, Laurier continued to be a top team in Ontario, and from 2003-2006, the Golden Hawks appeared in four consecutive Yates Cup finals!
The Hawks won the Yates Cup in 2004 and 05, with the team reaching their first Vainer Cup since 1991 in 2005 where they faced off against the Saskatchewan Huskies. In one of the most dramatic Vanier Cup finishes off all time, Wilfrid Laurier faced a 23-15 deficit with just three minutes left. At this point the Golden Hawks rallied with a Ryan Pyear touchdown pass to Bryon Hickey to cut the score to 23-21, and with less than twenty seconds left, kicker Brian Devlin made a field goal from thirty-two yards to win the game for Wilfrid Laurier 24-23 to win the programmes second Vainer Cup and completing an unbeaten season in the process!
Laurier were once again dominant in the rivalry, from 2003-2009, the Golden Hawks won every Battle of Waterloo game whilst at the same time the Warriors failed to even make the playoffs, finishing no better than 3-5 in any season. Heading into the 2010’s, the Waterloo Warriors would reach their lowest ebb.
In 2010, a Waterloo player was found to be in possession of performance-enhancing drugs which promoted an investigation into the entire team that concluded that multiple players in the Warriors team had been taking these illegal performance enhancers. As a consequence of the investigation, The University of Waterloo suspended its football program for one year, meaning that the Warriors would not be involved in the 2010 OUA football season.
Even in 2011 when the team returned, the ramifications of the scandal was taking its toll! Eighteen veteran Waterloo players decided to transfer to other schools, crippling the teams ability to be competitive which resulted in a 0-8 season, including a utterly humiliating 69-3 defeat to Wilfrid Laurier at the Warriors new home stadium, Warrior Field.
With the exception of a close run 12-0 win for the Hawks in 2012, the series was becoming incredibly lopsided with the Golden Hawks average margin of victory in the series being 41 points over the Warriors from 2011-2017 as Waterloo desperately struggled in the years following the scandal. Wilfrid Laurier won yet another Yates Cup in 2016, the eighth time the Golden Hawks were champions of Ontario College Football.
Despite a 71-24 defeat to Laurier in 2017, things were finally changing in Waterloo for the better! The Warriors had a 4-4 record in 2017, the first time the team didn’t have a losing record since 2001 and the team once again had momentum! In 2018, second year Waterloo quarterback Tre Ford became the starter for the Warriors, and he had an immediate impact! In eight games, Ford passed for 3,000 yards, ran for an additional 700, put up thirty passing to touchdowns and had four rushing touchdowns, with his finest hour arguably coming in his first career start against Wildrid Laurier.
Ford put up a season high 472 passing yards and three touchdowns, including a late eighty-eight yard game winning pass to receiver Tyler Ternowski to stun the Golden Hawks, giving the Warriors their first win in The Battle of Waterloo since 2002! That win also meant that because they owned the head to head tiebreaker, Waterloo edged out Laurier for the last available OUA playoff spot to give the team its first playoff appearance since 2003. After sixteen years of Waterloo being in the doldrums, The Battle of Waterloo was well and truly back!
In 2019, the two sides clashed in what was arguably the greatest Battle of Waterloo game of all time! The Golden Hawks got off to a fast start, holding a 26-12 lead at half time before Waterloo rallied to score twenty-one second half points to tie the game at 33-33, forcing overtime! Wilfird Laurier QB Connor Carusello went back and forth with Tre Ford in overtime, responding to the Warriors star Qb’s two touchdowns with two touchdowns of his own, enough to win the game for Laurier after three overtime possessions 56-53! Carusello was helped out throughout by a three headed rushing attack of Levondre Gordon, Kevin Wong and Kavantye Bailey who combined for an astonishing 351 rushing yards and three touchdowns. When it was all said and done, both teams had combined for 109 points and 1154 total yards, an instant classic!
Despite the loss, Waterloo would get the last laugh, once again beating out Laurier to a playoff spot and even beating Ottawa in the OUA Quarter-final, the team’s first playoff win since the 1999 Yates Cup final! After fourteen playoff appearances in fifteen years, Laurier had now missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons, for the first time ever since the University changed its name from Waterloo Lutheran University to Wilfrid Laurier University in 1973.
After the covid pandemic lead to the 2020 season being cancelled, a reworked schedule was released for 2021 that would see the 2021 season have two Battle of Waterloo fixtures to look forward to. The first game was at Lauriers University Stadium, Tre Ford and the Waterloo offence dominated putting up 501 and 34 points in a 36-12 Waterloo victory!
Warriors star cornerback, Tyrell Ford – twin brother of Tre Ford even recorded an interception against Hawks QB Taylor Elgersma, one of four times the Waterloo defense registered a pick in the game! With Carusello back under center, Laurier rebounded to win two of their next three to secure their first playoff appearance since 2017. As for Waterloo, they went into the final game of the 2021 season….a Battle of Waterloo rematch needing a win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive!
Which brings us back to where we started, October 30th, 2021, with the latest edition of The Battle of Waterloo. The game was tight going into the forth quarter, with Waterloo holding a slender 11-8 lead over Laurier, but in a ninety second blitz, the Warriors took over the game. Thanks to three touchdowns and a rouge, Waterloo extended their lead by twenty-two points in just over a minute and a half of game time and held the Hawks scoreless en route to a 36-8 win for the Warriors to earn their first Battle of Waterloo win at Warrior Field in seven attempts, completing a regular season sweep over Wilfrid Laurier and also earning their third consecutive playoff appearance!
As of 2022, the all time series stands at 40-13-1 in favour of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, and the all time playoff record stands at 3-3. The Golden Hawks have undeniably been the dominant team throughout the Battle of Waterloo, having gone on streaks of both fourteen games (2003-2018) and seventeen (1972-1989) games unbeaten against their city rival. The Hawks have also been the proud winners of eight Yates Cups and two Vainer Cups as well making them one of the most storied football teams in collegiate Canadian football. But the Waterloo Warriors have had their fair share of moments.
When this team is at its best, such as the 1990’s and late 2010’s/early 2020’s, they’ve proven that they can compete alongside their city rivals and can boast to having have won two Yates Cups, including the famous 1999 final against Wilfrid Laurier! Star Warriors QB Tre Ford, who was instrumental in transforming the program after the 2010 drug scandal has now graduated and will be hoping to have a long professional football career. Waterloo themselves will be hoping the programme can continue its upward trajectory with a new starter going forward, and continue to keep the Battle of Waterloo as a highly anticipated and competitive, Canadian Sports Rivalry for years to come!
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