By Michael Sun
A victory in the Panda Game is best described by the University of Ottawa’s longest serving local player: “It’s huge.”
Thomas Rowlands is a part of the Gee-Gees team that beat the Carleton Ravens in their annual matchup at TD Place on Sept. 29. It was the first time the University of Ottawa won the Panda Game in four years. He made sure to soak in his team’s 38-27 win on the field after the game.
“It’s kind of been like a monkey on our backs for the past three years,” he said. “We always thought we could have beaten them the past three years but we proved it this year. It feels amazing. There’s nothing like it.”
This year’s game was graced by a moment of solidarity between the crosstown rivals, who honoured the life of Loic Kayembe, the Gee-Gee player who died in his sleep just days before last year’s Panda Game. Many Gee-Gees wore gear dedicated to Kayembe, while the Ravens engraved “#49MoreThanAGame” into the trophy of Pedro the Panda. Kayembe wore Number 49 for the Gee-Gees. Engraving the trophy has become a tradition for each year’s winner.
Next year the trophy will feature a fresh Gee-Gee message for the first time since 2013. Or as cornerback Jamie Harry put it, “four years coming. The curse is finally broken.”
“It feels great,” he added. “This is for all the alumni, my old teammates. … We came back and we shut it down.”
Ottawa wide receiver Harrison Tallyhoe, who’s native to the city, said this year felt different than before.
“I feel like in the past years we’ve been deserving but this year, we really came together and did what we had to do and it was a hell of a victory so it feels really good,” said Tallyhoe, who was carried off the field in celebration.
While the Gee-Gees ended the day celebrating, early in the game it was the Ravens doing as much.
On the first play from scrimmage, Carleton’s Quinton Soares, a fourth-year receiver, threw a 78-yard touchdown pass on a trick play to Dominic Walker to give the Ravens an opening-minute lead.
Soares, also an Ottawa native, would have his own touchdown reception later, while Ravens running back Nathan Carter, also from Ottawa, added two scores of his own.
Yet Carter was unhappy with his team’s performance overall. He called it “poor execution” and said it was “a wake-up call.”
On the Gee-Gee side, Ottawa’s players showed their high hopes for the season after the game.
“We can beat anyone,” Harry said.
“Honestly, this team’s the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Rowlands said. “The things that we can do is incredible. I think we can beat anybody, I think we can go all the way, I honestly think we can.”
Of course, the importance of the game, which is routinely U Sports’ biggest annual showing, wasn’t lost on anyone, especially the players from Ottawa.
“It’s great,” Rowlands said. “It’s great to be able to play in front of hometown crowd. I know a lot of people here. It’s a great game to win, it’s a great game to play in.”
It means no less for the Ravens.
“I’m from here,” Carter said. “I support Carleton. I’ve been around Carleton for this long. I want to win with Carleton and I want them to be the top in Ottawa. Just because I’m from there, it makes it even more important.”
The Ravens clinched an OUA playoff spot, finishing the season 5-3. The Gee-Gees also clinched a playoff spot, finishing 2nd in the OUA with a 6-2 record.