The University of Ottawa (U of O) Gee-Gees had just won the 2018 Panda Game over the Carleton Ravens 38-27. It was the first Panda win in offensive lineman Thomas Rowlands’ four-year career.
“It’s huge,” he said.
“It’s been like a monkey on our backs for the past three years,” Rowlands said, “We always say we thought we could have beat them those last three years and to prove it this year, it feels amazing, there’s nothing like it.”
Saturday was a day of firsts. U of O players and students alike were ecstatic as their team won the Panda Game for the first time since 2013. It was the first-ever Panda victory for all the players.
Tearful and cheerful students dressed in garnet and grey (and some in red and black) stormed onto the field in streams as the final whistle blew, happy to get the chance to congratulate their team and relish in bringing Pedro the Panda back to downtown Ottawa.
U of O students were so happy that their team won, that five students lifted wide receiver Harry Tallyhoe onto their shoulders and carried him off as he was in the middle of an interview.
The students weren’t the only ones happy. Gee-Gees players were able to play in front of their families and friends. For graduating players, it meant they could end their Ontario University Athletics (OUA) career with one goal accomplished: to win Panda.
For U of O defensive back Rashad Spooner, he was so ecstatic that he lay down on the field surrounded by all the screaming and celebrating fans to take in the whole experience.
Fourth-year cornerback Jamie Harry from Lachine, Que., said it gave him a chance to win Pedro in his final season with the team as he stood on the field locked in a tight, tearful embrace with his mom—happy he won Panda Game with her in the stands.
“It feels great,” Harry said. “This was for all the alumni that we lost the last [four games] but this is for them. We came back and we shut it down.”
The Ravens players, looking dejected, left the field shortly after the game to go into their locker room and reflect on the game. This was many of the players’ first loss since 2013. Most of them had only known victory at the Panda Game.
“Obviously it hurts a bit more because it is Panda Game. It is special, but at the end of the day it’s week six, it’s just like any other game,” Ravens quarterback Michael Arruda said. “It’s like losing to Western like we did in the first week. We can’t sob on this too much. I think we’re going to take this and make it a positive.”
“I think we needed this, last week we were getting a little cocky with how we won in overtime to Western,” Arruda added. “We won the other games easily enough, so I think it’s gonna be a big wake up call for us for sure.”
In a way, the win for Ottawa was symbolic. The victory allowed them to break the four-game winning streak curse of Carleton and allow room for a renewed rivalry to take place in the coming years.
The win was also symbolic in another way. Last year, Gee-Gees defensive player Loic Kayembe passed away in his sleep a few days prior to the Panda Game. He wore number 49 on the team.
As his team pulled ahead of the Ravens this past Saturday, the Gee-Gees finished the game on the 49-yard line as the clock ticked down to zero.
U of O has been looking for a saviour—especially at quarterback—to help them defeat the Ravens and this year they got their miracle in the most unlikely of places.
Gee-Gees quarterback Sawyer Buettner, a first-year history major from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, wasn’t even the starter at the beginning of the season. During Panda, he took over the starting job and then came in and threw five touchdown passes to help his team pull ahead of the Ravens in the biggest game of the season.
“It was wild. I’ve played in a few big games but that was a rowdy atmosphere,” Buettner said, “I think it was filled with 20,000 college students having a great time so, it was just a lot of fun. [The] football game was awesome too.”
The Gee-Gees still have three regular-season games ahead, starting with a visit to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues on Oct. 4. With the Panda Game win, they surpass Carleton for second place in the Ontario University Athletics Standings.
As Harry reflected on the momentous victory, he also acknowledged it’s a sign of bigger things ahead.
“I have no words. Four years coming, the curse is finally broken, and hopefully we keep the momentum up for the rest of the season,” he said. “As long as we do our job, no one can beat us.”
Article also appears in The Charlatan