In the world of university football, it’s unusual for the defending champion to be the underdog.

That, though, is exactly the position the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks find themselves in as they prepare for Saturday’s Yates Cup.

For the second straight year, the Golden Hawks are heading to London to take on the Western Mustangs for Ontario university football supremacy.

For the second straight year, they’re up against the powerhouse Western Mustangs.

This year’s Western squad went 8-0 in the regular season, scoring more points and allowing fewer points than any other team in the OUA. Their one playoff game was a 66-12 drubbing of Guelph.

While Laurier pulled off the victory in 2016, thanks to an incredible 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter, head coach Michael Faulds says winning a second straight crown won’t be easy.

But that won’t stop them from trying.

“We’ve got a group that wants to prove to everyone that we can do it yet again,” Faulds says.

“We’ve got to play our best football. We’ve got to play turnover-free football. We’ve got to create turnovers and get some sacks on defence.”

Boosting the Golden Hawks on the offensive side will be Kurleigh Gittens Jr., the third-year wide receiver who on Thursday was named the OUA’s most valuable player.

This season, Gittens averaged more than 12 yards per reception while bringing in six touchdowns. He scored a seventh touchdown on a punt return.

He says last year’s Yates Cup proves that he and his teammates won’t give up until the final whistle, no matter what.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but that’s what makes our team stronger,” he says.

With starting quarterback Michael Knevel hurt, Laurier’s offence will be led by first-year quarterback Tristan Arndt, who completed 22 of 27 passes for 267 yards during regular season action.

Arndt says confidence is high in the Golden Hawks’ locker room, although he expects his opponents to be feeling the same way.

“They know what happened last year, and they’re going to want their payback,” he says.

Laurier and Western met once during the regular season, with the Mustangs outscoring the Golden Hawks in the first three quarters en route to a 29-13 victory.

The Yates Cup champions will face the Acadia Axemen next week, with the winner moving on to the Nov. 25 Vanier Cup.

With reporting by Randy Steinman