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PREVIEW: Gee-Gees looking strong ahead of 50th Panda Game

Dawson Odei and Gee-Gees team huddles before game
Photo: Micheal P. Hall

The biggest football weekend of the year is upon us, as the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Carleton Ravens are going through their final preparations ahead of the Panda Game. The highly-anticipated matchup between the cross-town rivals goes Saturday at 1 p.m. at TD Place.

A sellout crowd of well over 24,000 will descend on TD Place Stadium to take in one of the best rivalries in U SPORTS football. This is the 50th edition of the Panda Game, with Ottawa holding a 32-17 overall record in the matchup.

Fans who were unable to secure tickets can watch the game live on CHCH television, OUA.tv, or listen live on TSN 1200 radio.

"Our guys are going to be very excited to play, we want to get after these guys," said Gee-Gees head coach Jamie Barresi. "They are a very good team, but we're anxious to get going."

Both teams are coming in on a high. Ottawa are winners of three straight games, including a 42-16 offensive explosion against York last week. Carleton have taken four consecutive games, but gave up a combined 65 points in their last two contests.

One Gee-Gee who is no stranger to the Panda Game is Kalem Beaver. A captain for uOttawa, the slotback scored twice in last year's game and is a constant threat as a receiver and a returner.

Bryce Vieira is hoping to find success in his final Panda Game. The fifth-year player rushed for 124 yards in 2017. He is predominantly lining up as a receiver this season, and will be giving the Ravens secondary fits all game long.

Gee-Gees starting quarterback Sawyer Buettner is no stranger to playing on a big stage. While playing for the Regina Thunder of the CJFL, Buettner's home field was Regina's Mosaic Stadium, with a seating capacity of over 33,000. In 2015, he led Team Canada to an International Bowl victory over the USA at AT&T Stadium (80,000 seats).

The 2018 Panda Game will however be the most intense, with a passionate crowd of over 24,000. The first-year pivot has impressed since taking over starting job, and has yet to throw an interception in his Gee-Gees career thus far.

"Even back home in Saskatchewan, we knew about the Panda Game and how big it was," said Buettner. "Now to be a part of it and play in it will be very, very exciting. We're really looking forward to it as a team."

Ottawa's defence has been stingy this season, giving up a mere 76 points through four games – the second-lowest total in the conference. Veterans Jamie Harry, Cody Cranston, Thomas Carrier, and the rest of the defence are hungry to win the Gee-Gees' first Panda Game since 2013.

"All the veterans know that we've lost the last couple of years," said Harry, who will be playing in his last Panda Game before moving on to a career in the CFL next year. "Being my last one, I know I have to show up and we need to get the guys ready. If we do what we know we can do, I feel like we'll get it."

Although the Ravens are enjoying a four-year winning streak in the Panda Game, three of those games have been nail-biters. Look no further than last year's double-overtime victory for Carleton, that saw Lewis Ward hit a game-tying field goal as the fourth quarter expired.

This is only the second time since the Panda Game was revived 2013 that both teams have been nationally ranked by U SPORTS (Carleton currently at number five, uOttawa sits at nine). It is also the second time that the Ravens (4-1) and the Gee-Gees (3-1) are coming in to the game with winning records.

With some upsets in the always unpredictable OUA earlier this season, Carleton and Ottawa find themselves in second and third-place in the conference, respectively. A win in the Panda Game could go a long way toward notching a home playoff date and potential first-round bye for the victor.