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Gaels will tend to their own knitting in Sunday’s opener against York

August 22, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

For most of the football season, teams will devote the majority of their time to studying what opponents do, and plotting how to defend or exploit it. For the first game of the year, however, coaches tend more to be anxious about how their own players are going to behave.

“This game,” Queen’s Golden Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said of Sunday’s season opener at York, “is more about us.”

Really, though, when you have no videotape to examine, no scouting reports to dissect — heck, in Ontario teams aren’t even obliged to share their rosters until tomorrow — what choice do you have?

“There are things that York has that you have to manage,” Sheahan said, “but the unknown is at what percentage of capacity are we right now? Are we going to get an 80 per cent effort?

“There will be mistakes. We’re not going to make them two weeks from now but if you make them on Sunday, all of a sudden it’s a close game.”

That’s not what anyone really expects, given such details as the outcome of the Gaels’ last game with the York Lions, a 48-13 win in the 2012 Ontario University Athletics season opener (which was actually the closest game the teams have played in five years), the fact that York has never beaten Queen’s — that’s 15-0 since 1971 — and the mirror-image records of last year: Queen’s at 6-2, York at 2-6.

“They’re a pesky team,” Sheahan said, paying the requisite respect to an opponent, despite Queen’s having dumped an average of 62 points on the Lions in the last five games. “They’re moving into a very curious point in the team’s development. I think they’ve got some good players who are just coming to fruition.

“They have some good receivers, a good quarterback, a good runner,” the Gaels coach continued. “They have a nice tight end, a couple of good, solid fullback-type guys and their offensive line, the bulk of it is going into third year, so you can expect them to be better than they have been.

“I think they’re a credible opponent, I really do.”

The quarterback is Myles Gibbon, beginning his second year with the Lions but his final year of intercollegiate eligibility after spending the first three years of his post-secondary career in the U.S.

Gibbon led the Lions’ offence to an average of 411 yards per game, third-best in the OUA and actually 20 yards per game more than the Gaels averaged en route to the conference semifinals last year.

“I like the quarterback,” Sheahan said. “He made them instantaneously better last year. He’s a good ball carrier, a decent scrambler. He’ll execute the zone read, pull (the ball), take off and now he’s a free-flow ball carrier.

“When your quarterback can add five, six, seven plays … now you’ve got to play that guy on defence and if you have to play that guy you leave other good athletes room and space to operate.”

Two of those good athletes are receiver William Austin and running back Connor Anderson. One is old — Austin, a fifth-year man who was a conference all-star last year, appealed to Canadian Interuniversity Sport and had a year of eligibility restored in the off-season — and one is new — Anderson, from Newmarket, has transferred from West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Though he finished the year with 34 catches, Austin had just two of them against Queen’s but it was Gibbon’s first game in Canada in four years. Both are now a year more experienced, but so is most of the Gaels’ defence, which lost just two starters from a unit that was second-best in the conference a year ago.

What if? What if? What if?

“The cause for concern is the unknowns. What’s waiting behind the curtain?” Sheahan said. “Are there matchups there that are going to cause you problems?

“You always want to know how they want to play us but this week the accent will be on execution, or the lack thereof. I would say the two teams are probably a lot closer than most people might expect.”

Sheahan was cagey about the state of his lineup, suggesting only that players who have fallen victim to the typical bumps and bruises of training camp are gradually getting back to the point where they’re ready to play.

“Most of the guys who have made plays around here the last couple of years are going to be in uniform,” he said. “We know that they can make plays, we know that they can play well. In some cases, they probably just have to chip the rust off.”

While work continues to install a new surface at the York University stadium, Sunday’s game will be played at Centennial Stadium in Etobicoke. Game time is 1 p.m.

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