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Gaels improve to 4-0 with victory over Ottawa

September 22, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

OTTAWA — On a dog of a day that was dreary, rainy and windy, two football teams played a dog of a game that suited the inhospitable conditions.

Amid dropped passes, missed throws and general misadventure, the Queen’s Golden Gaels and Ottawa Gee-Gees combined to provide such quantifiably dreadful things as five interceptions, seven fumbles and five blocked kicks.

Ultimately — thanks in no small part to a plucky defence — the Gaels emerged with a 36-21 Ontario University Athletics victory, their fourth without defeat this season.

The win allowed Queen’s to keep pace with the league’s other two unbeaten teams, the Western Mustangs and Guelph Gryphons. Western, after spotting Wilfrid Laurier a 10-point lead, scored 33 points in the second half for a 45-24 win. Guelph denied a two-point convert attempt in the dying seconds of their Homecoming game to escape with a 24-22 win over McMaster.

The stage is now set for a battle of the nation’s No. 2 and No. 3-ranked teams next Saturday in London, when Queen’s will provide the opposition at Western’s 100th anniversary Homecoming.

If Queen’s hopes to be in that game beyond the first quarter, they’ll have to reduce their mistakes significantly.

“Usually after games like this you watch the tape and it’s not as bad as you thought,” Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said. “I’m hoping that’s the case.”

Calling the game a “debacle,” Sheahan lamented a general lack of execution.

“I think we left at least 21 points left on the table, maybe more,” he said. “We seemed to be off on the snapping, the holding, (there were) a few uncharacteristic dropped passes. We looked a little rusty.”

Symptoms, perhaps, of having the bye last week and, therefore, 14 days off between games?

“I guess it points to that,” Sheahan said. “We didn’t want to let that be an excuse for anything today but, in reality, we did look a little off.”

Across the field, Gee-Gees coach Jamie Barresi, whose team fell to 2-3, was no less displeased with the performance of his team.

“We just didn’t execute very well,” he said. “(Queen’s) did some things and I’m disappointed that we didn’t take adavantage of some of the things they gave us. There were things wide open on the field that we should have (exploited).

“We made some errors that I was very disappointed about. When I watch the video and we talk with the players, there will be some people who will have to be accountable for that.”

Gee-Gees running back Brendan Gillanders, averaging close to 100 yards in each of his first four games this year, went out of the game early after being hit on a play that caused him to fumble the football. Later, quarterback Aaron Colbon went out, leaving Ottawa with first-year players in those two positions for a time.

That doesn’t excuse such simple mistakes as lining up incorrectly, Barresi said. “I didn’t care if Derek Wendel was in the game or Jordan Sutcliffe. We did not execute the way we should have.

“I’ll give (Queen’s) credit, too. They did a good job. I’m more upset with the way that our offence played than anything else.”

Specifically Barresi regretted two situations late in the second quarter. With Queen’s nursing a 14-0 lead and spinning its wheels offensively, on consecutive series the Gaels turned the ball over after a bad snap on a punt at their own 32-yard line; surrendered a safety; and had a punt blocked that gave Ottawa the ball on their 47.

On the first, the Gee-Gees were two and out. On the last, they failed to move far enough to try for a field goal.

“Our defence did a great job,” Barresi said, “but, still, if we’d have played the way I think we should play … I’m not saying we would have won but it would have been a closer game.”

Speaking of defences, Queen’s was stout again, allowing the nation’s second-best offence a season-low 370 yards.

“There’s nothing more you can say,” Gaels quarterback Billy McPhee said. “What did they have, six or seven turnovers? They’ve helped us out all year and once again, they only allowed 21 points and whenever you do that with our offence, well, we’ll usually score more than 21.”

Tailback Ryan Granberg agreed.

“They’re always so strong,” he said. “I think sometimes we rely on them a little bit too much. They’ve got some ball hawks, and those interceptions definitely helped.”

A pair of first-half touchdowns on short runs by Jesse Andrews staked Queen’s to a 14-2 halftime lead. Granberg scored another major along the ground midway through the third quarter before the Gee-Gees got on the scoreboard with Colbon’s first of three TD passes, a six-yard toss to Maxime Mireault.

Despite their misadventures, the Queen’s lead was in jeopardy only for about 25 seconds early in the fourth quarter, when Andrew Mullings connected with Colbon for a nine-yard TD strike. On the very next play, Aaron Gazendam beat his man, reacted nicely to the ball and sidestepped a second Ottawa defender on his way to taking a McPhee pass 85 yards for a touchdown.

McPhee and Giovanni Aprile combined for a seven-yard TD pass seven minutes later for a 36-15 lead that rendered Ottawa’s final score, a 39-yard pass from Colbon to Mireault with two minutes remaining, moot.

The ending — Queen’s had 235 yards of offence in the fourth quarter, including Gazendam’s touchdown, a 51-yard reception by Aprile and a 40-yard run by Granberg — was a far cry from the doldrum in which the Gaels found themselves wallowing in the second quarter, when they had 22 net yards, lost ground on six of 17 plays and had the high-snap turnover and the blocked punt.

“The first half was ugly,” McPhee conceded, “but the second half we came out the way we wanted to. First half … we were executing to a point and we just couldn’t finish, a dropped ball here, a missed pass there.

“We came into halftime and coach said what we’re doing is working. We just need to finish.”

The game was sloppy because of the weather, Granberg said, “but it shouldn’t have been.

“We’re better than that.

“We were not playing as we were supposed to, then toward the end we kind of had that (feeling) ‘you’ve got to do it,’ so the offence toughened up. Collectively we came together and did what we needed to do.”

Queen’s managed two touchdowns from five takeaways, including four interceptions, but the Gaels also squandered some glorious opportunities. With the score 21-2, Queen’s was challenging at the Ottawa 15-yard line when Granberg was hit by two men as he took a handoff and fumbled. In the fourth quarter, second-and-goal from the Ottawa one-yard line, McPhee threw an interception in the end zone.

It was the first pass intercepted by the Gee-Gees this year.

As well, kicker Dillon Wamsley had a frantic day, with a missed 27-yard field goal, a 25-yard field-goal attempt that was blocked, a blocked punt and two blocked converts.

Had those two red-zone opportunities manifested themselves in touchdowns, the field goals, usually gimmes for Wamsley, been good and the converts not been blocked, that was 21 points — the missed field goal went for a single — the Gaels likely can’t afford to leave lying around next week against Western.

“I’d feel a whole lot different about the game if that hadn’t happened,” Sheahan said, “but we’ve played four games and we haven’t lost any yet.

“In games like this you’ve got to be careful because there’s always a few great things that happen. The play of our DBs at times was extraordinary. We had good pass coverage. I thought we ran the ball a lot better, with a variety of guys.”

Indeed, Queen’s four interceptions not only took the ball away from the Gee-Gees, they gave it to the Gaels’ offence in splendid field position on the Ottawa 34, 25, 54 and 49-yard lines. The Queen’s rushing game produced 228 yards, by far the best performance this year, and two of the three tailbacks, starter Andrews and Granberg, had season-best days of 92 and 74 yards, respectively.

Across the line of scrimmage, the Gaels faced four Kinston high school grads in uniform for the Gee-Gees. Devon Millar, the fourth-year guard from Wolfe Island via Regiopolis Notre Dame, started. Josh Hill, the backup linebacker from Frontenac, had four tackles and one of Ottawa’s four quarterback sacks. Lewis Ward, the kicker from Bayridge, kicked one convert, had another blocked and averaged 51 yards on his kickoffs. Sydenham High School grad Ben Fisher dressed as a backup receiver.

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