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Gaels will face top QB Saturday at Western

September 27, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

When two of the top three ranked teams in Canada meet Saturday afternoon in London, all eyes and much attention will be focused on the performance of a sophomore quarterback from Nelson High School in Burlington.

So it should be. Will Finch of the Western Mustangs could be the best second-year QB in Canadian university football since Chris Flynn won the Hec Crighton trophy in his second season at Saint Mary’s in 1988.

Across the field, however, there will be another Nelson grad who is nicely coming into his own with the Queen’s Golden Gaels, thank you. Doug Corby was Finch’s teammate in high school and they remain good friends.

For now, though, that friendship only serves to heighten the Queen’s-Western rivalry for Corby.

“He’s doing well this year; it will be good to see him,” Corby said, “but we don’t talk during the season until after the game.”

What Finch has done so far this year is truly remarkable. He’s second in the nation with 1,884 yards passing (377 per game), first in completion percentage (.739) and tied for first with 15 touchdown passes. He leads an offence that is No. 1 in the land in passing yards, rushing yards, total offence (672 yards per game), points (61.4 per game) and first downs (a whopping 37 per game).

All this from a player in just his second year out of high school.

“He is certainly the best 19-year-old I have ever seen,” Western coach Greg Marshall told Dave Langford of Metro London.

“I know last year people were comparing him to Michael Faulds but Michael Faulds was 26 when he played here. Will is one of the best quarterbacks I have had an opportunity to coach.”

High praise, indeed. Faulds, whose career ended with the 2009 Yates Cup loss to Queen’s, holds the Canadian Interuniversity Sport records for passing yards in a season, 3,033, and a career, 10,811.

Uncommon though it may be to attain such success so early in an intercollegiate career, Corby is not surprised.

“Nah,” Corby said. “He’s good. “It’s what he does. Day in and day out, it’s football. Even at Nelson, he was in the weight room at lunch, on the field at lunch, throwing the ball, watching film. He’s a football guy. He’s driven. He wanted it, deep down inside.”

Corby and Finch were both on the Canadian team that won the world under-19 tournament in Austin, Texas, in the spring of 2012, an event Corby recalls as “the experience of a lifetime.” A 22-yard pass from Finch to Corby was the big play on a touchdown drive that put Canada ahead to stay in a 23-17 win over the U.S. in the championship game.

Not surprisingly, the two friends sat down one day and tried to convince each other that they should go to the same university.

“We just said we had too many different things going on. It would be hard to organize,” said Corby, who wanted to study history while Finch was aspiring to study kinesiology. “One would be giving up a lot, the other would be giving up a lot, too. We tried but it didn’t work out. It was tough but it was not quite there.”

Gaels coach Pat Sheahan recalled the seniors coming out of Nelson that year, a list of whom also included McMaster receiver Joshua Vandeweerd.

“(Finch) was top of the heap, probably the top athlete in that recruiting class,” Sheahan said. “There were several good quarterbacks but he was special. He’s got it all.

“It’s amazing,” he chuckled. “Just as Western needs a quarterback he shows up. When’s the last time Western has needed a quarterback — or a kicker?”

That doesn’t mean he sees Corby as just a terrific consolation prize. The Queen’s receiver is much more than that, with five receptions in a diverse passing attack, a 52-yard touchdown catch, 211 yards in punt returns (eighth best in Canada) and an average return of 10.6 yards, sixth best in the nation among players with 10 or more returns. His dossier includes returns of 40 and 32 yards.

“Doug Corby was a good victory for us in the recruiting wars,” Sheahan said. “Everybody knows he’s fast and gifted. What he had to do is learn to be a football player and he’s becoming a pretty good football player now. He’s becoming a threat. In the Windsor game he caught a five-yard pass and took it 50 yards (to score). He has that kind of ability.

“(Teams are aware) where he’s lined up now. They need to know where he is, they’re asking what do they do with him when he winds up over here.”

Sheahan characterizes Finch as a big, athletic kid who does a lot of things well. “He’s throwing the ball with considerable accuracy” to a group of receivers that has the kind of collective depth not seen at Western in some time.

“They’re a committed running team, with multiple formations, they’re using their people well,” Sheahan said. “They’re leveraging the field to try and get a man advantage, get you defending one side and they sneak a guy to the other side, getting an extra man at the point of attack.

“They get defences with their eyes glued to the backfield and then they get what seems to be an easy pass up the field. It’s frustrating. It’s a well coached offence and it’s executing at pretty high level of efficiency at the moment.”

If an opponent isn’t careful, Sheahan said, Western’s offence can set the pace of a game before you even know it.

“Your hand gets forced because they can escalate the pace of play to the point where (you’re thinking), ‘We better get going here or we’re going to be behind 28-0.’ You’ve got to stay calm and your offence better show up ready because if you cannot match guns with them, it will be a long day.”

Corby says not to worry.

“We’ve got some good stuff for them, some surprises,” he said. “They’re going to have a tough time keeping with us on Saturday.”

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