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Gaels, Gryphons prepare for crucial football match

October 18, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

If the weather forecasters are correct — and, certainly, they’re due — there’s a chance that rain Saturday might turn the last remaining natural grass football field in the OUA into a soggy, slippery surface not especially conducive to the kind of ball played by teams whose games are based on speed and deception.

If the predicted precipitation materializes, in contrast to the gloomy faces will be the smiling visage of Ryan Granberg.

“I quite enjoy the muddy weather,” Granberg said Thursday, recalling what he called one of his favourite games, two years ago against Waterloo. He rushed for 245 yards, scored four touchdowns and helped the Gaels win 53-0.

“It was just a downpour the entire time,” he said. “I was absolutely covered in mud and it was one of the best games I ever played. I just loved it. People have trouble changing directions and it’s hard to track me and I’m comfortable.”

Twas ever thus, Granberg explained.

“Probably comes from all the crappy, muddy fields I played on in Alberta,” he said. “Winter comes a little bit earlier, so fall comes a little earlier. It’s wet and it’s cool.”

Granberg isn’t the only one to have one eye on the weather map as the Gaels prepare for their final — and most important — game of the regular schedule. The Guelph Gryphons are coming to town for Queen’s second Homecoming game of the season and the nationally televised contest between the nation’s No. 4 and No. 5 teams has been sold out for weeks.

At stake is Guelph’s undefeated record and second place in the league standings, and the lucre that accompanies it — a first-round playoff bye and home field for the semifinals.

“Looking at the weather forecast it’s probably going to be a bit of a mud bowl so I think (the outcome) is ultimately going to be determined by the line play,” said Guelph coach Stu Lang. “Probably both teams are going to run the ball a little more than normal so whoever has the best offensive or defensive lines will probably end up victorious.”

Queen’s coach Pat Sheahan agreed.

“It’s going to be a litmus test for our offensive line against their defensive line,” he said. “They’re big, they’re experienced. They’ve got a pretty good scheme, lots of stunts. They throw a number of things at the other team’s offensive line.

“Although we have talented guys (carrying the football), you’ve got to cover people up, you’ve got to create some creases, on time. When it’s time to analyze this game, one of the things that will (be discussed) is how did both teams manage the line of scrimmage. If the Guelph defensive line is able to come in here and shut us down … (and) we run the ball 50 yards or less, that’s not going to be a good stat.”

Granberg said the Gryphons defence has no glaring weaknesses.

“They’re pretty solid all around,” he said. “The D line is big and athletic. Their secondary, they’re never out of place. You don’t find them on the wrong side of the field, or letting people go under coverage. They’re not a big pressure team, because they have a lot of confidence in their secondary.

Most of the current Gaels have never beaten Guelph, since the last time Queen’s did so was in 2009. Granberg doesn’t expect the game to be any easier this time.

“They’re the type of team you’re going to have to earn every yard against them because they’re not going to give anything up,” he said. “We’ve just got to play our best game and, as the coach said, it will be a battle along the line of scrimmage. If we can get the run game going and take away some of their confidence, I think that’s the approach we need to take.”

Calling it a game with interesting matches, Sheahan said both offences have the ability to score but have had “their ups and downs.” For that reason, and the fact that both teams have recently been beset by injuries, he predicted it would be a game of mistakes.

Certainly that was the essence of Queen’s two meetings with the Gryphons last year, when they blew leads of 25 and 22 points. The second was the most painful, as it eliminated the Gaels from the playoffs.

“We scored 39 points … so it’s not like we stunk,” Sheahan said, “(but) there were four or five plays in the ball game that were big-play errors. We weren’t the only ones that made them. They made four or five big errors in the game, too, but at the end of the game, the tally went their way.

“When you get to the end of the year you’ve got to play your best games. If you make big-play errors that cost points they can come back and haunt you and that’s what happened.”

Sheahan called last Friday’s 78-21 victory at Waterloo “not a perfect performance, but a good one.” Indeed, it was a watershed night for the team’s running game, as four different tailbacks each rushed for 93 yards or better.

“The running backs in the last three or four weeks have really come into their own,” he said, “and the running game is now a force.

“Last week … there were times when the opponent knew we were going to run it, they knew exactly what plays we were going to run, and they couldn’t stop it. We had such tremendous athleticism.”

Lang, the Queen’s Football Hall of Fame member who has led the resurrection of the Guelph program, said his team has had an “interesting season.”

“On the surface 7-0 seems pretty good,” he said. “On the surface you can be happy and the fans can be excited but, strangely, we’ve not yet played a complete game of the three disciplines — offence, defence and special teams. At best we’ve played well at two, but never three.”

Lang said the team has continued the progression it began last year, when it improved from 2-6 in 2011 to 7-1 last year.

“When I got here one of the biggest concerns we had as a new coaching staff was how to create a winning culture, that players would be able to come back in the fourth quarter, win games you’re not supposed to, that type of thing.

“I’m hoping we’ve started to develop that culture, that guys believe in themselves, and they can believe that they can win any game. That’s unique for Guelph. Historically, Guelph has had some good seasons but to be one of those elite Queen’s, Western, McMaster teams we need to have that culture that says, ‘Hey, we expect to win,’ that regardless of the ebbs and flows of the game, when it ends we should be on the winning side.”

Game time Saturday is 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Sportsnet360, Cogeco cable Channel 17 in Kingston, and on Queen’s radio, CFRC, 101.9 FM.

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