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Gaels claim second place with 37-23 win over Guelph

October 20, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

It may not have been a perfect football game for the Queen’s Golden Gaels Saturday afternoon, but the good things they did so greatly overshadowed the bad that their 37-23 win over the Guelph Gryphons somehow seemed darn close to flawless.

There was very little with which to find fault in a performance where the Gaels:

• Scored in each quarter, getting more points and gaining more yards than any other opponent had done against the league’s premier defence;

• Handed the nation’s No. 4-ranked team its first defeat of the season and in so doing gave Queen’s second place in the conference, a first-round playoff bye and home field in the semifinals;

• Held Rob Farquharson, Guelph’s all-star running back, to 49 yards in 14 carries, 70 yards less than in his next-poorest game this year;

• Answered a 14-point Guelph explosion early in the second quarter by calmly allowing the visitors just 39 more yards in the remainder of the first half;

• Got a splendid performance from quarterback Billy McPhee, who completed almost 70 per cent of his passes, three of them for touchdowns.

It was a convincing performance for a team that was eager to overcome the stigma of two defeats at Guelph last year where similarly dominant performances for most of each game live only as shadows in the memory of big leads that were blown on the way to defeat.

“People talk about the monkey off our back,” Queen’s coach Pat Sheahan said. “What I would say now is it’s half off.

“We’re likely to play this team again in two weeks and we can ill afford to take them for granted, but this is an emotional victory for our club. Games like these are confidence builders. Our kids were on a mission today and they accomplished their objectives.”

An impressive 96-yard drive to open the game put Queen’s ahead 7-0 and after conceding a safety the Gaels were still in command entering the second quarter, having allowed the visitors just eight yards of offence in the opening 15 minutes.

Then the Gaels took a double body blow. They failed to make first down on a fake punt and turned the ball over at midfield, leading two plays later to a Guelph touchdown. Then, on a spectacular play by Jacob Scarfone, who went high into the air for the football, Guelph recovered the subsequent kickoff.

This time it took five plays for Guelph to score — one of them a dubious pass interference penalty — and suddenly, a game the Gaels had well in hand just three minutes earlier found them trailing 16-7.

The unsuccessful fake punt changed the complexion of the game, Sheahan said.

“What it did was breathe a little life into them,” he said. “All of a sudden it’s a ball game.”

The Gaels maintained their composure, however, and settled the game into a non-descript exchange of possessions until the final two minutes, when Queen’s put together a scoring drive that ended with McPhee throwing to Aaron Gazendam for a 16-yard touchdown.

After the Queen’s defence held, Dillon Wamsley booted a 19-yard field goal. With 10 points in the final 52 seconds of the half, Queen’s went into the intermission with a 17-16 lead.

It was a significant turn of events.

“When there’s a scoring play in the last minute of the half, the other team has to go in and sit on it,” Sheahan said. “They had the lead, had a little bit of emotion, and then they have to sit there (after watching) the lead go away.

“Of course, there’s an equal and opposite reaction from the team that gets it. They come in, they’re jacked up and can’t wait to get back out there.”

Guelph coach Stu Lang corrected a reporter who asked why his team wasn’t able to sustain the momentum of the two quick scores.

“I’m not sure we ever had the momentum,” he said. “We scored some points but we never put anything together. Our points were off big plays, special teams, turnovers … but we never really put together a full drive to give our defence some rest and control the ball and score some points.”

With Farquharson tackled for a loss three of the first four times he carried the ball, Guelph’s offence was in trouble from the start.

“The running sets up everything,” Lang said. “(Queen’s defensive co-ordinator) Pat Tracey always has some special things for us. He was more successful today than we were.”

It was a solid game plan, Gaels defensive lineman Derek Wiggan agreed.

“Farquharson is a great back,” Wiggan said. “By shutting him down we forced them to be more one-dimensional, forced them to pass, which makes easy two-and-outs and gives our offence the ball back quickly.”

Wiggan’s colleague, Cory Dyer, gave credit to the Gaels’ secondary, which intercepted three of Guelph quarterback Jazz Lindsey’s passes.

“Our DBs played great, they were all over the field today,” Dyer said. “We were able to shut down the run, so (Guelph) didn’t get much on first down and that put them in a lot of second-and-long situations, which we were ready for.

“We knew what they were going to throw at us. They had a short field both times (they scored). Those were the only real plays they got on us in the first half so as a defence we knew we could go back out there and dominate them again. That’s what we did, for the most part.”

With the game in the balance in the third quarter, Guelph just 43 yards of offence — 34 of it one one play — and one first down as the Gaels stretched the lead to 11 points.

McPhee said it was important that the Gaels won the turnover battle. Guelph committed four of them and though Queen’s converted just one of them into points, one snuffed a drive deep in Queen’s territory immediately after Guelph blocked a punt and another allowed the Gaels to kill most of the remaining 70 seconds off the clock.

“It was important in terms of maintaining possession, in terms of maintaining field position, and making it easy on our offence,” McPhee said.

For McPhee and most of his teammates, Saturday’s victory was their first ever over Guelph, and the memory of three straight defeats was present.

“We thought of it,” he said. “If you’re not thinking about it, what’s your motivation? Our motivation was also a playoff bye, our motivation was what happened in the past and I think another great motivating factor was they’re ranked fourth in the country. Any time you play a Top 5 opponent you need to get up and be ready for the game.”

Overall, Sheahan said it was a “pretty good” performance.

“I think the better team won today,” he said. “We played really well (in the first half). We had 270 yards offence, more than twice as many first downs as they did, time of possession heavily favoured us. I thought the defence had done a good job.

“We unravelled for a couple of minutes and that’s where they got their points (but I knew) if we just stay calm and go back out there … and re-establish things, we would be fine.”

For Lang’s team, the loss ended a 14-game regular-season winning streak.

“I told the guys it’s been a long time since we had one of these games,” he said. “These guys have won more games in the last two years than any OUA team but sometimes it takes a loss to learn from.

“The plan is to get back here (in the semifinals) and correct the faults.”

Notebook — One of the best plays of the day does not appear in the statistical summary. It was a block by backup Gaels receiver Curtis Carmichael on Guelph’s first punt of the second half. With Doug Corby trying to get outside the Gryphons downfield coverage, Carmichael met a would-be Guelph tackler at the corner, timed his hit so it wouldn’t be from behind, and not only bowled that man over, he knocked him into the next Guelph player with a shot at tackling Corby. With those two players on the ground, Corby was sprung for a 36-yard return that ultimately set the Gaels up for a field goal. “In the bowels of a big win there’s always those big role type plays that you need and he delivered on that one,” Sheahan said. “I told Curtis they’re going to talk about that play for 20 years.” … A fourth-quarter touchdown by rookie receiver Peter Hannon was the first of his intercollegiate career. McPhee delivered a bullet into the end zone for the eight-yard score. “How about that,” Sheahan said. “I think it hit his hands before he saw it.” … Linebacker Sam Sabourin returned to the Queen’s lineup after a two-game absence, as did receiver Justin Chapdelaine. DB Brendan Morgan and guard Blake Sirio also came off the injured list. All-star receiver Giovanni Aprile, hurt last Friday night at Waterloo, spent the game on the sideline, his right arm in a sling. … The Gaels will have next week off as they await their semifinal opponent. Guelph, 7-1, finishes third and will host Windsor next week. The Lancers were beaten in Ottawa Saturday 45-15 to finish the season 4-4. Fourth-place McMaster will host Ottawa in the other quarter-final. McMaster edged Carleton 45-3 Saturday as both the Marauders and Gee-Gees finished the schedule 5-3. Queen’s will play the highest-ranking survivor, while the other quarter-final winner will play top-seeded Western in the other semifinal match.

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