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No strangers on the field for Yates Cup semifinal Saturday

November 1, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

When you prepare to face a team for the second game in a row — indeed, for the fourth time in 13 games over the last 12 months — one thing is certain.

“There’s no mystery to it,” Queen’s Golden Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said Thursday, of his team’s sudden-death Ontario University Athletics football semifinal match Saturday at Richardson Stadium with the Guelph Gryphons. “I would say the teams know each other quite well.”

How well?

“They aren’t even here and we know what they smell like.”

That sort of familiarity brings with it a certain level of comfort, in that you can be reasonably confident of anticipating what your opponent might do in any given situation.

Essentially, tackle Josh Prinsen said, “we’ve been preparing for Guelph three weeks straight now.”

That would be the week before the final regular-season game — which the Gaels won 37-23, to earn the right to play at home Saturday — and the two weeks since, as Queen’s enjoyed a first-round bye while Guelph was defeating Windsor 31-21 in a quarter-final contest last Saturday.

“We know the majority of the time where they’re going to be,” Prinsen continued. “(In practice) the guys are starting to get their assignments down, and with that confidence has been built, and you start seeing the performance improve.”

At the same time, few things can defeat a football team like predictability. The temptation to be different is tantalizing when you know the more your opponent expects you to do something, the more befuddling it will be when you don’t.

And so the chess game begins.

“There has to be a curve ball or two in there,” Sheahan said. “The old coaching adage, ‘Don’t coach against ghosts,’ works most of the time but in the playoffs you’re going to see a few wrinkles. You’ve got to figure out what those are going to be.”

Opposing coaches make much of the disadvantage they face coming to Richardson Stadium, the last remaining natural grass field in the conference. Oddly, it’s not as much of a disadvantage as they might think, since the Gaels rarely practise on it themselves.

This week, however, Queen’s has rehearsed “certain aspects” on grass.

“The parts that we needed to get on grass,” Sheahan explained, “where we needed to get some timing issues down … with the receivers in particular. The quarterback needs to see which balls they can run down and, more importantly, which ones they can’t.

“Those are the kind of things that cause problems when you’re not accustomed to the field. You get a receiver open and you put one up and you overthrow him by 10 yards and you think, ‘Well, jeez, he can run that one down in practice’ but he’s not getting it here today. There are some aspects of playing on the soggy field that you have to get used to.”

That doesn’t mean the prospect of poor weather or a slick field Saturday has Sheahan concerned.

“I think confidence, poise and mental toughness usually supercedes the weather,” he said.

In that regard, he believes his team is well positioned.

“(Longtime UCLA basketball coach) John Wooden talked about his concept of competitive excellence — the ability to play your best, with poise, when it’s required. Championship teams have that ability.

“What you want to be able to do under pressure is go out there and deliver an effort that you can put your signature on. Kids who go out and play well under those circumstances are individuals who are very confident. There were a few times in the previous game (against Guelph) where there was some duress. Our mettle got tested. We didn’t fold the tent; we stayed calm. That’s a reflection of the experience of the team.”

Sheahan quietly hopes that experience will compel his players not to want the season to end just yet.

“We said (at the start of the week), ‘This is the last game of the season,’” the coach said, “‘and you have to earn the right to have another one.

“Every play means something at this time of year. The ability of your team to be focused and on their stuff on every play … that’s the challenge. Everybody’s waiting to see what the teams bring to the ball park.”

It appears one person the Gaels will be bringing Saturday is veteran receiver Giovanni Aprile, who injured a shoulder at Waterloo in the penultimate game of the regular year and missed the game two weeks ago against Guelph.

“I feel great,” Aprile said Thursday.

As for the status of any other injured players, Sheahan was non-committal, suggesting his team is no better or no worse in that regard than any team would be nine weeks into a season.

A few tickets remain for seats on the alumni side of the stadium for Saturday’s game, which will commence at 1 p.m. Sales have not been brisk among students, who must pay to attend OUA playoff fixtures.

The game will be broadcast live on Sportsnet360 (Cogeco cable Channel 17 in Kingston) and on Queen’s radio, CFRC, 101.9 FM.

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