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Brilliant fourth quarter sparks Gaels past Guelph

November 3, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

It was, as Queen’s Golden Gaels coach Pat Sheahan described it, an interesting decision.

“If you come back and win the game nobody ever asks you about it.”

Indeed, as it turned out, the Guelph Gryphons’ choice to give up a safety that put the Gaels into the lead of their playoff football game Saturday proved moot, at least in terms of the scoreboard, since the Gaels subsequently scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to cement a 34-17 victory.

But was it?

Perhaps it’s mere coincidence that after an undistinguished period with the wind at their backs, the Gaels found the wherewithal to score those touchdowns against a stiff north breeze. Maybe the Queen’s defence would have played well enough to hold the Gryphons to just 76 scoreless yards of offence, with the wind, in the fourth quarter, anyway.

Or did that safety, and another eight minutes later, fill the Gaels with the requisite resolve to perform so exquisitely, and thereby secure a berth in the Yates Cup championship game next Saturday in London?

Teams will often surrender a safety touch when two points is an appropriate price to pay to gain field position. It is positively rare, however, that a team will do so when it means giving the other team the lead, especially so late in a game. Once they realized what was going on, the Gaels were not amused.

“It was a slap in the face, really,” Queen’s quarterback Billy McPhee said. “There’s no other way to look at it.

“What else are they saying? They’re saying, ‘We’re going to go score. We’re going to give you the lead and we’re going to take it back.’”

That’s exactly what Guelph coach Stu Lang was thinking.

“It was a game of field position,” he reasoned. “With two safeties we were down by three and we’ve got the wind in the fourth quarter. You’ve got to kick a field goal to win, anyway, and we thought we’d get more than that.

“We thought the two points was worth it because we had the wind in the fourth.”

Suitably riled, however, the Gaels gave the Gryphons a dose of the bitter medicine they had to swallow last year, when Guelph scored 22 points in the last 11 minutes of the fourth quarter to tie en route to eliminating Queen’s from the playoffs in overtime.

In what was virtually a mirror image of that cold, gray afternoon, on this cold, gray afternoon instead of throwing two interceptions in the fourth quarter, McPhee was flawless, running to set up one touchdown and throwing for the other.

This time it was Guelph quarterback Jazz Lindsey who threw the two fourth-quarter interceptions, as his team was suddenly powerless to stop the Gaels who, between their two touchdowns, mounted a drive that, while unsuccessful, killed almost four minutes off the fourth-quarter clock.

Instead of being victims of their own mistakes, as they were last November, the Gaels capitalized on the misplays of their opponent: A shanked punt and a fumbled punt both promptly wound up in the Guelph end zone.

As was the case last year, this all happened after the home team stumbled through a third quarter that was startingly bad. In this case Queen’s, with the wind at its back, ran 10 plays in the first 14 minutes, had one first down, 18 yards of offence, a missed field goal and nothing to show for a splendid 81-yard return of a Guelph kick by Alex Carroll.

Does a team go from that sort of sluggish display to the kind of fourth quarter the Gaels put together without some sort of sudden impetus?

You’ve got to wonder.

“I think we handle adversity a lot better than we have in previous years,” said Gaels tailback Ryan Granberg, who rushed for 120 yards. “We don’t get down, we get angry and start fighting. I think that’s a big difference from previous years.”

This is Queen’s first berth in the conference final since 2009, and therefore the first for most members of the team.

“It’s been a long four years where we felt like we underachieved quite a bit,” linebacker Sam Sabourin said. “It stops right now.”

Reaching the Yates Cup final is something the team always thought it was capable of achieving the last three years, Granberg said. “It feels good finally to be where we think we’re supposed to be.”

McPhee said Saturday’s performance “finally showed the maturity of our team.”

“When things got harried we kind of hunkered down. Our experience really showed on the sideline. We knew how to react, especially when plays don’t go your way: it’s time to hunker down and prepare to go out there and keep fighting.”

Which the Gaels did.

“We just battled,” Sheahan said. “It wasn’t pretty but it was a battle.

“Let’s face it, that was not a smooth ride today. There were some bumps on the flight but they hung in.”

Sheahan said it would be impossible to offer sufficient praise for his team’s defence, which held Guelph scoreless in the final 30 minutes of the game.

“It was a great job by coach (Pat Tracey),” he said. “The first 30 minutes he had to see what their plan of attack was, he got a good look at it, they figured it out and they pretty much stopped them in the second half.

“We got into trouble in the second quarter because it wasn’t just that (Guelph) had the wind, they were scrimmaging from our side of the 55-yard line. As a team we did a pretty good job in the fourth quarter of giving them a long field (and) as the clock starts to tick down, the goal line seems to be further and further away.”

Notebook — The Gaels got their touchdowns from Granberg, on a pair of one-yard runs, and Scott Macdonell, on a 39-yard pass from McPhee in the fourth quarter. Dillon Wamsley had first-half field goals of 38, 29 and 40 yards. Jazz Lindsey threw for both Guelph touchdowns, to his older brother, Saxon, and to D’Adre Fraser. … Macdonell had a career day receiving, not just for his game-best 124 yards. A 54-yard catch brought the Gaels out of a hole in the second quarter against the wind and was the big play on a drive that led to a field goal. His catch at the end of the third quarter gave Queen’s first down on second-and-10, a conversion the Gaels had failed to make three times in a row. It was Macdonell’s second career 100-yard receiving game. The other came in last year’s playoffs, against Laurier. … Oddly, Queen’s two best passing quarters came against the 25 km/h wind. “(Billy) throws the ball well into the wind,” Sheahan said. “His arm is so strong that sometimes with the wind, the wind is not an advantage for him the way you’d think it would be.” … Sheahan had more words of praise for McPhee, who had an interception-free game for the third time in four games and ended the regular year with fewer picks than any starting quarterback in the country. “He didn’t make any mistakes,” Sheahan said. “He was almost so determined not to make a mistake he was driving me nuts. He didn’t want to take any chances — (but) he was right. He played pretty poised. There were some sacks that he took today that under those conditions, at that time, he should have taken them. That’s what you’ve got to do. You don’t want to cough up the football and make a critical error that could cost your team the ball game when it’s all on the line like that.” … Guelph came out to warm up for Saturday’s game in gold uniform tops, the same colour that Queen’s wears. It’s an old bit, actually, to show up with the wrong jerseys. It’s designed to upset the home team, because the protocol dictates that in case of a conflict, it’s the home team that has to change. In Queen’s case that would be particularly problematic, since the Gaels have just one set of uniforms and they’re gold in colour. “We had a good chuckle about that,” Sheahan said. That’s because he’d told his players in a meeting Friday not to be surprised if the Gryphons pulled that very stunt. “Coach Lang has a great marketing mind and we anticipated some kind of gimmick,” he said. “I warned the team, don’t be at all surprised if they’re out there warming up in gold jerseys, just to make (us think), ‘Hey what are they doing,’ to try to create a little confusion, a little commotion.” … The Gaels won their 14th consecutive home game, a streak that dates to September, 2011. They won’t be at home again this year, however. The winner of the Yates Cup game next week travels to the home of the Canada West champion the following week for a national semifinal. The Vanier Cup this year is in Quebec City.

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One Comment
  1. JohnV permalink

    Great coverage of the game! It was good to see Billy McPhee take off with the ball a few times … it adds an important wrinkle to the offence. As always, the Queens defence was stellar.

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