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Gaels open season with come-from-behind win at Windsor

September 2, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

WINDSOR—Queen’s Golden Gaels didn’t score a point in the third quarter Monday afternoon. They lost ground on three of their five running plays and they had just three first downs, never more than one in a series.

And yet, that’s precisely when they won the football game.

Some superb defensive play in the third quarter turned the tide of the match, and the Gaels came from behind to defeat the Windsor Lancers 39-30 in the Ontario University Athletics season opener for each team.

The period did not start well for the Gaels, who placed some gems and some lumps of coal in front of their coaches in the first 30 minutes of the game. They led 15-0 after the first quarter, fell behind when Windsor scored three touchdowns in the second, then regained the lead with a touchdown in the final minute of the first half.

Having won the coin toss and deferred their choice to the second half, the Gaels opted to play with a very strong wind at their backs in the fourth quarter. That left the Queen’s defence with the task of keeping the game close in the third quarter, when the wind favoured the Lancers.

It was a daunting prospect for a young defence, one that had given up 23 points when Windsor played with the wind in the second quarter. The outlook grew more grim when the Lancers scored the first time they had the ball, to retake the lead at 30-24.

Then a remarkable thing happened.

Despite all the indicators that suggested the Gaels’ defence might go south, it instead came to life. They got into the Lancers’ backfield, chased quarterback Austin Kennedy, sacked him three times, prevented him from completing a pass for more than 15 minutes and forced Windsor to punt on four straight possessions. Three of those series were two-and-out; altogether the Lancers gained 19 yards in 10 plays—but lost 26 on the three sacks.

The Gaels didn’t just neutralize the Lancers; they neutralized the wind.

“We didn’t really know what they were doing,” Lancers coach Joe D’Amore said. “(They have) a new defensive coordinator, and (Greg Marshall) has been around a long time. He mixed it up really well. He made a lot of changes. What he showed us in the first half, he didn’t show us in the second half.

“We had to score at least 14 points in the third quarter (but) we had two or three series where it was a debacle out there. There was a sack, there were personnel issues, guys who don’t know where to line up. We were trying to build a lead so if they did get a big play we’d still have the lead but we weren’t able to generate that and they came back and made some plays.”

Indeed, the Gaels scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to regain the lead for good, as Billy McPhee connected with Peter Hannon and Doug Corby for touchdowns of 11 and 55 yards six minutes apart.

With the wind playing such a prominent role in the game—ultimately, all but nine of the 69 points in the game were scored by a team playing with the wind at its back—Queen’s coach Pat Sheahan hoped to weather the storm in the third quarter to be in position to win the game in the fourth.

“I felt that if we could play ping-pong with them in the third quarter we’d have a significant wind in the fourth. Even though we didn’t score any points we went back and forth over the mid-line. They didn’t get close, save for the one score.

“We were mixing up it a little better and I think that our kids took a deep breath and there were a few big plays. We got after them, had a couple of sacks … and I thought that gave our kids a lot of confidence going into the fourth.”

Badly needed confidence, he might have added.

Queen’s dressed six freshmen on defence. There were four players starting for the first time. “We’ve been in shootouts down here before but to get in one with a whole new group of kids?” Sheahan mused. The unspoken question, of course, was how such a young, inexperienced group would respond to an opponent scoring on four of five possessions, knowing there’s still 13 minutes left to defend against the wind that had played no small role in their having done so.

As it turns out, they responded splendidly.

“We have great leaders,” said Gaels linebacker Luke McQuilkin. “Derek Wiggan and Yann Dika (-Balotoken), they really led the morale of the defence, talking the rookies down, getting us all to settle down, keep our heads up and keep talking.”

“It’s easy when you get scored on to stop talking, put your head down, not communicate. They kept our heads up and forced the communication that keeps everyone on the same page.”

For instance, McQuilkin said, there was an interception late in the game by freshman corner Jason Shamatutu. “(Windsor) motioned into a certain formation, we had to call an auto,” McQuilkin said. “By making sure he knew the call, that the whole defence knew the call, he could just sit there and make a play.”

The calming influence of the veteran players led the Gaels to surrender not a point in the final 28 minutes of the game.

“We had some breakdowns,” McQuilkin said, “but you can’t get mad at teammates. You get frustrated and you get a little upset in your head, but you’ve just got to try and pick them up. And instead of yelling at them and discouraging them, pick them up, say, ‘Hey you’ve just got to be here,’ speak to them softly instead of autocratically.”

One thing the Gaels did was rotate players in and out of the lineup. “It gave us more stamina,” defensive lineman Natu Myers said, adding the big plays helped everyone’s confidence.

“The DBs are pretty young and when they started to get that confidence, they started to forget how young they are. They just got in there and made plays.”

“They never quit,” Sheahan said. “Some of our inexperience cost us a few points at different times but some of our athleticism came through at the end. That’s the process of learning.”

Queen’s first touchdown came in the game’s 10th minute on a two-yard run by Jesse Andrews on third-and-goal. The second came on a tremendous 12-play, a 75-yard drive that consumed almost all of the final three minutes of the first half. The two crucial plays were a 29-yard completion from McPhee to Corby immediately after the Gaels were called for an illegal block and objectionable conduct on the same play, setting up second-and-25 near midfield. The second was a 13-yard completion to Curtis Carmichael on third-and-seven from the Windsor 34-yard line to keep the drive going.

Alex Carroll made a splendid catch in the end zone for the score with less than 15 seconds on the clock.

Notebook: Queen’s young offensive linemen played a fine game. Though five plays went for no gain or a loss, the Gaels averaged 5.1 yards on their 35 carries, and McPhee was not sacked. … McPhee’s numbers might have appeared ordinary—17-for-35, for 259 yards—but after a 4-for-13 start he completed 13 of his next 19 attempts (68 per cent) and he did not throw an interception. … The Gaels could have done more with Windsor’s three turnovers. A first-quarter fumble ended with a missed 31-yard field goal; in the final three minutes of the game, the Lancers gave Queen’s two glorious opportunities to kill the clock but after first another fumble and then after Shamatutu’s interception, the Gaels were two and out, having killed barely 20 seconds each time. … Wamsley’s kicking was, in Sheahan’s words, “borderline sensational.” He averaged 41 yards per punt—an average 32 yards on kicks into the wind. “He hit every big punt we needed to make and his kickoffs were exceptional,” Sheahan said. “There’s no question our kicking game was superior today. He’s a very capable player and he did a good job.” Wamsley’s biggest contribution may have come after Corby’s touchdown, Queen’s second of the fourth quarter. He sent the subsequent kickoff through the end zone on a bounce for a single point, giving the Gaels a nine-point lead that meant Windsor had to score twice to get ahead. … Kennedy, Windsor’s fifth-year quarterback, had a fine game, completing 25 of 41 attempts for 393 yards. Evan Pszczonak had seven catches for 187 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown on the Lancers’ first offensive play of the second quarter. “Kennedy’s still elusive, he’s a great player, a real competitor, a real pain in the neck, actually,” Sheahan said, “but we slowed him down enough.” … The Gaels open at home Saturday afternoon at Richardson Stadium, hosting the Ottawa Gee-Gees at 1 o’clock.

 

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