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Gaels hoping youth will serve them well against powerful Western

September 12, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

Folks have lamented for weeks about the tremendous turnover in personnel suffered this year by the Queen’s Golden Gaels. To be sure, among the 25 departed from the varsity roster, there were some truly fine players.

What people may not remember is that, as good as those guys may have been, Queen’s still got smoked last year—twice—by the Western Mustangs.

Institutional memory can stop being a good thing when those memories are bad.

“Sometimes the shadows that come back from the past can haunt you and cause you to lose confidence,” Gaels coach Pat Sheahan was saying Thursday.

Therefore, maybe it’s okay that the Gaels go into their game with the defending Yates Cup champion Mustangs Saturday with a lineup full of new faces, belonging to players who have never been scarred by the Western juggernaut.

“You know, with youth comes comes innocence and with that innocence, comes (the notion) you don’t know any better,” Sheahan said. “Some of them are just happy to be out there playing and once you’re playing, then you think about winning.”

In a way, the Gaels have little to lose going into a game with the No. 3-ranked Mustangs with a lineup liberally laced with players who have never had to be carried off the field on their shields after playing them.

“We’ve faced them in situations like this in the past, where we’ve been significantly out-manned and out-experienced,” Sheahan said. “As long as the players on the field don’t see themselves that way, you’re not really at a disadvantage.

“There are a number of guys in uniform who weren’t here last year. They’re excited. They know that the Queen’s-Western game is one of the key dates on the schedule. They’re fired up to go out there and take their crack at them.”

Western comes to town having won its only game this season handily, 61-0 at York. It’s a game in which the Mustangs clearly took their foot off the gas, as 10 different players carried the football and eight different players caught one.

In Will Finch Western has the league’s premier quarterback—a league-record 3,047 yards passing as a sophomore last year and a completion percentage of almost 70 per cent—not to mention two all-Canadian receivers—Brian Marshall and George Johnson—the guy who led the nation in rushing two years ago—Garret Sanvido—all playing behind an offensive that includes three conference all-stars.

“They’re balanced everywhere. They’ve got some pretty good players at just about every position,” Sheahan said. “They’ll be more than solid on defence but, as always, when you play them the question is: Can you stop them? Can you slow them down?

“They are very much creatures of habit and if they can run the ball down your throat, they will. It’s up to us to stop them. We have a plan, and it appears to be working in practice. We’ll see if we can take it to the game field Saturday.”

At a news conference Thursday Sheahan was asked if he feels like the team, 0-2 after forfeiting its season-opening victory for having used an ineligible player, has hit rock bottom.

“I feel like we should be 2-0,” he said. “We’re a good enough team to be undefeated at this time, and that’s with a lot of changes and a lot of young players. I think we’re probably two or three plays away from being undefeated, without the other situation applied, so there’s a source for the team to be confident in the way that they’re playing.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had that many first-year guys in out there in starting roles (on defence). They’re going to learn rapidly but they are getting better. My expectation is we’re going to progress.

“I think there’s some cause for some optimism but also some cause for trepidation.”

Young or old, experienced or green, Sheahan said there are things his team has to get done Saturday in order to win.

“(Western) is a very talented and productive team on first down. If they can push the ball forward seven to eight yards on first down continually, and get their quarterback in second-and-two and second-and-three situations, I don’t think you need to be a brain surgeon to understand that the game becomes fairly easy to manage for the offensive personnel.

“We’re going to have to be a little more robust on first down and at the same time have to do a pretty good job against their explosion plays. You’ve got to be able to take care of what they do well and the old adage of your best defence is a good offence may very much come into play this weekend. The more we can keep the Western offence on the bench, watching the play, the less effective they will be moving the football against us.”

It would be helpful in that regard if running back Jesse Andrews could play Saturday. On Thursday, Sheahan said that remains a doubtful proposition.

“Still a question mark,” the coach said. “He’s looking better every day but he’s still a question mark.”

Andrews missed last Saturday’s game and if he can’t go this week, the onus to rush the football will fall to two more young players: second-year man Jonah Pataki and freshman Adam Black.

Sheahan long ago got used to the idea of putting his young players on the firing line.

“If you don’t know any better, you’re just out there playing,” Sheahan said. “That little bit of innocence that our guys have, I think it will be a source of strength for them.

“I’m going to encourage our players just to get out there and play, and we’ll tally up the points at the end and see how we do.”

Game time at Richardson Stadium is 1 p.m.

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