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Gaels already facing a playoff-sensitive football game

September 19, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

It’s not that Pat Sheahan necessarily has anything against mathematicians.

He just doesn’t want them involved when the time comes to determine his football team’s fate at the end of the year.

“I don’t think we’re out if we lose this weekend, but I would say if there are any more losses this season each one bears with it consequences,” the Queen’s Golden Gaels coach was saying Thursday, at a news conference where he was discussing the implications of Saturday’s Ontario University Athletics contest in Guelph.

“Now you get involved in mathematical equations (to determine playoff spots) and that’s not where you want to be down the stretch, particularly if you’re playing your best football by the end, (but you still) need somebody else to beat somebody or somebody to lose to let you in.”

Unfortunately for the Gaels, that’s exactly where they stand as they go into their fourth game of the season still looking for their first official victory.

With five games to play, the best Queen’s can do is 5-3, which gets them in the front door of the playoffs. Last year 4-4 wasn’t good enough to get all the .500 teams into the post-season.

3-5? To align those planets and solve that equation, a school would have to have Galileo and Pythagoras both on faculty to get that team into the playoffs.

The Gaels plight is not made easier by having already had defeats registered against them by Ottawa and Windsor, two teams that could very well be involved in any of the end-of-schedule tie-breaking analysis for the final few playoff berths.

“The consequence of losing this football game is you’ll pay a heavy price for it in the overall season,” Sheahan said, while nonetheless expressing confidence that better things are in the offing.

“Our team is gaining a sense of itself. (The players are) taking a look around and seeing how good they can be … but with any team like this you need to get a couple of wins under your belt to prove to yourselves that you can be what you see in the mirror. I think this team, by the end of the year, will be a very tough team to beat. I believe that. They have the ability to win the next two games. How we perform at critical points in the game, how we mature, will indicate the amount of growth that has taken place.”

(After Guelph, by the way, comes a trip to Hamilton to face the unbeaten Marauders.)

“We can win our way (into the playoffs),” Sheahan continued. “We need to demonstrate a certain level of improvement this week and an increased level of competitiveness, particularly at times when the game’s on the line.”

That’s not something the young Gaels were able to do in Saturday’s 43-12 loss to Western.

Two situations in that game illustrated the phenomenon of which Sheahan speaks. In them, the Gaels ran five plays from inside the Western two-yard line and failed to score on either the first sequence, which would have given them a 7-0 lead early in the game, or the second, which would have brought them to within seven points of Western’s lead in the third quarter.

Sheahan insisted his team’s play against Western “really wasn’t that bad.”

“It is when we collapsed that was the critical thing.

“When you have a young football team … you’re going to have a few explosions and that’s been characteristic of our team in the first three games. We’ve played well, we’ve played extraordinarily at times, but there has been a few explosions, a two- or three-minute lapse where, bing-bang-boom, the other team moves the football.

“There’s no real explanation for it, other than our team has lost focus.”

Indeed, Queen’s has had hopeful episodes: 39 points against the Lancers in a game where the Gaels twice came from behind for a win they would ultimately forfeit, and 30 points in the first 50 minutes against Ottawa in another game where Queen’s had to come from behind. That’s 66 points and three comebacks in seven quarters of football, enough to cover a host of defensive blemishes.

However, there have also been some miserable aspects: the three touchdowns the Gaels allowed Ottawa to score in the final 10 minutes that led to their Week 2 defeat, and exactly one touchdown in their last 70 minutes of play.

In other words, this team has played well enough at times to entertain the possibility of going 5-0 the rest of the way, but poorly enough to thank goodness that York stands in the way of them going 0-5 to the end.

“There is a maturing that (has to take place) and there’s accountability, that you know on your left and your right everybody’s going to do their job, and there’s a certain amount of confidence that comes with that,” Sheahan said. “We’ve had some great play out of some really young players but with young players the issue is going to be consistency.

“The other issue is if you happen to make a mistake, experienced players who are battle tested, they tend to let it go much easier; whereas (when) you make a mistake as a young player you start to second-guess yourself and then one mistake leads to another one and that develops into the inconsistent play that causes problems.”

In close line play, all you need is one player to fail in his task for the play to break down. At those crucial moments against Western, more than one player had a turn at being that guy, Sheahan said.

“We had two or three explosions at a time in the game where you have to be on point, at your best,” Sheahan said. “Kids who haven’t been in there before, they get a little excited, they second-guess themselves.

“You get in those games, you make those mistakes, you learn from them and then you move forward and you’re better the next time. That’s the theory.”

It’s a hypothesis that will be severely tested before a homecoming crowd in Guelph Saturday, where the No. 7-ranked Gryphons are undefeated in 10 games since 2011.

Offensively, the teams are mirror images, with Queen’s holding a slight edge in yards (407 per game, versus 385 by Guelph). Each team has a senior quarterback struggling to complete 50 per cent of his passes (Billy McPhee of Queen’s at .527; Guelph’s Jazz Lindsey at .479) and a No. 1 running back who has struggled with injury this year (Guelph’s Rob Farquaharson returned last week; Jesse Andrews of Queen’s is expected back Saturday).

On defence, the comparison ends. Guelph, having allowed 312 yards per game, on average, has the third-stingiest defence in the league; Queen’s has allowed 571 per average game, fourth worst in the land, more than Waterloo and fewer than only Alberta, UBC and, well, York. Only five teams in Canada—and only Waterloo and York in Ontario—have allowed more than Queen’s 36.7 points per game.

Game time at Alumni Field is 1 p.m.

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