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Gaels rebound well in loss to McMaster

September 28, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

HAMILTON—You’d think that shaving 57 points off the margin of defeat, and doing so against the No. 4-ranked team in the nation, would leave the Queen’s Golden Gaels feeling a little better about themselves.

Not necessarily.

“It was close,” quarterback Billy McPhee said, after the Gaels’ 28-19 loss in Saturday’s Ontario University Athletics football game.

“It was a better effort but it just wasn’t good enough.”

Without question, Queen’s was better, in almost any respect you’d care to name, than it was a week earlier, in its 66-0 defeat at Guelph, but that was small comfort to a team that will almost surely miss the playoffs as a result of falling to 0-5.

Never mind the record. This remains a proud group.

“Last week, to a man we were all embarrassed about how the game was handled or how we thought about the way the game went,” McPhee said.

“This week we showed character … we hung in.”

Having played his last game in his hometown, and burdered by the knowledge that there probably won’t be any playoff games in his final year, McPhee did allow that the team could draw good things from Saturday’s game.

“The defence played outstanding,” he said. “A lot of first years were put in situations maybe they weren’t used to and had to make a play, and by no means is it easy here.

“That’s not a bad offence across the way.”

Indeed, Queen’s is the first of McMaster’s five opponents this year to hold the undefeated Marauders to fewer than 30 points.

Before a Homecoming crowd of 5,427 on a hot, sunny, windless day, McMaster looked ordinary in the first half, managing just one touchdown. After Dillon Wamsley kicked a field goal for Queen’s on the final play of the first half, the home team took just a 12-5 lead into the intermission.

The Gaels tied the game early in the third quarter, after a five-play, 68-yard drive ended with Alex Carroll making a fine catch in the end zone. McPhee completed four passes in a row, three of them to Carroll for 57 yards, including the 17-yard scoring strike.

The subsequent McMaster drive ended when Yann Dika-Balotoken intercepted a Marshall Ferguson pass, but the Gaels gave up the rare go-ahead safety. On the following possession McMaster drove 75 yards in eight plays for a touchdown.

Trailing 21-12 early in the fourth quarter, the Gaels, a team that had scored one touchdown in more than 175 minutes of football prior to the start of the second half, answered with a scoring drive of their own, 87 yards in six plays, the last one a five-yard touchdown pass from McPhee to Doug Corby.

After the Marauders replied with another touchdown, the Gaels couldn’t muster another score. There were a couple of first downs on their next series, then McMaster, while it didn’t score again, killed most of the rest of the clock and the ensuing punt pinned Queen’s at its own 21-yard line.

The Gaels got to the McMaster 46-yard line but they failed on third down with seconds remaining to be played.

“The offence struggled in the first half but we were with them, blow for blow, in the second half,” McPhee said. “We just needed to collect our thoughts a bit earlier and that comes with maturity.”

McPhee included himself in that collective observation.

“I feel like with the way the world was falling in on us, and our backs were up against the wall, I expected a bit more of myself in the first half, maybe complete an extra pass, or don’t turn it over in (McMaster’s) end.”

With the game scoreless midway through the first quarter, McPhee threw an interception at the McMaster 18-yard line, ending a fine drive that started five plays earlier at the Queen’s 20. In that drive Jesse Andrews had consecutive carries of 19, 14 and 13 yards, on his way to a 131-yard rushing game.

McMaster coach Stefan Ptaszek said it was Queen’s best performance of the season.

“We watched all four games (on videotape),” he said. “They have played some good football, albeit in spurts. They haven’t put a full game together. We saw them play closer to a full football game (today). They’re a talented group, the best 0-5 football team you’re going to find.

“They got Corby and Carroll isolated and got them the ball. That was one of Billy McPhee’s better games, and they established a run game, which they haven’t had in previous weeks. Billy being sharper, the run game—it greased the wheels and they were moving us around a little bit.”

Ferguson, the Frontenac Secondary School grad who had a season-best 376 yards passing, insisted there wasn’t much difference between the Queen’s team he watched on video this week and the one he faced on the field Saturday.

“That Guelph game was an anomaly,” he said. “This is a team that’s better than their record and everybody knows that. None of this shocked us today. Maybe because I’m from Kingston I have this weird connection. I never want to believe that Queen’s isn’t good. I don’t care what their record is, I’ll always know they’re a threat to compete at any level at any time on any day.

“With the x’s and o’s, Queen’s is always going to be at the top of the league but they’re pretty young on defence. We were able to exploit a couple of one-on-one matches that we really wanted to get to.”

Uncharacteristically sloppy, the Marauders fumbled at the Queen’s 16-yard line midway through the second quarter, and the interception came at the Queen’s nine-yard line late in the third, at a point when the game was tied.

“Cautious or maybe not firing on all cylinders,” Ptaszek explained. “I don’t think we took Queen’s lightly. We didn’t have many, if any, two-and-outs. The fumble in the score zone in the first half, the pick in the score zone in the second half, they were points taken off the board that hurt us.

“Then the O line stepped up, Chris Pezzetta stepped up, and it ended the way it ended.”

Pezzetta had a career-best 154-yard day rushing, gaining 59 of those yards in the fourth quarter. He scored the decisive touchdown, giving the Marauders a nine-point lead with a one-yard run at 8:25 of the fourth quarter.

A member of McMaster’s 2011 Vanier Cup team, Pezzetta missed the last two seasons with a knee injury.

“I’ve had three ACL surgeries and I know how hard it is to come back at this level of football,” Ptaszek said. “You go through some tough days and you look for a defining moment when you fight through some of that stuff.

“I’m so happy for the kid, I can’t put it in words.”

Notebook: The interception by Yann Dika-Balotoken was his first of the year and the fifth this year by Queen’s defenders. He earlier intercepted a pass at the eight-yard line and returned it for what would have been a 102-yard touchdown, had not the Gaels been offside on the play. McMaster got the ball back but fumbled it away on the next play. … Alex Carroll had the best day of his career with Queen’s: Nine receptions and 145 yards receiving. It was his second 100-yard receiving day of the year. … Billy McPhee completed 21 of 29 passes for a season-best 283 yards. The interception was just his third in 180 passes this year. … Dillon Wamsley had another splendid day punting. He averaged 41.7 yards in seven punts, the fourth time in five games he’s averaged better than 40 yards per kick. His season average, 40.3 yards, is fourth best in Canada. … Ferguson threw for McMaster’s other touchdowns, 23 yards to Daniel Vandervoort, the 2013 winner of the Gorman Trophy as national rookie of the year, and three yards to Isaiah Mel. … Stefan Ptaszek was being quizzed by Hamilton reporters about why the Marauders weren’t beating up on lower-echelon teams the way others in the league were. “We all talk about the differences between the bottom of the OUA and the top,” he said. “I’m getting good at putting the lower teams away fast, because it doesn’t necessarily correlate to being good against the best teams. Running an offence that’s functional against the top defences in the country can mean some days it looks average against some of the average defences in the country. Our goal system, instruction-wise, is always to compete at the highest level, so if we’re not as good at killing non-playoff teams, that’s OK by me.” … As they played against their old high school coach, Mark Magee—who also coaches the Queen’s running backs—Frontenac alumni had a good afternoon. Besides Ferguson, fourth-year receiver Ben O’Connor had three catches for a career-best 83 yards and his kid brother, Mitch, dressed for his first intercollegiate game. “We kid Ben,” Ptaszek said. “(Mitch is) O’Connor 2.0. This version’s a little stronger, a little faster and he’s going to be a whale of a football player for us. He did some great things on special teams today.” … The Gaels have a week off, then they resume their schedule at home Saturday, Oct. 11 against Toronto. The Varsity Blues fell to 1-4 Saturday when they lost 41-25 to Ottawa.

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