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Gaels long for a quick start against the Varsity Blues

October 10, 2014


There’s more, Alex Carroll believes, to scoring early in a football game than just the obvious competitive advantages it provides.

“It’s a huge thing for the offence, to think, ‘OK, we can do this,’” the Queen’s Golden Gaels veteran receiver said. “It’s about belief in yourself.”

Alas, in their 0-5 season, putting points on the scoreboard early has not been a forte of the Gaels. Since scoring a pair of first-quarter touchdowns in the season opener at Windsor, Queen’s has been denied the end zone in the first 15 minutes of the ensuing four games.

Save for a solitary field goal, Queen’s hasn’t scored in the first quarter of a football game since Labour Day. The Gaels haven’t scored a touchdown in the first half of their last three games.

It’s a Catch 22 for a young group of players to overcome—if confidence derives from scoring early, yet you don’t yet possess the confidence to do so.

“You can do it a bit in practice but for the most part it’s got to be in game situations,” Carroll said. “Getting down there and scoring is basically the only thing you can do to instill that confidence.”

As the Gaels embark on the final three games of a season that will have no playoff, perhaps it’s just in the nick of time that the Varsity Blues arrive Saturday from Toronto, a 1-5 team that has allowed 260 points—no fewer than 41 points in any of its five defeats, and 72 points in the first quarters of those games.

Whether the Gaels can continue that trend—or the Blues see Queen’s as an opportunity to reverse it—remains to be determined. If it works out in the Gaels’ favour, Carroll said it would be a “huge boost” for the team.

“I don’t know whether we just haven’t quite had the confidence to score early or there are a couple of things we have to tweak here and there,” he said. “A lot of the time we’ve been able to move the ball early in games, but not convert. We’d move the ball down the field and turn the ball over or have a quick two and out.

“It’s just about having the right mentality down there, having that killer instinct once we’re inside the four-yard line that we’re going to come away with the points.”

Carroll, who enjoyed a career-best nine-catch, 145-yard game in the Gaels’ last game, at McMaster, said getting ahead early can have a big impact on a young team.

“It changes your mentality as a team,” he said. “We have a talented team, a young team for sure (and) especially as inexperienced as we are in some positions, it’s easy to lose the mentality that you’re going to go out and win every series. It’s easy to get down on yourself and your teammates.

“For me, even, you have those thoughts in your head, maybe you’re down 10-0 in the first quarter, it’s like, ‘Here we go again, here comes another loss.’”

Gaels coach Pat Sheahan cautioned against making too much of the inability to score early.

“That’s probably been characteristic of us over the years,” he said. “For whatever reason, it takes us a little bit of time to settle in, (though) I don’t know how accurate a critique it is this year … we were up against some pretty good teams.”

Having said that, Sheahan acknowledged that confidence on any football team means a great deal.

“When you go into a football game confident, it does have an impact on how you come out of the blocks,” he said. “It’s important for us to come out strong. I don’t think we have anything to fear against (Toronto). It’s a matter of showing up, bringing our A game, having some success early (and) not getting behind the 8 ball or in a hole right away.”

There may be two reasons for the Gaels to be thinking positively: They haven’t lost to Toronto since rejoining the OUA in 2001 (11-0) and the players feel good about their last outing, a 28-19 loss in Hamilton to league-leading McMaster.

“We battled,” Carroll said. “Even though we came away with a loss, it was a statement game for us, especially after that debacle in Guelph. Our defence battled, our offence made plays. Maybe we made some errors at the wrong time in the game but for the most part we fought for the whole game and scrapped them as hard as we could.”

At a news conference Thursday, Sheahan was philosophical about the way the season has evolved.

“We’re probably exactly where we should be,” he said, wondering aloud how the season might have unfolded had these last three games—against Toronto, York and Carleton, three teams that have collectively beaten Queen’s four times since 1987—had been at the start of the schedule, instead of the end.

“If we run the table the kids will have walked off the field four times with victories,” he said. “They’ve performed well, at times. Guelph was the only game where we left it on the bus. Every other game we’ve been in; we’ve competed and we’ve done fairly well.

“Here’s what’s amazing about this year’s team: They’re just playing. We’ve had great effort in practice, we’ve got guys who are injured who are scrapping to get back in the lineup and grab onto the rope. The spirit on the team has been tremendous. We’ve seen some great growth.”

The unavoidable thing, he said, is the team’s inexperience. “It’s caused some problems, but you cannot inject experience into kids.”

Despite the team’s record, Sheahan said the young players are simply happy to be playing more than they typically would be so early in their intercollegiate careers.

“And when you’re happy to be playing,” he continued, “the atmosphere is good.

“If you come out to practice it’s not like you’re visiting a funeral home. It’s upbeat, the kids are working hard, they’re looking forward to the next game. We’re a team in need of a win and that’s what we’re going for this weekend.”

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