New gridiron stars shining for Gaels

The Gaels’ Pat Corbin (90), Tim Poffley (36) and Riley Chisholm (9) bring down Western’s Craig Butler in Saturday’s game.
The Gaels’ Pat Corbin (90), Tim Poffley (36) and Riley Chisholm (9) bring down Western’s Craig Butler in Saturday’s game.
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Queen’s linebacker Chris Smith sacks Western’s quarterback Michael Faulds Saturday.
Queen’s linebacker Chris Smith sacks Western’s quarterback Michael Faulds Saturday.
Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz

Going into Saturday’s Homecoming football game against Western, much of the hype centred on the Gaels’ offence, and perhaps rightly so.

After all, that offence featured Mike Giffin, the leading CIS running back with 684 rushing yards going into the weekend, Dan Brannagan, the leading CIS quarterback with 1,404 passing yards and Scott Valberg, the leading CIS receiver with 472 receiving yards.

It wasn’t the big offensive stars who really stepped up for Queen’s, though. Western held that vaunted offence to just 295 net yards and 18 first downs while putting up 510 net yards and 33 first downs of their own, despite the Gaels’ 43-16 victory.

That crucial win came from the contributions of Queen’s lesser-publicized players. This was their Homecoming and their battle as well, and they were out for vengeance on the Mustangs after last year’s playoff loss. Western contained a few of the star Gaels but they couldn’t handle the entire team.

Some stunning examples of the impact lesser-known players had on the game include the performance of defensive back Alex DaPrato, who made a crucial interception deep in Gaels territory and returned it 94 yards to set up a Mike Giffin touchdown that gave Queen’s a 16-1 lead, and the show put on by the linebacking corps of Thaine Carter, T.J. Leeper and Chris Smith, who turned in an impressive effort, helping Queen’s defensive linemen almost completely shut down the Mustangs’ running game and bringing tremendous pressure to bear on Western quarterback Michael Faulds. Those guys don’t receive the hype that surrounds Queen’s offensive stars, but they proved even more vital to the Gaels’ victory Saturday.

Big contributions from unexpected places came again in the second half, when Western appeared to be making a comeback. The Mustangs scored two quick touchdowns while the Gaels’ offence sputtered and stalled. When Queen’s finally regained control of the game, it wasn’t from a stunning Brannagan pass or an outstanding Giffin run. It wasn’t even an offensive play that got the Gaels going, as the game’s decisive moment came on special teams when Jimmy Allin picked up more than 20 yards on a fake field goal to put Queen’s in scoring position and re-energize the offence.

Overall, it was an impressive win over the second-ranked team in the country, but there are plenty of issues that still need to be addressed. This game could have been a lot closer and might have even turned into a Western victory. Still, the Gaels proved that they can beat a top-10 team without a monster game from their offensive superstars, and that’s a good sign moving forward. The depth of this team may prove one of its greatest assets down the road.

The 5-0 Gaels will be back in action this weekend as they travel to Toronto to play the 0-5 York Lions.

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