Billy McPhee’s debut as starting quarterback was one to forget. The offence didn’t score a point, and the Gaels fell 26-2 to McMaster in front of 8,517 fans at Richardson Stadium on Monday. The second-year pivot and first-year starter went 13 for 32 and threw two interceptions.
Head coach Pat Sheahan said it was the first time since 2007 that the Gaels offence didn’t register a touchdown. If they don’t sort out their problems quickly, the team will struggle in the nation’s capital on Saturday, up against the 1-0 Ottawa Gee-Gees.
McPhee looked nervous throughout the game. He underthrew open receivers and was at fault for both interceptions. On the first one, a failed screen pass was thrown into the hands of Marauders linebacker Ben d’Aguilar, who returned it 57 yards for a touchdown. On the second interception, McPhee overthrew his receiver.
“It is not what I had in mind,” said McPhee of Monday’s season opener. “The offence has to come back and do their part [against Ottawa] on Saturday.”
McPhee said there are positives to take from the McMaster game.
“I would rate it as a learning experience. When you start looking at negatives, that’s when you’re going to lose focus,” he said.
Head coach Pat Sheahan said he’s not worried about McPhee’s performance.
“I don’t think it was his best outing, but there were some flashes of brilliance out there,” Sheahan said. “He’s capable of much better.”
The Gaels didn’t have an exhibition game this year. But the Marauders did. On Aug. 28, McMaster lost 24-10 to the defending Vanier Cup champs, the Laval Rouge et Or, and their exhibition experience was apparent in Monday’s game. McMaster’s veteran quarterback Kyle Quinlan had McMaster’s offence running in mid-season form.
“It looked like we were in exhibition mode,” Sheahan said. “There were a few [mistakes] that are going to be preventable. There were things that you know are not going to happen later.”
The Marauders were ranked third in the CIS in preseason polls, and were favoured before the game. After they jumped out to a 23-0 halftime lead, the result was never in doubt.
“They’re a good team,” Sheahan said. “[Quinlan] is playing with confidence. You need to be in your groove to beat them.”
There were some positives to take from Monday’s game. Former quarterback Justin Chapdelaine had a good performance in his first appearance as a receiver. He made catches, ran the ball, and even made a couple throws, to finish with 145 all-purpose yards. With receiver Giovanni Aprile returning to the line-up this weekend, the Gaels offence should be more dynamic.
Sheahan said he was impressed with Chapdelaine’s performance.
“He looked like a veteran player out there,” Sheahan said.
McPhee also had some good moments on Monday. In the first half, he connected on a couple of long completions with Chapdelaine and receiver Thomas Howes. But he needs to be more consistent.
As Sheahan pointed out on Monday, there’s a learning curve that comes with the quarterback role, and he used Quinlan as an example. Two years ago, the McMaster quarterback came to Richardson Stadium and went 12 for 36 and threw for three interceptions. On Monday he went 20 for 31 and threw for 349 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“Two years ago in the playoffs he was throwing the ball in the dirt,” Sheahan said. “Now, he looks very poised, very confident.”
The Gaels’ coach also said Quinlan should be an example for McPhee.
“I think we have a very similar type of kid at quarterback that they have,” he said. “[McPhee]’s come a long way already, and you’re going to see big improvements.”
These improvements need to come quickly.