Queen’s 45th all-time victory over Western was hardly a classic, but the Gaels managed to pass their first test of the 2012 season.
By defeating the Mustangs 18-11, Queen’s now has a clear path to a top-two finish in the OUA, which would assure them a bye through to the conference semi-finals.
Both offenses struggled to muster drives of any consequence on Saturday. Queen’s defence was the difference, stifling the Mustangs’ attack when it mattered most.
“[Western’s] been running the same thing for a couple years now, so we had a good idea of what they were going to bring at us,” said Gaels linebacker Sam Sabourin. “For the most part, they’re a power running team, so you just have to bring a little bit of attitude.”
Sabourin was everywhere on Saturday, disrupting Western’s offensive flow and stuffing several crucial rushes at the line of scrimmage. He had 12.5 tackles and two sacks, while defensive backs Justin Baronaitis and Andrew Lue secured timely interceptions.
“To take an offense like that and hold them to three points was an amazing deal,” said head coach Pat Sheahan.
Saturday’s game contradicted itself in many ways. Queen’s offense gained 424 total yards, but committed three untimely turnovers and looked stagnant for long stretches.
Western’s offense tallied 241 rushing yards, but never came near the end zone. Despite scoring only three offensive points, the Mustangs held the lead in the fourth quarter, barely missing their chance to send the game to overtime.
These incongruities likely derive from the fact that neither team had played a competitive game through the season’s first two weeks. After steamrolling Waterloo and Toronto to open the year, Western’s passing game finally sputtered against Queen’s.
Mustangs quarterback Donnie Marshall was erratic, completing just seven passes and throwing two interceptions. His freelancing style worked well in spurts — most notably on a 39-yard completion late in the fourth quarter — but Western couldn’t trust him to maintain possession or advance the ball for most of the game.
One third-quarter drive encapsulated the Mustangs’ entire offensive performance. After picking up 61 yards on seven consecutive rushes, Marshall was promptly intercepted by Baronaitis, killing the Mustangs’ best chance to extend a four-point lead.
Gaels QB Billy McPhee played with confidence, completing 19 of
31 passes for 254 yards. Aside from two touchdown drives, though, Queen’s offense was mostly ineffective, failing to turn several promising drives into points.
The Gaels punted eight times, missed two long field goals and lost a pair of fumbles. One McPhee pass ricocheted off receiver Giovanni Aprile and straight to Western’s Pawel Kruba, who jogged 30 yards into the end zone.
“We did just enough to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Sheahan said. “It was one of those days where a lot of the movement was between the [30-yard lines], rather than what we did in the red zone.”
Those missteps didn’t cost Queen’s on Saturday, but they must be erased for the Gaels to challenge McMaster, who they’ll face in Hamilton on Sept. 22. The Western win was hardly convincing, but it established Queen’s defence as one of the nation’s best. To beat the Marauders, they’ll have to be near perfect once again.