Queen’s nearly choked away a substantial lead, barely hanging on to beat the winless Ottawa Gee-Gees 32-25 on Saturday.
After holding a 32-7 advantage through three quarters of play, the Gaels allowed 18 consecutive points in the fourth. A strip-sack of Ottawa quarterback Aaron Colbon secured a narrow victory in the final minute.
Despite almost pulling off the miracle comeback, the Gee-Gees fired interim head coach Gary Etcheverry on Sunday. They lost the first five games of the season under Etcheverry, with Saturday’s game serving as their closest margin of defeat.
“[Ottawa has] pretty similar personnel to last year, when they were a good team,” said Gaels defensive end Cory Dyer, who registered nine tackles and two sacks. “We weren’t expecting them to lay down and die by any means.”
A bevy of impact plays on special teams spurred the Gee-Gees’ late run. Ottawa blocked two punts in the fourth quarter, while Gaels receiver Doug Corby fumbled away a punt return with seven minutes left.
The Gee-Gees capitalized on all three turnovers, highlighted by a 51-yard touchdown drive that took just 28 seconds.
Gee-Gees kicker Matt Falvo was the greatest beneficiary of Queen’s errors. He converted three field goals in the fourth quarter, including a 51-yarder — the longest in school history.
Queen’s head coach Pat Sheahan emphasized the importance of execution on special teams.
“We’ve had three weeks in a row where we’ve had a problem on our punt protection,” Sheahan said. “You have to have reliable people in there. Kids are doing the best they can, but under pressure, we had some meltdowns.”
The Gaels were hampered by a mystifying lack of offensive precision for the third straight game. They scored two offensive touchdowns in games against Western and McMaster, the OUA’s best defences — then matched that output against Ottawa, one of the conference’s worst.
Queen’s offense, feckless at the start and finish, managed to come through in the third quarter.
The bulk of quarterback Billy McPhee’s 173 passing yards came on two scoring drives, both of which were capped off by short touchdown rushes from running back Ryan Granberg.
The spurts of offensive effectiveness ended there. The Gaels gained just five yards in the fourth quarter, picking up only one first down.
“That’s been our character all year,” Sheahan said. “We get streaky, where we go bang-bang-bang and score, but then we hit a bump on the road — a little bit of adversity.”
Several key Gaels were sidelined against Ottawa. Centre Mike Sullivan, linebacker Justin Baronaitis, cornerback Christoph Smith and safety Ben D’Andrea all sustained injuries last week against McMaster, while receiver Alex Carroll hasn’t played since Queen’s matchup with Laurier on Sept. 8.
Queen’s defensive depth will be tested on Oct. 6, when they face the Windsor Lancers on the road. Windsor quarterback Austin Kennedy leads the CIS with an average of 356 passing yards per game, though the Lancers have been wildly inconsistent throughout their 3-2 start.
Sheahan said the Gaels will look to rectify their familiar offensive struggles.
“We’ve got to play with more precision and competitive excellence at key points in the game,” he said.
“When you’re just a hair off, when does it all start to click?”
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