Ten minutes away from returning to the Yates Cup, Queen’s suffered a devastating collapse they won’t forget.
The Gaels fell 42-39 to the Guelph Gryphons in last Saturday’s OUA semifinal, losing a 22-point fourth-quarter lead and allowing a long touchdown pass in overtime.
The final, fatal quarter of Queen’s season was a microcosm of the troubles that plagued them all year — untimely turnovers, blown punt protection and the occasional disappearance of the offense.
From the outset of 2012, it appeared the Gaels were primed for second place in the OUA, with the Western Mustangs set to regress and no team prepared to make substantial gains.
The OUA hierarchy fell as it was supposed to — except for Guelph. The Gryphons tiptoed past a slew of OUA lightweights before overcoming a 25-point deficit to upset Queen’s on Oct. 13.
Guelph’s advantage is clear: a mental fortitude and resilience the Gaels couldn’t overcome.
For teams with Yates Cup aspirations, rolling through the conference’s lesser clubs is a formality. Only a few games a year truly matter, and Queen’s couldn’t win the biggest ones in 2012.
The season certainly had its bright spots. Just a week before the semifinal defeat, the Gaels looked unstoppable in a 34-0 demolition of the Laurier Golden Hawks. An emotional 18-11 home victory over Western on Sept. 15 established Queen’s defence as one of the nation’s best.
There’s plenty of reason for optimism heading into next year. The Gaels’ fearsome defensive front will return intact, with linemen John Miniaci, Derek Wiggan and Cory Dyer and linebacker Sam Sabourin all set to build on superb individual seasons.
Despite receiver Giovanni Aprile’s pending return to the CFL and the possibility of running back Ryan Granberg joining him, the team shouldn’t be overly concerned with reloading.
Granberg was the latest in a storied lineage of Queen’s running backs, and based on his early output, second-year Jesse Andrews could be the next. Andrews surpassed 100 rushing yards in both of his playoff starts, stepping in admirably after Granberg’s late-season injury.
Quarterback Billy McPhee made immense strides in his third season, completing 63 per cent of his passes and nearly topping 2,000 passing yards. To contend for the Yates Cup next season, he’ll have to overcome the turnover troubles that hampered him in both Guelph games.
The Gaels are better today than a year ago, when the McMaster Marauders shellacked them in the playoffs. Still, the improvements have yet to pay dividends in the playoffs, and Queen’s will rue the two late leads they blew in Guelph.
Another seven-win season is nothing to scoff at, but the Gaels left too many missed opportunities on the field in 2012. The talent was there, but it wasn’t enough.
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