Football sneaks into last playoff spot

Gaels win and Carleton loss sees Queen’s face McMaster in first round

Quarterback Nate Hobbs threw for 436 yards

After their 59-38 win over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, Pat Sheahan asked his players to take a knee at Varsity Stadium in Toronto.

A ritual of sorts, Sheahan said the team gathered in a clumped bunch; “[A]nd just as I’m about to congratulate them on the win, there’s a huge roar in the stands from all the [players’] parents and Queen’s fans.”

The coach figured that Queen’s punched their ticket to the playoffs — though it wasn’t entirely through the team’s own doing.

The Gaels headed into their last regular season game in what Sheahan called a “business trip” earlier in the week. At the time, he said winning would be imperative for their chances at postseason play, but unfortunately it would only finish half the job required.

“There’s several other scenarios that have to happen,” Sheahan told The Journal during a press conference held two days before the game, and securing a postseason berth wasn’t “contingent on [the Gaels’] performance.”

The coach was referring to the other key playoff-implicated matchup in the OUA that week — the Carleton Ravens (3-4) versus the Guelph Gryphons (4-3). A Ravens win over the Gryphons, by way of a tiebreak, would leave Queen’s on the outside looking in and missing out on playoff contention for the second consecutive year.

“Well, what I can tell you,” Sheahan said on Monday morning, detailing the course of Saturday afternoon’s game, “is that it was rollercoaster.” 

Sheahan described the game as “one of those things where you’re so [unsettled],” alluding to the Gaels’ shaky start to open the afternoon. Queen’s fell behind 14-0 early in the first quarter before scoring 38 unanswered points to close out the half.

With a comfortable — not to mention commanding — lead, Sheahan said “it became almost overwhelming” for his players not to lend attention to the Ravens-Gryphons game, which was also played at 1 p.m.

“They announced the halftime score [of Carleton vs Guelph] and it was 18-9 for Carleton, and I told the guys, “’Look, I don’t want any more scores being announced,’” Sheahan remembered. “I said, ‘it’s way too distracting and we have enough to concentrate on at field-level here.’”

But when Guelph began mounting a comeback and the Gaels extended their lead to as far as 24 points in the fourth quarter, the head coach said his team “couldn’t help it.”

“The [players] kept telling me, ‘Guelph’s ahead now, there’s three minutes to go,’’’ Sheahan said, laughing. “They just couldn’t contain themselves.”

Guelph experienced a dominant 16-1 closing quarter, scoring two field goals within the last three minutes to win the game 28-23 and secure their playoff spot.

“Without even asking,” Sheahan thought to himself with his players on one knee before him, “I just announced, ‘Well, gentlemen, it appears as though Guelph has won a football game.’”

Barring their first quarter blunder, the Gaels played U of T like they had any other team since the season’s midway point — relentlessly.

Quarterback Nate Hobbs was on fire, throwing for 436 yards coupled with five touchdowns and no interceptions, while running back Jake Puskas — who in the month of October averaged over 151 yards on the ground per game — rushed for 118 yards and a score. The Gaels’ defense also sustained their strong play, with fourth year linebacker Nelkas Kwemo taking an interception back for a touchdown. 

Sheahan commented that there was a sense of “release” and easiness that permeated the locker room after the game — “[W]e’re going on to the postseason,” he said.

But with excitement comes reality, the coach added.

“[Y]ou get through this roller coaster which was [our] regular season,” Sheahan said, “and what have we won? Well, we’ve really only guaranteed ourselves one more week of football. That’s all you’ve got.”

The Gaels head to McMaster next weekend for their first playoff game in two years. Sheahan said his team isn’t only prepared for the matchup, but mentally familiar with how to balance the pressures associated with postseason play.

“[I]t’s sudden-death now, and we know what sudden-death is because we’ve been sudden-death for the last month,” the coach said of his team. “The next time [we] lose a football game, we’re grabbing our gear, having a pizza, and wishing everybody on the team good luck — that’s the way it goes down.”

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