For the third year in a row, men’s rugby claimed provincial supremacy at Nixon Field.
Queen’s topped the visiting Guelph Gryphons 32-23 on the heels of a blistering comeback Saturday, winning their third consecutive OUA championship.
“The boys earned it today. They played their guts out,” said Gaels head coach Gary Gilks. “There will be a big celebration tonight about the three-peat. That’s pretty awesome.”
A string of 29 unanswered points rallied the Gaels from an early 16-0 hole. Third-year fly half Adam McQueen tacked on a late penalty goal to finalize the scoring, giving Queen’s all the advantage they needed.
It wasn’t easy, at first. Several miscues allowed Guelph to string together sustained bouts of possession; the Gryphons raced to a 16-0 lead on two penalty goals and a pair of tries.
Gilks said the Gaels knew they might trail early and planned their game around that possibility.
“We chose to go against the wind in the first half for that reason,” he said. “If we were behind, we would be able to use the wind to our advantage in the second half. And that’s exactly what we did.”
After a try from eight-man Lucas Rumball and a McQueen conversion cut the Guelph lead to nine, fifth-year forward Tommy Kirkham rumbled 30 yards down the sideline on the final play of the first half, scoring the first of his two tries on the day.
“I just looked up and they weren’t there, so I called to McQueen and did my best to put it down in the corner there,” Kirkham said. “I wasn’t aware that it was the last play of the half and it turned out to be a big momentum change. The boys just kept on rolling.”
Minutes into the second half, forward James Dent blocked a Guelph kick and dove on the ball for the go-ahead try. Wing Jeffrey MacDonald later added a try of his own, before Kirkham put down another to make the score 29-16.
Kirkham said the key to Queen’s comeback was keeping the team’s focus strong.
“We kept with it, kept our nose to the grindstone and just had faith in each other and faith our fitness,” he said. “And just got the job done.”
Guelph brought the match back within a possession with 15 minutes to go, but couldn’t manage to equalize. McQueen booted the ball out of bounds as the final whistle sounded, and the Gaels’ veteran core finished their time at Queen’s with another title.
“I wanted to go out on top and all the other last-year players wanted to as well,” Kirkham said. “It just feels great, ending off in perfect fashion.”
The Gaels beat Guelph 33-17 in their regular-season matchup on Oct. 4, and eventually clinched home-field advantage for the entirety of the OUA playoffs.
Wing Kainoa Lloyd said hosting the final on Nixon Field gave the Gaels a little added motivation.
“I think it’s really great having the home crowd. Hearing people cheer you on just gives you that extra fire in your belly, take the extra metre or so,” he said. “I really appreciated having them out there.”
All of Queen’s three consecutive championship wins came on the Gaels’ home turf. Forward Brendan Sloan — a veteran of all three rosters — said this year’s win was the most exciting.
“To make it a tight game like that definitely makes it a little more exciting, but it just feels great to go three in a row,” Sloan said.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling — I can’t even describe it. No words right now, just big smiles on everybody’s face. It’s an unreal way to end this career. It’s been great.”
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