It’s not about how you start — it’s how you finish.
Those were the sentiments Queen’s football head coach Pat Sheahan echoed to reporters and season ticket holders at a Thursday afternoon press conference. The Gaels’ 0-4 start to the season, he added, is firmly in their rear-view mirror.
“Our guys … they look really ready. This is as ready and as confident as I’ve seen our team all season,” Sheahan said of the Gaels’ mental state heading into a homecoming bout versus York.
After last week’s decisive 68-17 win over Waterloo, the Gaels “had some bounce in their step” and carried a swagger they didn’t show earlier in the season. “Teams react differently after a win,” Sheahan said, “[and] it’s the payback for all the hard work put in.”
Through four games, Queen’s season — and hopes for the playoffs — looked discouraging. Defensive end Zac Sauer told The Journal that losing to Western was the team’s breaking point.
“After that fourth loss, we all kind of just looked at each other and said, ‘You know what? It’s time to start playing complete football games.’”
And they have.
The Gaels have led the OUA in scoring in subsequent weeks with 122 total points. Their defense has done their part as well, conceding just 27 points across the stretch.
Saturday afternoon’s matchup is steeped with playoff implications. Queen’s has to win their last two games to ensure they want any shot at a playoff berth. While the pressure is mounting, the team has remained calm and collected.
“[We’ve] got great coaching staff,” Sauer said. “They’re always there for us, telling us, ‘Yeah, it’s a big game. Yeah, there’s all this other stuff attached to it. But at the end of the day, you [guys] just got to lineup and do your job play-by-play.’”
Sheahan concurred, adding his team understands the gravity of the game.
“This is a playoff game for us [and] we can’t afford to drop it,” he said. “Our team is hungry — they know they have to win.”
The Gaels have played with their backs against the wall the last two weeks and at some point, the cards have to fall in their favour.
“[T]he fact that we’ve been in a pressure cooker for the last month has got to pay dividends,” Sheahan said.
York is 1-5 on the season. They’ve struggled considerably on both sides of the ball this year — ranking bottom three in the OUA for both points-per-game with 17 and points allowed with 40.8 per week. Even though the Gaels rank top five in both those respective categories, Sheahan said his team has to stay diligent, confident and in the moment.
“What York has proved over the last few weeks is that they can make plays difficult for you when you’re not ready,” Sheahan said, alluding to the visitors’ unpredictability throughout the game. To throw people off, Sheahan said they often play “six wide-receiver sets” that are tough to match. He added that the Lions’ special teams is explosive.
“[We’ve] got our hands full [but] I think we go out and take care of our business,” he said.
With their current record, the Gaels can’t be sure they’ll squeeze into the playoffs — they determine their own destiny. But on Saturday, as they grace Richardson Stadium with heaps of tricolor engrossing the stands, they’ll be sure of one thing: they’re participating in as meaningful a game as it gets.
“I told the players this week: the homecoming game — that’s the one [where] you want to do something memorable. Bring something to the ballpark that people talk about,” Sheahan said.
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