What a difference a year makes.
Midway through the 2011 football season, Queen’s sat at 2-2, with early losses to McMaster and Ottawa overshadowing a brief win streak. That streak would eventually extend to the OUA semi-final, where the Gaels fell once again to the Marauders.
Queen’s still lags behind McMaster in 2012, but they’re significantly closer to championship contention.
The Gaels are currently 3-1 — just one game above last year’s mark, but miles ahead in terms of their on-field performance.
Billy McPhee has thrown with more accuracy and confidence in his second season as starting quarterback, commanding an offense that can score with the best in the OUA.
Head coach Pat Sheahan has emphasized the need for greater offensive consistency after nearly every game this season. That much was clear during the loss to McMaster, but Sheahan’s assessment has also rang true in each of Queen’s three wins.
By McPhee’s own account, the offense has demonstrated “spurts of brilliance,” though their execution on long passes down field is still a work in progress.
Although he’s thrown for five touchdowns, McPhee’s missed on several deep balls by a matter of inches.
The defence has embraced a bend-but-don’t-break mentality, surrendering yards in the middle of the field but minimizing scoring opportunities.
Aside from late, inconsequential touchdowns from York and Laurier in the season’s opening weeks, McMaster has been the only team to pierce the Gaels’ defence.
Last week’s loss was more indicative of the Marauders’ ability than any shortcomings for Queen’s. The Gaels put together the season’s most impressive defensive stand on Sept. 15 against Western, throttling quarterback Donnie Marshall and allowing just three points.
Queen’s quest to dull their remaining imperfections will begin tomorrow, when they host an Ottawa team in disarray.
The Gee-Gees haven’t won a game under new head coach Gary Etcheverry, sitting dead last in the OUA at 0-4.
The Ottawa game will most likely resemble Queen’s home opener against York — a swift and insurmountable lead well before the final whistle.
There’s definitely room for progress: McPhee completing more deep passes or the defence pitching a shutout.
The Gaels will almost certainly host Western on Nov. 3 in the OUA semi-final, a rematch they should be expected to win.
The defence has demonstrated the blueprint to stifling Garret Sanvido and the Mustangs’ running backs, while Marshall can’t reasonably be expected to beat Queen’s with his arm.
The road to the Yates Cup, of course, goes through McMaster. There’s a slim chance that anything will come between the Marauders and their second straight conference title.
They’re operating on a level above anyone in the OUA, and perhaps the country.
For Queen’s to pose any threat, they’ll need to realize Sheahan’s favourite mantra: consistency.
Starting tomorrow, it’s time for McPhee and the offense to turn their spurts of brilliance into sustained, championship-calibre success.
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