Saturday’s rematch of the 2013 Yates Cup will be the highlight of the Gaels’ regular season schedule.
Queen’s (0-2) will host the Western Mustangs (1-0) at Richardson Stadium in the latest chapter of their historic rivalry. The squads met twice in London last fall, once during regular OUA play and later in the conference championship.
Western took both games handily: 50-31 and 51-22, respectively. After two early-season forfeits, announced by Queen’s Athletics on Wednesday, the Gaels will need their strongest showing of the year to emerge on top.
One of the keys for Queen’s defence will be to limit third-year Mustangs quarterback Will Finch, who terrorized the York Lions last week, throwing for three touchdowns and 253 yards. Finch also torched the Gaels in the Yates Cup last November, throwing for 252 yards and three touchdown passes.
That said, the Gaels are well aware of their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses.
“We know who they have, we know what they do,” said head coach Pat Sheahan. “As always when you play them, the question is: can you stop [the offence]? Can you slow them down?”
Pressure from the defensive line up front and tight coverage in the secondary is essential to limiting Western’s stud quarterback. Finch and his receivers completed 21 of 25 attempted passes last week against York.
Western has a strong offensive presence on first down, often gaining over five yards on their first play. Increased responsibility will fall on Queen’s young defence, who conceded 64 points in the first two games of the season.
Part of the task will fall on the Gaels offence. Sheahan said it’s key for them to keep the Western defence on the field with prolonged drives, so that the Mustangs offence won’t be able to find a rhythm.
To keep the Gaels offence on the field, quarterback Billy McPhee will have to be consistent in the passing game, while running backs Jonah Pataki and Jesse Andrews — if he’s healthy — will have to keep the chains moving.
Several key defensive Gaels departed during the offseason, leaving behind an untested contingent. Sheahan said young players will play an important role on the defensive side — including rookie defensive back Jason Shamatutu, who caused two turnovers in the season opener against Windsor, and first-year linebacker Michael Moore.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had that many first-year guys out there in starting roles,” Sheahan said. “They are getting better and they are very athletic.”
Sheahan said there’s a silver lining in the Gaels’ lack of OUA experience, as last season’s losses to Western don’t trouble the first-time starters.
“Sometimes the shadows that come back from the past can haunt you and cause you to lose confidence,” he said.
With their two forfeits, Queen’s likely won’t enjoy the same playoff bye they earned last year. A loss against Western would put them at 0-3, their worst start in more than five seasons — and with games against the Guelph Gryphons (1-1) and the McMaster Marauders (2-0) following Western, the Gaels would be in tough to turn their season around.
Sheahan said the crowd at Richardson Stadium could have a large impact on the outcome of Saturday’s game.
“I really hope that the Queen’s community rallies behind our team and we have a great crowd out there this weekend,” he said.
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