Losing to the McMaster Marauders tomorrow would drop Gaels football to their worst start since 2000.
That was head coach Pat Sheahan’s first season at the helm, when Queen’s finished 1-7. Sheahan said his current team isn’t happy about their performance so far this season, including last week’s 66-0 loss to the Guelph Gryphons.
“I think at a certain point in the game last week, it became kind of a pandemic,” Sheahan said at a press conference yesterday. “It was sort of one thing led to another thing led to another thing.”
Part of the problem against the Gryphons was the Gaels’ inability to hold on to the ball; they fumbled six times in the loss. Ball control will be key against the Marauders, as will capitalizing on McMaster’s mistakes.
“Against Mac, let’s stay away from the big-play blunder,” Sheahan said. “Let’s cash in on the opportunities that we get.”
On top of that, Sheahan said his players will need to exhibit more passion.
“We’ve got to scrap a little bit harder than we did last week,” he said.
Through four games, McMaster has racked up 186 points and held their opponents to 46. Queen’s has scored a cumulative 81 points, allowing 147.
Queen’s defence will be called on to keep tomorrow’s road game close. They’ve struggled at several points during the year, having given up over 600 yards a game — second-most in the OUA.
The defence’s relative inexperience has been a problem, with 10 new starters entering the fold this year.
A baptism by fire may bring these young players closer together and give them a taste of something they don’t want to repeat, Sheahan said.
“I believe adverse conditions do make you better — it just takes a while to bear fruit,” he said.
The Gaels withered on kick returns in last week’s game, leaving their offence disadvantaged before they even stepped on the field.
“Managing the field became an issue,” Sheahan said. “There were over 200 yards in returns, which means a short field for them and a long field for us.
“Last week was a step back, but you’re going to have these steps in a season,” he added.
Like the Guelph game, tomorrow’s tilt is a Homecoming showdown — at McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium, a building the Gaels have never won in.
In the two team’s most recent meeting last September, Queen’s beat the Marauders 31-24, a clumsy season opener in which both offences struggled.
McMaster committed 13 penalties, something the Gaels might not be able to count on again.
Quarterback Billy McPhee was held to 114 yards and a 48 per cent completion rate last year. The Gaels’ offence as a whole mustered just 227 yards total.
Defensive back Yann Dika-Balotoken picked off a pair of passes for touchdowns, giving the Gaels the points they needed to separate themselves from McMaster on the scoreboard.
As for this season, Sheahan said he had reasonable expectations for the team in August.
“I thought that 5-3, 4-4 was obtainable,” he said. “A few things have happened that are going to make 5-3 a problem.
“We’re a team that really needs a win,” he added. “Winning is the great elixir in this business.”
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