A slow start and lack of red zone production ultimately proved the Gaels’ downfall in their first loss of the season.
Queen’s fell 50-31 to the undefeated Western Mustangs on Saturday in London, slipping to 4-1 and into third place in the OUA. Western (6-0) imposed their will on Queen’s for much of the game, scoring a touchdown in every quarter and never surrendering the lead.
Gaels running back Jesse Andrews fumbled in the red zone on his team’s first offensive possession, a turnover that was quickly turned into points as the Mustangs marched the entire field to take a 14-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Western linebacker Preston Huggins dealt the Gaels another significant blow, intercepting a pass off the hands of running back Ryan Granberg and returning it 54 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a tough game in terms of moving the ball early and in the second quarter, we kind of hit a road block,” said Gaels quarterback Billy McPhee. “That’s on us, the offence, so it’s time to pick up the pieces and move on.”
Despite early struggles, the Gaels did manage to move the ball well in the second half, finishing the game with 484 total yards of offence.
Defensive back William Zed sparked the Gaels in the third quarter, blocking a Western punt and scooping up the ball himself for a 45-yard touchdown return.
An 87-yard catch-and-run on a broken play by running back Daniel Heslop brought the Gaels to first and goal with the score at 32-17, but they were stuffed on three consecutive plays by the Mustangs’ defence.
“I thought the team battled hard, and we never quit, which I was very proud of,” McPhee said.
Granberg had a milestone game, rushing for 117 yards and a touchdown. He became the all-time leading rusher in Queen’s history, breaking Mike Giffin’s record of 3,035 yards on a third-quarter touchdown carry.
Although the score didn’t show it, the Gaels defence did a decent job of holding Western quarterback Will Finch in check, limiting him to 254 passing yards ― by far his lowest total of the season.
The Mustangs eventually wore Queen’s down, rushing for a combined 299 yards. The defence didn’t let themselves get run out of the building, but were unable to get a key stop when necessary.
“Some of our guys needed to get here into this environment, to play under pressure and with a lot of noise,” Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan said. “They know what it’s going to be like moving forward.”
Barring a surprise loss, Western has likely locked up the number one spot in the OUA and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Gaels will face Laurier at home on Saturday for Queen’s first official Homecoming game since 2008. The Golden Hawks (1-5) shouldn’t cause the Gaels too much grief, but they did give Western all they could manage in a 45-24 loss on Sept. 21.
Queen’s Oct. 19 matchup against the Guelph Gryphons (5-0) will likely determine second place in the OUA, which comes with a first-round playoff bye.
Last year, Queen’s lost their shot at the bye with a 33-28 regular-season defeat to Guelph ― then fell 42-39 to the Gryphons in the OUA semi-final.
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