McEwen leads incredible comeback

Down 17-0, captain hits four penalty kicks and conversion in eventual 24-17 win at CIS quarterfinal

Lauren Murray (right) celebrates after the Gaels' quarterfinal win.
Image by: Arwin Chan
Lauren Murray (right) celebrates after the Gaels' quarterfinal win.

After earning a position in the CIS championship by hosting the tournament, many likely questioned Queen’s credentials.

But after their 24-17 upset of the number one seed Acadia Axewomen, few will doubt their abilities.

Axewomen head coach Matthew Durant praised the underdog Gaels.

“All the credit to Queen’s. They really beat us at our own game,” Durant said. 

“They out rucked us for the last three quarters of the game. They took advantage of every mistake we made and kept the tempo high.”

24 unanswered points rallied the eighth-seeded Gaels from an early 17-0 hole.

All-Canadian Maddie MacKenzie broke away from the Gaels defence, scoring two tries within 15 minutes, and giving the AUS champions an early 10-0 lead. 

The Axewomen wouldn’t let up there, as prop Janice Cougle fought her way across the line. After a conversion, the Gaels were down 17-0. 

Queen’s head coach Beth Barz knew they might trail early.

“We certainty did not make it easy on ourselves,” Barz said. “We have so many first years that had some nerves to start.”

Following the 17-0 deficit, the Gaels looked like a whole new team. Physical play led to captain Lauren McEwen’s first penalty kick of the game. After converting, the Gaels sat down 17-3.

All-Canadian Gillian Pegg continued the Gaels comeback, as a strong run where she bounced off multiple tackles allowed her 

to pass the ball to winger Lauren Murray on the outside, tiptoeing her way down the sideline to the Gaels first try of the game.

One of the biggest differences for Barz following the 17-0 early hole was the play of her forwards.

“Our forwards played their guts out,” she said. “They saw the weaknesses and went with them at 100 per cent.”

From there, the Gaels defence would step up. Physical play in the middle of the field kept the teams scoreless for the next 10 minutes.

After scrum-half Dominique Rumball pushed the team deep into Axewomen territory, McEwen added her second penalty at the stroke of halftime, leaving the Gaels only down six at the break.

Barz said  examples set by Pegg and McEwen set the tone for the second half. 

“You can’t stop [Gill Pegg],” Barz said. “She probably made more tackles on her own than anybody else on the field today.” 

“Lauren McEwen made some big hits,” she said. “They couldn’t move the ball as quickly … because she came from the outside in and totally blitzed them.”

After the break, Queen’s continued their comeback. Sloppy play from both sides kept the ball in the middle of the field, with possession changing every few scrums. 

After fouling Queen’s twice in the second half, McEwen would make the Axewomen pay. Two consecutive penalty kicks allowed her to tie the match up at 17-17 after 15 minutes of play.

The Gaels didn’t look back. After multiple defensive stands, the Gaels found themselves deep in the heart of the Axewomen zone. 

After pushing the ball to the outside, the Gaels handed the ball to OUA All-Star 

Emma Chown, who sidestepped two of Acadia’s defenders to score the Gaels’ second try of the game. After another successful McEwen kick, the Gaels sat up 24-17.

Gaels pull ahead late on a Chown try!

— Queen’s Gaels (@queensgaels) November 6, 2015

On the day, Lauren McEwen scored four penalty kicks and added one conversion. 

For Barz, this has been a long time coming for the fifth-year captain.

“The best kick was the final one on the try — she was three meters off the touchline,” Barz said. “That’s a hell of a kick in World Cup play, let alone at the university level, so the fact that she was able to step 

up and slot that in as calmly as she did is pretty big reward for all the work she has put in.”

“Lauren has given her heart and soul to the team over five years and this year in particular she has absolutely grown as a leader and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

With less than five minutes to play, Acadia pushed to tie the game up. Lauren Humby crossed into the end zone for Acadia, but a tackle from prop McKinley Hunt forced Humby out of bounds, closing the chapter on a comeback.

From there, the Gaels ran out the clock, securing the biggest upset of the day.

McEwen believes that after dropping the last two games of the season, this game cemented their status as one of the top teams in the CIS.

“Hard work won us this game. Every breakdown, every physical battle we tried to battle and we did. We came together,” McEwen said. “The first 10 minutes were hard, but we pushed through and that’s such a testament to our character as a team.” 

“It really shows our colours and I’m just so proud of my girls today.”

When asked about her kicking on the day, McEwen said she has a routine.

“I try to picture myself underwater,” McEwen said. “The feeling you get when you submerge your head under the water, rushing into your ears. I like to have that feeling and just pretend I’m alone on the field.”

One of the biggest game changers for McEwen was the home crowd.

“These games and tournaments are just so hard,” she said. “To have those little bits of support [from the home crowd] to make you fight that little extra inch — that’s what wins us games.”


Beth Barz, Emma Chown, Gill Pegg, Lauren Murray, McKinley Hunt, Women's rugby

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