Football dives into playoffs

Gaels dominate Western, earn first playoff berth in three years

Queen’s receiver Rob Bagg hangs on for a 23-yard touchdown, the Gaels’ second major of the game.
Queen’s receiver Rob Bagg hangs on for a 23-yard touchdown, the Gaels’ second major of the game.

For some, Thursday’s brief snowfall may have been nothing more than a soggy reminder of the impending change of season. But for head football coach Pat Sheahan there could have been no better omen.

“You know if you’re practicing in the snow you’ve had a good season,” he said after the Gaels 28-9 defeat of the Western Mustangs Saturday at Richardson Stadium.

After four winless weeks, the team put together two consecutive victories and, this weekend, will make their first playoff appearance in three years.

In the decisive win, the Gaels posted six turnovers and four interceptions but the pervading sentiment following the game was that it could have gone better.

“I think we could have doubled the score,” Sheahan said. “We had some turnover issues and, in the third and fourth quarters, it looked like we couldn’t hit the clutch.”

Receiver Brad Smith agreed.

“We left probably 28 points, four touchdowns,on the board,” he said. “We were probably at only about 50 per cent.”

But, overall, both said they were pleased with their team’serformance.

“What you need to do is play your best football in key situations and today is definitely a key day,” Sheahan said.

Switching tactics completely from last week’s game against York, he said they tried to give Western a look at some plays to force them to adjust.

Queen’s running back Mike Giffin was a great example of the effectiveness of the Gaels’ tactics. He had 31 carries for 149 yards, rushing over 100 yards for the second straight game.

He said the plan all along was to keep the ball on the ground and he and Brannagan followed through. He said he is larger than most running backs and he took advantage of his size to plough through all but one first tackle.

Giffin said he felt Western came in to the game having grossly underestimated the Gaels.

“We felt pretty insulted that they didn’t bring many defensive backs, many of their bigger guys.”

Saturday’s game was only Giffin’s second starting at running back.

Queen’s opened the scoring with a single in the first quarter off of a Ryan Elger punt.

The Gaels conceded a safety shortly thereafter but two Elger field goals gave them a 7-2 lead.

Queen’s scored the first major of the game as running back Billy Burke dove over the line for a one-yard touchdown with 90 seconds remaining in the first half.

Queen’s put up the only points of the third quarter when Brannagan found Bagg in the end zone with a 23-yard pass. The Mustangs made a 38-yard run early in the fourth for their first touchdown bringing the score to 21-9. But any hopes of making a comeback were squashed on the next possession when Smith caught a pass and ran 71 yards and broke a tackle for Queen’s third touchdown.

Starting quarterback Danny Brannagan had a slow start, throwing two interceptions and several passes into almost empty space. But by the second half he was looking more like the player he was at the beginning of the season.

He completed 13 of 23 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns.

“Danny was really able to open up the game for us,” Giffin said.

Giffin gave full credit to the defence, saying their good coverage gave Brannagan more time to find his receivers.

While the defence has remained relatively steady throughout the season, the offensive line proved it could recover from almost a month of poor showings.

Coming off of a less than stellar performance at York, Smith demonstrated Saturday that he’s still a major threat.

He admitted he was more cautious than usual on this first reception of the day.

“My first catch of the game I just stayed and held on, just waiting to be hit. I didn’t make any gain.”

He had 3 catches for 104 yards.

Receiver Rob Bagg also had a strong game. He was Brannagan’s target of choice throughout the first half of the game, making seven catches for 83 yards and one touchdown.

Smith said the win gave the Gaels new life and he has every confidence that they will rise to the occasion on Saturday.

“People tend to forget that if you make it to the playoffs it’s a whole new start.”

The Gaels will face the McMaster Marauders on Saturday in Hamilton.

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