Football falls down

Gaels’ perfect season comes screeching to a halt with semi-final loss against the Ottawa Gee-Gees

Ottawa reciever Ezra Millington hurdles Queen’s David Rooney.
Ottawa reciever Ezra Millington hurdles Queen’s David Rooney.
Photo: 

Fairy-tale endings can be quite unpleasant if you’re the giant, as the Queen’s football team found out Saturday at Richardson Stadium when the heavily favoured Gaels and their perfect football season were cut down by the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Wide receiver Scott Valberg said the Gaels played well but were unlucky.

“To go out like this, it’s frustrating,” he said. “All the guys were doing their best. We didn’t get any breaks today, which is unfortunate, but there’s nobody to point a finger at. We couldn’t catch a break. It’s not the way we wanted to end it.”

The last time Queen’s and Ottawa met in a football playoff game two years ago, the Gee-Gees were heavily favoured against the Gaels, who were scrappy, 4-4 underdogs coming off a surprising road win in the quarterfinals. But the predictions were right that day.

This time around, Queen’s held the position of strength after an undefeated season, while the Gee-Gees limped into the playoffs with a 4-4 record on the final day of the campaign and pulled off an upset victory against Guelph to set up Saturday’s tilt at Richardson Stadium. The story ran true to narrative form though, and the underdogs pulled off

a 23-13 victory.

It was the second year in a row Queen’s has lost its first playoff game; last year’s 6-2 Gaels fell 27-19 to the 4-4 Western Mustangs in the quarterfinals.

Defensive end Osie Ukwuoma said this year’s loss was tougher to stomach.

“Last year, we were the favourite too, but a muddy field, a lot of things,” he said. “This year, we had no excuses. … We just weren’t good enough today.”

Linebacker T.J. Leeper said it was the little mistakes that cost the Gaels.

“It’s just guys being out of position when they really needed to be in position,” he said. “A lot of time you can get away with that, teams don’t take advantage, but today, it just seemed like every time we were an inch off, they were ahead of us.”

The Gaels had plenty of opportunities to score throughout the game but struggled to put points up, missing two field goals and giving up an interception on a fake field goal attempt. Ukwuoma said those failures to convert their scoring chances cost Queen’s the game.

“We made plays, we blocked punts, we got sacks, we made tackles, made blocks, but when the game’s in crucial points like that, we didn’t make the killer move,” he said. “We played well when we had to, but we didn’t play well for the whole game and that killed us.”

In the Oct. 11 regular-season matchup this year, Queen’s won 38-16 for their first victory over Ottawa in six years. Running back Marty Gordon, who took over the rushing load Saturday from OUA leading rusher Mike Giffin and ran for 83 yards on 14 carries, said the Gaels expected the Gee-Gees to post a tough challenge this time around.

“We were favourites in a lot of people’s minds, but they weren’t as healthy as they were here at that point and we’re less healthy now than we were then,” he said. “We knew we were playing a good football team. We knew it wasn’t going to be the same team that showed up in the regular season. I don’t think that overconfidence or anything like that had anything to do with this.”

Head coach Pat Sheahan said the Gaels knew what they had to do to win.

“We knew we had to go out and play a very precise, cold game,” he said. “We had to be on our game, and it just wasn’t there.”

Sheahan said Ottawa outplayed Queen’s Saturday.

“We got beat today; we won’t sugarcoat it,” he said. “They came in here and they played hard. Our guys played hard too, but they didn’t play with the precision they played with over the last four or five games.”

Several of Queen’s key players are graduating this year and may not return.

“There’s a lot of guys in that locker room I’m sorry to see moving on,” Sheahan said.

Sheahan said injuries took their toll on the Gaels.

“When you take the pieces out of the puzzle there, it makes it more difficult,” he said.

There was some consolation for the Gaels in individual OUA honours handed out this week. Queen’s led the OUA with 16 all-star selections, including 10 first-team selections, while Ottawa earned five selections, only one of which was to the first team. Queen’s also took home four of the six major OUA awards handed out Thursday. Sheahan was named the OUA coach of the year for the second straight season and Carter was named stand-up defensive player of the year. Ukwuoma was named lineman of the year and Giffin was named the OUA’s most valuable player. All are now the OUA nominees for the major CIS football awards, which will be announced Nov. 20.

Offensive lineman Ross Corley said Giffin deserved the accolades he earned this year, but his absence, which was only confirmed just before the game, didn’t make the difference.

“It’s always good to have a Mike Giffin in the backfield, but the drop off in our running backs is not as severe as some people might think,” he said. “Marty Gordon and Jimmy [Therrien] are both great backs. With hindsight, yeah, it would have been great to have a healthy Mike Giffin, but who knows if it might have been a different outcome.”

Corley returned to the team this year after a year in the work force to play his fifth year of eligibility. He said he was happy he made the decision to come back, but the ending was difficult for him to accept.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said. “Things were looking like it was a storybook ending for me, but this was an ending I hadn’t written or anticipated.”

Please see queensjournal.ca for a photo gallery from the game.

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