Gaels get one last try

Gaels head to Hamilton for first round of playoffs

With the regular season behind them, the Queen’s football team can only look forward to their OUA quarterfinal matchup against the McMaster Marauders. The Gaels were the sixth and final seed to make it into postseason play but flashes of potential make them a dangerous team in the weekend to come.

In 2006, the story was the same: a six seeded Gaels squad traveled down to Hamilton to face off against the third seeded Marauders. Despite being crushed earlier in the season 5-37 by the Marauders the Gaels came out and won 25-19. Despite the historical parallel there are barely any other similarities between the two games.

The cast of ’06 is long and gone and young faces dominant both rosters, so history shouldn’t be in anyone’s mind on Saturday.

The Gaels transition from last year’s championship season has not been an easy one. The team suffered three brutally close losses against McMaster, Guelph and Ottawa in the first half of the season. They were dominated by Western and Wilfrid Laurier in the second half. They took their frustrations out on the non-playoff teams: Toronto, Windsor and York. Most of their losses resulted from self-destructive turnovers rather than an inability to compete.

The team finished the season with 29 total turnovers in eight games, amassed through 14 interceptions and 15 fumbles. It was often an inability to steady the ship when things went wrong that really hurt the Gaels. The Laurier game particularly epitomized this problem when they gave up 43 points in the second quarter because of special teams errors.

Part of the problem is that new players have had to adapt to huge increases in playtime. Head coach Pat Sheahan emphasized that this is a natural transition with the graduation of key players.

“[I]t is difficult to lose great players in one year and replace them in a 12 month period with other guys who haven’t ever played at that level. I think the adversity that we faced is a part of the growth that was needed to develop the team,” he said.

Rookie quarterback Justin Chapdelaine has played well over the season, but inconsistently: in his first game of the season against McMaster he threw 315 yards and a touchdown but in the third game he threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions raising concerns about the quarterback position. He recovered and head coach Pat Sheahan said he feels confident in the quarterback’s future.

“I think he’s on schedule, I really do. There are many demands on the quarterback that you don’t have on other positions and I think to be able to step in and manage all of these variables are a significant challenge,” he said. “He has also had a chance to learn and at that position there’s no substitution for experience.”

Another example is Giovanni Aprile. With the injury to Chris Ioannides, Aprile looked like a star against the Ottawa Gee-Gees receiving 179 yards and a touchdown. However, he regressed in the following weeks and was responsible for some of the special team’s break downs in the game against Laurier.

However, football is a team effort and there’s been a lot of positive this season.

Rookie Sam Sabourin has emerged as a star in the OUA. At season’s end he ranks second in the league with 64 tackles, 50 of which were solo. The team’s rushing offence has produced two 500+ yard running backs in Ryan Granberg and Jimmy Therrien, attesting not only to their abilities but strong play by the entire offensive line. As a team, the defence has given up the third least yards per game of any team in the OUA.

A victory in Hamilton will require the Gaels to iron out inconsistencies and play to their potential. Sheahan said he still feels confident in his team’s ability to play well.

“[Our goal is] to play to our potential. We can play with anyone. The whole idea is to manage adversity, how to deal with explosions. They are going to happen,” he said.

If the team can minimize the turnovers and play to their strengths, we may just see Western for a rematch.

The Gaels will face off against the McMaster Maurauders in Hamilton on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

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