Gaels rally on Homecoming

Fourth-quarter comeback sets up wild finish at Richardson

After trailing 27-16 at the end of the third quarter, Queen’s stormed back to win 40-34 in overtime on Aaron Gazendam’s punt recovery.
After trailing 27-16 at the end of the third quarter, Queen’s stormed back to win 40-34 in overtime on Aaron Gazendam’s punt recovery.

On Homecoming weekend, Queen’s completed a furious comeback on a crazy, but heads-up play in overtime.

The Gaels downed the stingy Laurier Golden Hawks 40-34 on Saturday at Richardson Stadium, averting disaster in front of 9,037 raucous fans.

After Dillon Wamsley’s overtime field goal was blocked, placeholder and receiver Aaron Gazendam jumped on the loose ball, punting it into the end zone to attempt a rouge. The ball took a Laurier bounce and stopped 15 yards deep in the end zone.

Gazendam, the only Gael on the field that could retrieve his kick without being penalized, sprinted through both teams to recover the ball for a game-winning touchdown.

“I saw [the ball] shoot right up into the air, so I grabbed it and the first thing I thought was to try and kick it out the back of the end zone,” Gazendam said. “I kind of fluffed it and it went straight up into the air and was sitting in the back of the end zone.

“All our guys knew exactly what to do – they gave five yards so they didn’t get a penalty and then I just went and jumped on it.”

The uniquely Canadian football finish to the game sent the sellout crowd into a mix of euphoric frenzy and confusion, as many fans scrambled to understand what had just occurred.

“Football brilliance,” said Gaels’ head coach Pat Sheahan of the final play. “It wasn’t a classic game, but it was a classic finish.”

The kick-out ending capped off a wild rally from the Gaels, who trailed 17-6 at halftime and 27-16 after three quarters.

Gaels quarterback Billy McPhee hit receiver Scott Macdonell, who broke two tackles before scampering into the end zone, to tie the game at 27-27 with 2:46 remaining in the game.

A quick stop by the defence gave the Gaels excellent field position, setting up a go-ahead five-yard touchdown rush by Jesse Andrews with 1:37 left on the clock.

Laurier moved the ball the length of field on the ensuing drive, benefitting from an uncharacteristically porous Gaels defense that was missing four starters. An 18-yard touchdown pass from Laurier quarterback James Fracas to receiver Greg Nyhof made it 34-34 and set the stage for the game’s surreal conclusion.

The exciting finish made up for a generally poor showing from the Gaels.

Besides an early 54-yard touchdown run from Ryan Granberg, Queen’s struggled to move the football in the first half. Their receiving corps was plagued by drops, allowing over five passes to hit the turf and end a series of drives.

Queen’s would have been in dire straits had they not come up with a huge defensive stop at the end of the second quarter. With Laurier up 17-6 and pressing with under 30 seconds remaining, the Gaels’ defence separated running back Dillon Campbell from the ball on the one-yard line, and defensive back Yann Ditka-Balotoken recovered.

A replay would show that Campbell appeared to be down before the ball came out.

Daniel Heslop joined in on the massive day from Gaels’ running backs, exploding for a 75-yard touchdown on a screen pass in the third quarter.

The Gaels’ rotating backfield combined for 345 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns.

“I thought we used our ball carriers smartly today,” Sheahan said. “Granberg was the senior and delivered with 100 yards in the first half … Heslop made an explosion play in the third quarter … and Jesse Andrews looked like he really had some jump in the fourth quarter.”

Queen’s (5-1) continues their season against the Waterloo Warriors (1-5) on Friday night. The win over Laurier (1-6) keeps the Gaels in the hunt with the Guelph Gryphons (6-0) for second place in the OUA and a first-round bye. A home playoff game at Richardson Stadium could be the boost that sends the Gaels to a Yates Cup berth, and Saturday’s Homecoming crowd was a testament to the boost it provides.

“The fans came alive at the end and created some great crowd noise,” Sheahan said.

“It was a great Queen’s feeling.”

[View the story "Queen's 40, Laurier 34" on Storify]

OUA Standings

1. Western [7-0]
2. Guelph [6-0]
3. Queen’s (5-1]
4. Windsor [4-3]
5. Ottawa [4-3]
6. McMaster [3-3]
7. York [2-4]
8. Toronto [2-4]
9. Waterloo [1-5]
10. Laurier [1-6]
11. Carleton [0-6]

Three Downs

Repeating history

Overtime hero Aaron Gazendam was on the losing side of a play similar to his game-winning score back in a high school championship game. His school, Holy Cross in Kingston, lost after their opponents kicked a game-winning rouge in the final seconds.

Dropping the ball

While quarterback Billy McPhee only completed five of 20 first half passes, many of the passes were thrown right to his receivers with a great deal of accuracy and power, before being dropped.

Substitute shines

Coming in as a backup, linebacker Mike Leroux made a clutch fourth-quarter sack for a 10-yard loss, stalling a Laurier drive and giving Queen’s excellent field position for Jesse Andrews’ touchdown.

Josh Burton

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