Second best

Season derailed in OUA championship, but Gaels experience forward progress

Western receiver Matt Uren was named Yates Cup MVP after snagging two touchdown passes, including this circus catch late in the second quarter.
Western receiver Matt Uren was named Yates Cup MVP after snagging two touchdown passes, including this circus catch late in the second quarter.
Sam Sabourin (left) was one of seven Gaels named first-team OUA All-Stars.
Sam Sabourin (left) was one of seven Gaels named first-team OUA All-Stars.

For a season that ended in a championship blowout, Queen’s 2013 football campaign was still entertaining and a general success.

In his 14th season as head coach, Pat Sheahan led the Gaels to a near perfect 7-1 regular season. Their sole blemish was a 50-31 defeat at the hands of the Western Mustangs, who beat them 51-22 in last Saturday’s Yates Cup game.

The OUA title game had an eerily similar script to the teams’ first meeting. Both games saw the Gaels overwhelmed by the Mustang offence in the second and third quarters, before mounting comebacks that were too little, too late.

Entering 2013 ranked second in the country, it appeared the OUA was the Gaels’ to lose. Western proved to be on another level, but Queen’s was the clear second-best team in Ontario.

Eventually, the Gaels ran into a better squad and were unable to execute. An inability to consistently string together long touchdown drives ultimately doomed the Gaels, as their offence remained too explosion play-oriented.

Still, the season featured several classic performances from individual players and the team as a whole.

Receiver Giovanni Aprile kicked off the year in style with four touchdowns, including a 115-yard missed field goal return, as the Gaels nearly shutout the York Lions in a 52-1 victory.

Queen’s football celebrated its first official Homecoming game since 2008, a thriller that will likely be remembered for Aaron Gazendam’s walk-off punt recovery touchdown after a blocked field goal attempt in overtime.

The undeniably Canadian play capped off a wild fourth-quarter rally from the Gaels, who trailed the underdog Laurier Golden Hawks with under three minutes remaining in the game.

Queen’s managed to vanquish two blown fourth-quarter losses to the Guelph Gryphons from 2012, dealing the Gryphons consecutive defeats to end the regular season and in the OUA semi-final.

The Gaels played their best team football over this two-game span. Quarterback Billy McPhee threw the ball efficiently, gaining 522 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception.

Running backs Ryan Granberg and Daniel Heslop tore up the Gryphons defence, combining for 281 yards and three touchdowns.

In the September loss to Western, Granberg became the Gaels’ all-time leading rusher, breaking Mike Giffin’s record and eventually finishing his CIS career with 3,373 rushing yards.

Defence saw the emergence of third-year defensive back Yann Dika-Balotoken, a centrepiece of Queen’s vaunted “fins up” secondary. He snared five interceptions in his breakout season, returning two for majors in a 31-24 victory over the McMaster Marauders.

The veteran Gaels’ squad has a number of graduating seniors ending five-year careers, including Granberg; defensive back T.J. Chase-Dunawa; offensive linemen Josh Prinsen, Mike Sullivan, Matt Kendrick and Derek Morris; defensive lineman John Miniaci; and receiver Justin Chapdelaine.

With so many graduating starters, and the potential for any of Aprile, linebacker Sam Sabourin and defensive back Andrew Lue to test their luck in the CFL, there are many openings for younger players.

Dika-Balotoken will need to continue his excellent performance as a big-play leader on the defence. Running backs Jesse Andrews and Jonah Pataki must combine to provide a one-two punch from the backfield.

Although the 2014 season appears to be one of transition, the Gaels will have enough talent to compete for a top-two OUA finish and push deep into the playoffs.

Gaels overwhelmed in Yates Cup

Sometimes, you just get beaten by the better team.

That was the case last Saturday, as the Western Mustangs defeated the Queen’s Gaels by a decisive score of 51-22 to capture the 106th Yates Cup.

The win marked Western’s 30th Yates Cup victory in program history, an OUA best.

The Mustangs outmatched the Gaels in nearly every facet of the game, scoring 45 unanswered points in the second and third quarters as they cruised to the championship.

“[Western] is a great team — they’re fully balanced, they’ve got good talent everywhere,” said Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan. “To go out there and beat them you have to have a great day.

“Congratulations to them. They’re the champions.”

Queen’s looked like they had a shot at an upset early on, leading Western 5-3 at the end of first quarter.

Several big plays, including a punt block and fumble recovery, resulted in Gaels’ drives beginning inside Mustangs territory, but Queen’s was unable to come away with a touchdown on either possession.

Western finally found its offensive groove in the second quarter, scoring two touchdowns to take a 25-5 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The Gaels’ last chance at salvaging the game came on a last-minute, 57-yard drive in the second, but kicker Dillon Wamsley’s 25-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.

“I think we had some opportunities to get ahead, couldn’t do it, and it came back to haunt us when they had some pretty good production with the wind,” Sheahan said.

Western’s defence sacked quarterback Billy McPhee five times and held Queen’s to 136 yards of offence in the first three quarters. The Gaels managed just 96 rushing yards all game, their lowest total of the season.

Through three quarters, the Gaels’ offence was outscored by Western kicker Liam Hajrullahu’s four kickoff singles.

McPhee was out of rhythm until the fourth quarter, throwing two interceptions and generally failing to move the offense up the field.

He finished with 275 yards and two touchdowns, but most of the production came in the fourth quarter once the game was far out of reach.

“Mistakes on my part especially hurt us,” McPhee said. “The devastating part is [Western’s defence] really didn’t do anything differently. They managed to get after the passer … and they may have some of the most underrated linebackers in the country.”

The Mustangs put up 50 points on the Gaels for the second time this season — more a testament to Western’s relentless offence than deficiencies in the Gaels’ defence.

Second-year quarterback Will Finch threw for an efficient 252 yards and threw touchdowns, adding 77 rushing yards on 12 attempts.

He rarely threw deep, instead dissecting the Gaels’ coverage with short and mid-range passes.

Western’s offensive line was dominant, stopping the Gaels from recording any sacks and consistently opening running lanes for tailback Yannick Harou, who finished with 98 yards and two touchdowns.

“They run their offence,” said defensive lineman Derek Wiggan. “We gave them stuff, and they made plays. In big games, good teams are going to capitalize on that.”

Josh Burton

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