Search for silver lining

Young players see game time as Gaels left out of OUA playoffs

Billy McPhee and his fellow fifth-year players excelled statistically in what was an otherwise disappointing season.
Billy McPhee and his fellow fifth-year players excelled statistically in what was an otherwise disappointing season.
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A forfeited win over the Windsor Lancers left the Gaels’ final record at 3-5 and contributed to them missing the post-season.
A forfeited win over the Windsor Lancers left the Gaels’ final record at 3-5 and contributed to them missing the post-season.

While they weren’t expected to return to the Yates Cup this year, missing the post-season was a definite disappointment for the football team.

The Gaels entered 2014 in rebuilding mode after dropping the 2013 Yates Cup to the Western Mustangs, then losing 14 players to graduation. Even so, it was surprising to see the team on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Queen’s wrapped up its season this past weekend on a three-game winning streak, but still fell short of the OUA playoffs with a 3-5 record.

The Gaels opened the regaled season with middling results, rallying late for a comeback win over the Windsor Lancers and conceding 21 straight fourth-quarter points in a loss to the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

The wheels fell off on Sept. 10, when it was announced that the Gaels would forfeit their win against Windsor after dressing an academically ineligible player — defensive back Brendan Morgan.

“The kids walked off the field four times with a victory, so really, they won four games. The Ottawa game was one that went back and forth and could have gone either way,” said Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan.

Queen’s fell to 0-5 by the end of September after facing the OUA’s top three teams in quick succession. Losses to Western and the McMaster Marauders bookended the largest defeat in the program’s 121-year history — a 66-0 smothering at the hands of the Guelph Gryphons.

The Gaels were eliminated from playoff contention during their bye week, with three games left in the season.

“Any good football program, as the weeks go by, you’re supposed to get better. We had a very difficult schedule with a long road trip to Windsor and back-to-back road Homecoming games against McMaster and Guelph,” Sheahan said.

“We played valiantly against McMaster in Hamilton and had a chance to win. We gave them all they could handle but in the end, it all boiled down to a couple of inexperienced mistakes and very bad breaks.”

Three straight wins to end the season left the Gaels at 3-5, including a 57-10 Homecoming blowout of the York Lions and a 37-15 road victory against the Carleton Ravens to cap the year.

“Except for the game against Guelph, we were competitive in all the other games, and had the Windsor debacle not happened, we would have been a playoff team this year,” Sheahan said. “That would have been a good achievement for this team, with the amount of youth on it.”

Despite missing the playoffs, there were plenty of bright spots during Queen’s campaign, including the performance of the Gaels’ fifth-year players.

Quarterback Billy McPhee threw for 2,240 yards, and an OUA-best 17 passing touchdowns, while limiting his interceptions to six. Alex Carroll was the province’s leading receiver, finishing with 875 yards and eight touchdown grabs.

Fifth-year defensive tackle Derek Wiggan finished with 5.5 sacks, 12 tackles for losses and four fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown against the Carleton Ravens.

“This season was probably the most challenging year for this group of seniors. We had a small group of very dedicated seniors and they all had great seasons personally. I’m very proud of them,” Sheahan said. “They did a great job of rallying the boys, understood what their role was on the team, and they should be recognized for that.”

Probably the biggest positive gained from this challenging season was the emergence of the younger players in the lineup. Rookie linebacker Michael Moore forced two fumbles and led the Gaels with 48.5 tackles, while second-year running back Jonah Pataki and receiver Peter Hannon emerged as solid contributors on offence.

Even rookie quarterback Nate Hobbs managed to get some playing time in relief of McPhee this season. Sheahan said he’s optimistic that the future looks bright for his young team.

“This season will pay big dividends down the road,” he said. “It’s one of the positives of having to insert guys into your lineup before they’re battle tested — they learn on the job. They’re highly motivated now to have a great off-season and prepare for next year.”

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