Gaels lose game, playoff spot on last-second conversion

First football season in the new Richardson stadium comes to an abrupt end

This loss ended the Gaels’ 3-5 season earlier than hoped.
Nicholas Fraser-Greene (#7) grapples with an Ottawa Gee-Gee player during the team's heartbreaker.

With his team leading by a sole point in overtime, Queen’s defensive back Jason Shamatutu leapt in the path of a poorly-thrown football by Ottawa quarterback Derek Wendel on a two-point conversion attempt. 

For Shamatutu, who was in front of a cluster of bodies in the Gaels’ endzone, an interception or a knockdown would’ve been all Queen’s needed to seal the victory and the final spot in the OUA postseason.

But the football gods, it seemed, had other plans. 

The ball bounced out of Shamatutu’s hands and into the grasp of surprised, but ready Mitchell Baines, sealing a come-from-behind 42-41 win for the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

“When you play football, one of the things you risk is that you can have your guts ripped out like that. There’s so much about this generation that people are criticizing, but football hasn’t changed. It’s still cruel, you still get what you earn,” Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan said, who has now completed his 17th season with the team.

The loss ended Queen’s season with a 3-5 record. News crept in shortly afterwards that it would be the 3-5 Guelph Gryphons, who defeated the Gaels 38-29 earlier in the year, taking the OUA’s sixth and final playoff spot.

“It was a heck of a game to be a part of, I just wish I was on the other end of it,” Sheahan said.

Overtime play started with the Gaels taking possession on Ottawa’s 35-yard line, per Canadian football rules.

Queen’s was without starting quarterback Nate Hobbs by that point, as he’d gone down with an ankle injury in the game’s first quarter.

The Gaels scored quickly as receiver Rudy Uhl caught a four-yard pass from first-year backup quarterback Kyle Gouveia on the fourth play of the drive. 

Ottawa responded just three plays later on their own 20-yard passing play from Wendel to Bryce Vieira, before winning on Baines’ catch. Queen’s initially appeared surprised by Ottawa’s decision to not simply kick a conversion after the touchdown, but covered the Gee-Gee’s well enough to force a tough throw from Wendel into double coverage. 

Much of Richardson Stadium let out a cheer when Shamatutu initially made contact with the football, but the cheers were silenced just moments later when the ball inexplicably landed in the arms of Baines.

Though the final play of overtime will serve as the game’s defining memory, a pair of special team errors by the Gaels ultimately allowed the Gee-Gee’s the opportunity to push the contest to the extra frame.

Up 19-3, Chris Osei-Kusi muffed a potential return near the Gaels’ goal line on a missed field goal attempt with less than ten seconds remaining in the first half. 

The turnover gave the Gee-Gees possession on the Gaels’ six-yard line. Two plays later, Wendel would connect with Vieira for Ottawa’s first touchdown.

“To let them score there in the last second of the half, those things come back to bite you,” Sheahan said.

Queen’s opened up a 27-14 lead in the third quarter off Gouveia’s 35-yard pass to Matteo Del Brocco. Ottawa responded with the game’s next ten points, before a 40-yard interception return by Nick Fraser-Green saw the Gaels up 34-24 with just under ten minutes left in the fourth quarter.

A quick response was in order from the Gee-Gees. Driving 75 yards in just four plays Ottawa was within three points with just under seven minutes remaining.

With the Gaels clinging to a 34-31 lead and just under three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, a high snap over replacement punter Alex Zulys’ head pushed the ball back to the Queen’s eight yard-line. Zulys fell on the football, but was quickly surrounded by a number of Gee-Gees as Queen’s turned the ball over.

Zulys, typically a receiver, had been assigned punting duties each of the past two weeks as rookie kicker Nick Liberatore remained out with a foot injury.

Ottawa was unable to reach the endzone on the botched punt attempt, but kicked a field goal to tie the game at 34.

With Hobbs out, backup quarterback Gouveia went 17-for-26 with a pair of touchdown passes in his first meaningful university football action. Prior to Saturday, he had attempted just eight passes in his short Queen’s career.

Sheahan praised Gouveia’s performance, especially considering he was thrown into a crucial game on extremely short notice.

“He’s out there running some plays of consequence in the second half that he didn’t run too much in practice, if at all,” Sheahan said.

But for all the things that went against Queen’s on Saturday, they appeared very much in control of the game for the majority of it. In fact, Queen’s held the lead from 3:01 into the game right until Ottawa tied it with 2:36 left in the fourth quarter.

“Some tough lessons learned today, but there were also some great plays. There wasn’t too much that I would’ve done differently,” Sheahan said. 

Though he didn’t reach the endzone, Jonah Pataki had a career high in rushing with 204 yards on 35 carries for the Gaels. 

The Gaels’ 3-5 season will likely be remembered for its bitter end, but also for a pair of particular frustrating losses against Guelph and Western. 

The Gaels were within a touchdown of tying each game in both fourth quarters. Winning either game would’ve pushed Queen’s into postseason contention.

“I think we’re that team that everyone is happy is out, because we could’ve competed with anyone,” Sheahan said.

Queen’s now enters a ten-month offseason from playing time, closing up their first season in the new Richardson Stadium. 

“Well, we clean out the lockers on Tuesday. Then, we just have to sit there and see what the future brings,” Sheahan said.

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