Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bleeding Tricolour: Gaels keep focus, take out Toronto

by Andrew Bucholtz, Sporting Madness

See Andrew's live blog of the game here.)

Today’s match against the University of Toronto was perhaps a difficult situation for the Gaels. They were expected to win big, so a huge victory would be the status quo and anything less a disappointment. Queen’s managed the huge victory, though, beating Toronto 58-14.

The game wasn’t necessarily always going to be this much of a blowout, though. In fact, the Blues should have had the first touchdown early on when quarterback David Hamilton handed off to slash player Mark Stinson. Queen’s defensive backs bit on the fake run, leaving Drew Meedveld wide open deep, and he waltzed in for the TD. It was called back for a holding penalty though, the Gaels’ defence held, and the offence was off to the races with two quick touchdowns.

Toronto pulled within seven before the end of the first quarter, but the Gaels pulled out to a 37-7 lead going into the half. Queen’s added two more early touchdowns in the third quarter, putting the result beyond all doubt.

It was the ground attack that carried the day for the Gaels. Mike Giffin finished with 212 yards, his 14th straight 100-yard game. He finished with three TDs, two rushing and one receiver.

The defensive performance was also impressive. The Gaels defensive line was creating solid pressure on Toronto’s quarterbacks all day and forcing plenty of bad throws. You could tell they were keying on Dee Sterling, which left holes for the other linemen. The front four also shut down the run almost completely, with the aid of linebackers like Thaine Carter. There were several injuries, including LB T.J. Leeper and DE Kyle MacDonald, but the replacement players came in and did their job quite well.

Brannagan finished 13-of-22 for 241 yards with three TDs. Not a lights-out passing performance, but not a bad one either. Blaise Morrison had career highs with six catches for 121 yards — the fourth Gaels receiver to have a "century game" — while Scott Valberg had two TD catches. Blocking back Tim Poffley also caught one, which meant graduates of Kingston-area high schools scored six of Queen's eight touchdowns.

It would have been easy to take this game off and look ahead to Western next week, and that could have been costly. Western crushed York 71-0 today, so we get to see the rivalry battle between two 4-0 teams in the middle of Queen’s Homecoming next weekend, which should be incredible. It was hard to avoid thinking about that one prematurely, but now we can all start salivating in eager anticipation.

Update, 10:00 P.M. by Andrew: Here's the quotes I promised, from Blaise Morrison, Neil Puffer, Jimmy Allin, Dan Brannagan and Pat Sheahan:

Wide receiver Blaise Morrison:

Stat line: Six catches for a game-high 121 yards, longest catch for 37 yards

On maintaining focus for this game, despite Western coming up next week:
“The coaches prepared us really well this week, making sure all our focus was on this week’s game.”

On slow starts: “That’s just the way it’s been going this season.”

On Valberg creating room for the rest of the receivers: “After the game Scott Valberg had last week, obviously they’re going to pay a bit more attention to him, so it opens up all the other guys.”

On Western: “We’ve got a week to prepare now, and we’re really excited about this game.”

Defensive lineman Neil Puffer:

Stat line: One sack, two solo tackles

On the expectations placed on the team: “There was a fair bit of pressure on us. Everyone expected us to win, everyone expected us to be perfect.”

On improvement: “We`re not terribly excited about our game today because it didn`t meet our standards for this sort of game. ... We`ve just got to tighten up the loose ends.”

On key things to work on: “We had a couple fumbles, and the trick plays that they were running on us, they got a lot of mileage from. We need to have our heads wrapped around those and know when they`re coming. That`s pretty much it, but we just need to stick to fundamental football.”

On if Dee Sterling`s performance last week opened holes for him:
“He certainly attracted a lot of attention, and if guys are double- and triple-teaming him, it frees me up for a one on one.”

On Western: “It couldn’t get much better than this, a rematch of how things ended last year in the playoffs, and on Homecoming on national TV, and in this case, it’s a battle of the undefeated. ... It’s going to be a good football game, and I’m really excited for it.”

On what they’ll have to do differently from last year’s playoff loss: “We were a step behind all last year’s game. ... They just beat us. They came out, outschemed us, out played us, played with more heart. We’re just going to have to be perfect.”

Halfback/kick returner Jimmy Allin:

Stat line: One solo tackle, one breakup, five punt returns for 90 yards and two kick returns for 27 yards.

On how far U of T has come: “U of T’s obviously a much-improved team. They’ve got some great athletes.”

On what to improve: “Everything. We need to work on everything, we need to get better. We’ve got a big game coming up this week, and we’ll need to play well if we want to win.”

On facing Western: “We need to focus on what we do best. We’re all confident, we’ll all prepare like we always do, and hopefully it comes out for us.”

On if he thinks there will be a good crowd: “We hope so. Homecoming, we always look forward to it because the stadium’s always packed and we’ll hopefully put on a good show.”

On if he thinks his reputation as a returner is causing teams to kick away from him the way Toronto did most of the day: “I hope not. You always like to get a chance, but it’s like last game, they kicked to Jimmy (Therrien) a lot and he did an amazing job, so you can’t really take away our returns. We have two good returners, and guys are doing a great job of blocking for them.”

QB Dan Brannagan:

Stat line: 13 for 22 for 241 yards, three passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, two interceptions.

On if the team met their goals against U of T: “I think overall there’s a lot of room for improvement, but the ultimate goal, the goal every week is to get a win, and we did that.”

On what’s causing the slow starts: “I’m not too sure. I guess it takes us a while to get going, but it’s something we can work on in the second half of the season.”

On if Giffin’s stellar performance on the ground opened up passing lanes in the second half:
“Definitely. All year long, I think that’s been the case. It definitely helps to have him in the backfield, and teams have to respect that and bring guys up. When you have to gang-tackle a big running back like that, it means less guys in double coverage.”

On his own scrambling performance: “Going into the game, I wouldn’t have predicted that, but it just gets to the point where you have to take what the defence is giving you if they’re going to drop a lot of guys into coverage. I think it’s something they weren’t expecting, so I think I kind of caught them off guard a little.”

On what to improve: “It’s just a matter of execution. We have great players and great plays, it’s just a matter of going out there and being confident, making sure that we’re going out there and fully executing every play.”

On if there’s a desire for revenge against Western after last year’s playoff loss: “It’s not really on my mind. You’re always trying to look forward and not look backwards. It’s a different team and a new season.”

Coach Pat Sheahan:

On the game overall: “I’m pleased with the win, but I think that we’re still not a hundred per cent polished. We still have a few areas that we can improve on, and my hope is with each passing week, we’re going to gain a measure of consistency and improve our execution. ... Maybe I’m becoming too hard to please, I don’t know. It was a good win, and we want to be better, that’s all.”

On the slow starts: “I think standard practice in football is to do some things early in the game. You unveil your plan, you set your formation, see how they play you. You’d like things to go a little better than perhaps they did today in the early going. ... Being a slow-starting team doesn’t worry me, as we’re a big finishing team. I think we’ve outscored our opponents in the second half of most games, if not all of them.”

On Morrison: “I thought the contribution of Blaise Morrison today was very good. Each week, we kind of have a new hero stepping up. ... The new face that seemed to rise to the occasion was Blaise Morrison.”

On Mike Giffin breaking his career-high mark of 214 rushing yards (Giffin finished with 215 yards, and was pulled after the third quarter): “For the number of carries he got, I thought his numbers were good today. ... At times, they shut him up pretty good. I’m afraid with him today, it was kind of feast or famine: he either made a great play or they did a pretty good job on him. With a great runner, when they come in with the plan that they’re going to stack up on the running game, sometimes it works. He just kept at it, he was very determined, he was fired up about having a big game today and he did.”

On other strong performances: “ Valberg was solid today, I thought he made a couple of great big plays. I thought Danny (Brannagan) was pretty good.”

On the injuries to linebacker T.J. Leeper and Kyle MacDonald: “I don’t think it’s anything serious. MacDonald, I think he went down just to give the defence a breather. T.J. Leeper, it’s an ongoing thing, but he could have come back and played today if he had to.”

On Western next week: “There’s a lot of preparation work that needs to be done. I think we have to look at them a whole lot closer. We didn’t look at them this week, we didn’t talk about them, we didn’t even mention them, which was a challenge in itself for our team, knowing that this one was looming large. Anyway, this is a game to get excited about, and it should be a good one.”

Bullet points à la Sager:

  • The Whig-Standard had a full writeup online within 90 minutes of the game being over. New sports ed. Mike Koreen's impact is already being felt!

    You can read all about Koreen's new gig here.
  • at The CIS Blog, there's a digest of the big stories coming out of Friday and Saturday's games, along with tidbits on each game.
  • Former CFRC play-by-play man Richard Zussman is calling games for Rogers 22 here in Ottawa.
  • Quoth Mike Toth, on the Mike who wears No. 21 for the Gaels: "He runs like an angry young man."
  • Jeff Chan has his usual outstanding photo gallery.
  • Amrit Ahluwalia of The Queen's Journal covered Queen's big rugby match at Western on Saturday. It ended in a tie, 12-12, so everyone was happy ... well, not really.
  • A national news service called Laurier the "Wilfrid Laurier Eagles." Just to play devil's advocate, it might well be that happened because having Golden in the team nickname caused confusion.

    On second thought, probably not.

    (Eagles? Really? The only other explanation is now that having two high school football teams in Lennox & Addington County, the Napanee Golden Hawks and the unbeaten Ernestown Eagles, is wreaking havoc on the minds of journalists in Toronto.


    Anonymous said...

    Wasn't it just last week Toronto walloped the Cowardly Lions of York 58-7?
    Well, so much for the Blues hopes of an undefeated season, yuk-yuk.
    Speaking of York...they lose to a team that hadn't beat them in a dozen years by 51?
    Good God...Just how BAD are they?

    Tyler King said...

    Nothing from anybody about the horridly sloppy play in the 4th - 2 fumbles, 2 interceptions, yikes. Nor anything about going for it on 3rd-and-7 in the 4th quarter when you're ahead by 30+.

    sager said...

    Tyler, as we say in Lennox & Addington County, the hay was in the barn.

    Judging a team on the fourth quarter of a blowout game vs. U of T is like judging Robert De Niro's career on Analyze This instead of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Casino and Goodfellas.

    Tyler King said...

    Yeah, which is what you all told me when I said last year's Toronto game was an indication of weaknesses. And then somehow at the end of the Western playoff game they were all talking about how clearly Toronto was that very indication.

    Plus, Neate, the blowout thing doesn't explain why you go for it on 3rd and 7 with a huge lead - that's a question of sportsmanship.

    sager said...

    I thought that I pointed out on the show Friday that it's the same scenario as the end of last season.

    First came a blowout over a Waterloo-based team where the score was the equivalent of cover-up for a few zits (interceptions and fumbles). That was followed by a lahdee dah win at Toronto, and then Western at home.

    It comes back to how much this group has matured and learned from last year. There have been previous Queen's teams who cracked the case on their second shot (see 1977-78, or 1991-92).

    As for the third-and-7, I had left for work by that point. I'm not aware of where the ball was on the field. If you're in between the 30 and the 39, you're supposed to go for it there because you don't stand to gain from punting and it's not 50-50 that you'll make the field goal.

    Without that I have to reserve comment.

    Dan B. threw the ball 22 times yesterday. Ottawa and Western won by wider margins over overmatched foes, and their starting QBs had more completions (23 for Sacobie on 32 attempts, 26-of-35 for Faulds) than Brannagan had attempts.

    Any accusation of poor sportsmanship has to be put into context. I'm not going to accuse Sheahan, Greg Marshall or Denis Piché of poor sportsmanship. The only ones guilty of poor sportsmanship are the administrators at the school and league level. They have the power to work toward not having obvious mismatches in the OUA and CIS every week.

    Andrew Bucholtz said...

    Yes, the fourth was sloppy, but the game was already won, so I didn't think it was really worth writing about to any great extent. Overall, it's a big win. It wasn't a perfect game, and the quotes I included showed that, but even Pat Sheahan thought that he might be being hard on his team for having some criticisms of them. Given how pessimistic Sheahan usually seems, that and the score tell me that this was a pretty impressive effort, a poor fourth quarter notwithstanding. I didn't feel it was worth overlooking three good quarters to complain about one lesser one. There were good moments in the fourth as well: Jansen Shrubb only went six-for-eight for 111 yards and a touchdown.

    Andrew Bucholtz said...

    Also, Zussman is a former Journal guy as well as a CFRC type. Good to see him get a play-calling spot.

    Tyler King said...

    When you say big win, do you mean big in margin or big in significance? Because it's not the least bit significant.

    sager said...

    Tyler, I'm going to call you Ted, for tedious.