Sunday, November 02, 2008

Bleeding Tricolour: Deja vu all over again

Queen's Golden Gaels coach Pat Sheahan has big shoulders. He needs them today.

Losing in the first playoff game at home for the second straight season, 23-13 Saturday to the Ottawa Gee-Gees, well, it lets people say whatever they want about the Queen's coaches and players. It won't be fair, some of it will be spurred by emotion and, worst of all, there are the OUA and Queen's haters sitting there smugly saying, "I knew it, I knew it." For those of us for whose Tricolour love is un-con-dit-ion-al, well, on some level you can rationalize it by saying, when you love a league because it is amateur and somewhat imprecise, you have to accept that 8-0 teams can have their season go up in smoke in the space of less than three hours on one dismal Saturday.

At least there are 10 months until the next game. As a fan, it will take at least that long to get over this one. There is no knowing what it's like for the players. No idea at all.

Zero points from the offence in the second half. An endless reel of "throwing deep ... and incomplete" pass plays, along with two fumbles from veterans (Dan Brannagan and Jimmy Allin) which allowed Ottawa to salt away the game with two field goals in the fourth quarter.

Apparently 4-4 is next to godliness in the OUA -- no sarcasm this time. There will be time, later, to go into greater detail over whether the OUA, between the first-round bye that can kill a team's momentum -- and three of the last four teams to receive one have lost in the semi-final -- and the number of creampuff teams in the league, has destroyed the integrity of the regular season.

Speaking as someone whose first love as a sports fan is baseball, one team sport where you have to be good all the time to make the World Series, the notion that a team can slog through the regular season and just "find our groove" (Ottawa linebacker Joe Barnes' words) is anathema. With that kind of personal bias, it's hard to accept that the regular season is meaningless, but today proved that point.

Look at college football south of the border, where it's more popular by a factor of what, a hundred? Every Saturday matters. Check out the stunned expressions on the faces of the Texas players after Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree scored the game-winning touchdown with one second left. Lose more than two games and your best hope is the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl or some such folderol.

Down south, every Saturday matters, but oh no, we can't have that in Canada, the true north mediocre and free. Take nothing away, from Ottawa, though. The way the Gee-Gees played, answering with a touchdown after each of Queen's two scoring drives in the first half and never looking back, suggests they could have been going to London this week for the semi-final instead of next week for the Yates Cup. They might have ended up being home this week.

One could argue that having a traditional power go 4-4 and magically get it together in time to make the Yates shows the need to break up the current OUA alignment. Western last year or Ottawa this year maybe should have been put in a dare-to-be-great situation, where they can't afford too many bad Saturdays.

As for the game itself, the Gee-Gees copied Western's template from last season's quarter-final near-perfectly. They barely gave Queen's an opening, save for an a fourth-quarter blocked punt that resulted in a safety to cut the margin to 20-13. They were otherwise turnover-free on offence, simplifying the equation with a thudding running game behind Davie Mason (who might be out for the season with a torn hamstring) and Kingston's own Craig Bearss, with just enough high-percentages passes to keep the defence honest.

The Gee-Gees won this on their defence, especially the corners, David Timmons and Chayce Elliott, who took the Queen's wideouts out of the game. Scott Valberg, in his final game, was held to two catches by Timmons, none after halftime. Their defensive line, good all season even in trying times, contained Queen's well. Sebastian Tetrault came up with the big sack-forced fumble that helped Ottawa stretch the lead in the second half.

None of the above should let Queen's off the hook. They left points on the field --ba usted fake field goal and two misses left them with only got three points from four red-zone opportunities. That was unforgivable. Fair or not, that's on the coaching for not finding a way to avoid having kicking situations come up.

The bottom line is that it is only a game. It's university football, the players are only in their early 20s. The appeal is that it's imprecise, that a team that sailed through the regular season can crash and burn over the course of three hours on Saturday. By the same token, Ottawa can beat itself for half the season and suddenly get it right in a sudden-death playoff game.

You love the game so much as a fan, you kind of have to be tolerant of that, eventually, even when the quarterback is 11-of-31 passing in a home playoff game. That doesn't mean people are not entitled to shake their heads and wonder how it all went wrong.

Queen's is 14-2 over the past two regular seasons, 18-6 since the start of 2006, but has not been to the Yates Cup. People will reduce it to question of why they cannot seem to win in the playoffs. It is that plain and simple, as much as we like to overanalyze.

Noteworthy

  • If anyone has a plan for how Canadian university football could be realigned into more meaningful conferences and there could be a true national playoff system similar to that in the lower NCAA divisions, don't be shy.

    That is not to say the Golden Gaels would have done better if they played Concordia or St. Francis Xavier today. After today and last season, it's almost like it would feel better to be a .500 team in the old O-QIFC gasping for air, instead of beating York 80-0 and getting that false sense of security. After this year and last, losing as the favourite bites.
  • Andrew Bucholtz did a live blog of the game over at Sporting Madness and there's a digest of the day's five semi-final games -- how about Simon Fraser taking out Saskatchewan! -- at The CIS Blog.
  • It is a shame that Mike Giffin was unable to go and that his final play as a Golden Gael came two weeks ago against Waterloo. Fellow fifth-years, defensive back Mike Botting, end Neil Puffer, defensive tackle Ross Corley, tight end Scott Stinson and wideout Scott Valberg, will each be missed.

    Not to be one of those fans who updates the depth chart 10 minutes after the last game, but Allin, Brannagan, Carter and fellow hs linebacker T.J. Leeper, the offensive linemen Colin Boyle and Jon Koidis, Pat Corbin and Dee Sterling on the D-line are on that fourth-year bubble.

    Keep an eye out for Anthony Marino, who saw the field as a rookie this season. (With that last name, did he deliberately choose a career on defence?)
  • Rob Bagg will score a touchdown for the Saskatchewan Roughridgers in the CFL West Division semi-final. He's due.
  • I am not one of those fans who already starts envisioning next season's depth chart 10 minutes after the season ends. The early guessing is what Laurier and Western will be good again next season.
  • Happy birthday to the Official Sister of Out of Left Field, Trina Sager.
  • Thanks again to Dan Pawliw and all the members of the Queen's Football Club who have supported this site. Special thanks goes to Queen's sports information director Michael Grobe, CFRC sports director Tyler King (our own "Kinger") and Whig-Standard sports ed. Mike Koreen for being accommodating and gracious all season. All of you make it easier to do this for little fame and even less money.
  • Andrew Bucholtz has a great recap over at Sporting Madness ("Charge of the Golden brigade?").

    From Monday's Whig: An upfront column by Jordan Press ("Tarnished gold") as a companion to Clint Walper's gamer ("Vanier Cup dreams dashed").

    This is as good a time as any to say that I'm probably done with posting on Queen's football. It has been fun doing it for three seasons, but it is to the point where it is unclear what some guy who lives in another city can bring to the table that cannot be done by the professional journalists on the scene down in K-Town. It just no longer feels right. The door is not shut. Thanks for everything, people.
That is all for now. Send your thoughts to neatesager@yahoo.ca.

12 comments:

Dennis Prouse said...

Tough draw for Queen's, though. The Gee-Gees were the best 4-4 team you are ever going to face in the playoffs. Ottawa really should have been at least 6-2, or 7-1 if it weren't for the injury bug and some agonizingly close losses. There's a lot to be said for the freedom that comes with being the nothing-to-lose underdog - you see it at the youth level all the time.

sager said...

I'm done with OUA and CIS football until there's some serious realignment talk, Dennis ... this had no impact on the game today, but there's a certain expectation when Queen's was 8-0 and Ottawa was 4-4.

I'm not contradicting myself — I'm just having a moment of clarity. Today showed why the OUA can be a joke for football. I would rather have Queen's and Ottawa playing in a real conference with the schools are all serious about football. That way no one ends up with a record that might have been padded, and no team can slough off half its season with injury woes and then find a groove in the playoffs. It should be more like the NCAA — you can't take days off, and if you have injuries, it's T.S.

Ottawa earned it today, they were good and I'll be cheering for them next week b/c I live here and the school's been good to me as a media guy, even when I was just the balding fatass with the blog.

Honestly, give me the old O-QIFC and a true 16-team national playoff ... playing in a conference with Laval might be a hellhole, but like Spinal Tap sang, you know where you stand in a hellhole.

Tim in London said...

Neate,

Went to the Stangs/Hawks game today. Western looked fantastic for about 2.5 quarters, the only thing was they couldn't finish off drives (hence the FG record). The return for TD by the Hawks got them back in it and they had a shot. Talked to my friend who runs Laurier's defence at half and he called it. He said if they don't move the ball, it's over. In the second they moved it a little and did well. Laurier will be scary next year.

sager said...

Western looked pretty solid ... Laurier had 2 picks where they tried to force the ball into the frosh receiver (Shamawd Chambers) .. next year he'll have learned how to get separation an

Should be a good Yates Cup. As it stands, I get a Saturday off for just the third time this season ... guess I'll be looking for something else.

Tim in London said...

Neate,

You want to go double or nothing on that Steelback I owe you from the Queen's/Western game?

Robert C. said...

Should have bet money on my Ottawa pick, oh well.

Sure Tyler would agree that banning CFRC from the sidelines was a bad omen. ha ha.

sager said...

@ Tim: The way I feel right now, I'll take the beer with a Javex chaser ... ah, what the hell — you're on!

Dennis Prouse said...

No argument here. It's a little like the CFL playoffs in that you have such a high percentage of teams in that it renders the regular season somewhat meaningless. As a coach, I can tell you that byes, especially this time of year just kill your timing and momentum. So yes, by all means cut the number of playoff teams.

sager said...

As it stands 17 of 27 teams make the playoffs (4 of 6 in Quebec and Canada West, 6 of 10 in Ontario, 3 of 4 in the Atlantic).

That is too many. I would rather see a couple things happen:

One, either have an interlock between Ontario and the other two eastern conferences ... or realign the eastern teams into a Big East conference with Laval, Ottawa, Laurier, Western, Queen's, et cetera ... group teams according to the school's commitment to football, not geography.

Secondly, have a true national playoff where there would be more slots available to the top conference -- just like the Big 12 or Southeastern Conference gets more bowl bids or spots in the NCAA basketball tournament than Conference USA or the Mountain West Conference.

The way it is in the OUA now is between that bye week, and the schools who don't put anything into football, there's no respect for the regular season.

I hate to say that because I don't want to take anything from Ottawa. I tip my cap to Denis Piche, to Phil Roberts and all their coaches and players for getting it done ... but seriously, now that 3 of the last 4 teams who had the bye have lost in the first playoff game, maybe the OUA should look at doing something different.

Western's going to be tough for Ottawa with Davie Mason sidelined.

Anonymous said...

If people can not accept that a .500 regular season team can win in the playoffs , then why have playoffs in any league. Just declare the regular season winner the Yates Cup champ.

It won't happen . People like the suspense of the sudden death, the prospect of the upset. fall playoff surprises are a long tradition in CIS football.

Ottawa should go into the Q. Queen's probably never will. If Carleton brings back football, which is looking like a good possibility and UOIT comes in in a few years as they want to, a realignment in Ontario will need to take place anyway. We might as well wait for it.

Ottawa won this game not by virtue of superior skill players, but by the hogs in the trenches.It was good old smash mouth football . Sitting in the stands one could see Ottawa slowly but surely winning more and more of the trench battles as the game went on, both ways.

Former Gael and now Gee Gee lineman Sean O'Donnell was so pumped he was going ballistic. He was running up and down behind the players bench trying to lead we Gee Gee fans in cheering throughout the game. As the game wound down he ran up and down like a man possessed, both arms in the air, shouting "Vindication, Vindication!" People from Kingston in the stands told me it was because he has a grudge against Queen's administration, not his old coaches or team mates.

OttawaFan

Anonymous said...

"As the game wound down he ran up and down like a man possessed, both arms in the air, shouting "Vindication, Vindication!" People from Kingston in the stands told me it was because he has a grudge against Queen's administration, not his old coaches or team mates."

This is funny...why blame queens administration ... they arn't the ones who failed out...


Ottawa played tough, they finished when they had too... Queen's didn't make the big plays...

Anonymous said...

Heard a cooment that former Gaels starting d-lineman and long snapper Kevin Magee is consIdering playing for the Gee Gees next season.

OttawaFan