Talk about a trade-off.
It is good that some integrity was restored to the OUA's regular season by the Ottawa Gee-Gees, a .500 team, losing in the Yates Cup to a team with one loss. Of course, it would have to be against the Western Mustangs, who will host the Mitchell Bowl national semi-final next week vs. Saint Mary's. Joking aside -- one cannot grow up near a city with 11 correctional institutions, 12 if you count the Kingston Frontenacs, without picking up some gallows humour by osmosis -- all credit should go to Western for beating the Gee-Gees thoroughly, 31-17, on Saturday.
It is convenient to attribute some great awakening to someone right after they've delivered a definite butt-kicking. The day belonged to Western's coach and QB, Greg Marshall and Mike Faulds and frankly, a couple years ago, it might not have.
Marshall has come around as a coach in the past couple years. His McMaster teams played fairly prosaic power football. You ran the ball and when you passed, you basically just expected the receivers to run past overmatched OUA secondaries. That was fine and dandy for winning Yates Cups. It was just that it was no longer 1980 and organized tackle football had really caught on among some Quebec, Western Canada and Atlantic Canada schools who had some pretty fair athletes, some of whom might have actually been potential second-team all-stars in the OUA.
Faulds came across as a drop-back passer left over from the 1980s during his first seasons in London, but -- cue the Rocky III training sequence -- has become an elusive enough passer, with more than one trick. Ottawa defensive co-ordinator Phil Roberts said this week that he was "the best quarterback we'll face this year, hands down," and that was when the Gee-Gees still had a shot at playing Laval and Benoit Groulx.
Western will not make anyone draw comparisons to Texas Tech, but with Marshall and Faulds, it has a better style for competing outside Ontario than the coach did at McMaster. Far be it to point out that the two old O-QIFC schools, Ottawa and Queen's, might have had a little something to do with OUA teams going to more open offences.
Point being, Western should be able to get some points next week, something Marshall's first three Yates Cup teams could not do in bowl games. Saint Mary's also seems like a pretty good playoff matchup. The Huskies are a running team going up against a very good force unit led by Chris Greaves, Vaughn Martin and John Surla. They have a freshman quarterback, Jack Creighton.
This does not scream recipe for success. On the other side of the coin, the Mustangs' offensive line had problems protecting the passer with Ottawa and Queen's, which were mitigated by Faulds' scrambling. Saint Mary's pass rush made Laval look bad in the bowl game last November. Western's receivers, who are serviceable but unspectacular vs. the Huskies secondary is a toss-up. The Huskies will have a shot, but they're going to have to show a lot more than they have been showing -- kind of like Ottawa.
Western has shown it since the start of the season, though.
As for the Gee-Gees ...
Who knows what the biggest smoking gun was for Ottawa Saturday. The Gee-Gees could have been emotionally drained from taking out Queen's, still having too many injuries or being mistake-prone. One also wonders if having so many transfers on this year's team affected their chemistry.
Each of their Achilles heels -- penalties, special teams mistakes, difficulty in getting any rhythm going in the passing game -- cropped up Saturday, and it brought back the old frustrations. It is too bad it had to end in such a way for Josh Sacobie, Joe Barnes, David Timmons, the ex-Golden Gaels Ian Hazlett and Sean O'Donnell, among others who played their last game Saturday. No doubt it feels like they left the job unfinished. Ottawa's coaches will have to figure out why, rightly or wrongly, there is a view that their program has not got it done. They are 23-9 in regular-season play over the past four seasons with two Yates Cups berths. It is almost pointless to call that pretty good by most standards, since it's likely just going to fall on deaf ears. Ottawa is a good team that could have been in a Vanier, but hey, you secret your essence through your actions and their actions say they have fallen short.
Who knows what Ottawa will be like next season, post-Sacobie with Brad Sinopoli likely taking over at quarterback and a much younger defence.
There is a full account of the three conference championship games played Saturday over at The CIS Blog.