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Giovanni Aprile scores four TDs as Gaels thump York in season opener
Posted: August 26th, 2013 @ 12:41am
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
ETOBICOKE - It doesn't seem like Giovanni Aprile will be easily satisfied this season.
"In the second half, I was shaky," Aprile said Sunday, after his Queen's Golden Gaels throttled the York Lions 52-1 in the Ontario University Athletics season-opening football game.
"I don't approve of my play in the second half."
I'm sorry, I was looking for the Giovanni Aprile who scored four touchdowns today. You know, one rushing, two on long pass receptions and one on that fabulous 115-yard kick return.
"I feel like I was in the right place at the right time," Aprile said. "I think any of our boys in that position would have done the same thing. I was lucky to be in that spot."
Still, that's a pretty remarkable performance. For a guy who came within two points of the all-time single-game scoring record on a team that's 130 years old, aren't you being a little hard on yourself?
"You've always got to get better," he said. "It's good to be tough on yourself."
Perhaps it bodes well for a team that succumbed last year to a second-half playoff collapse that one of its veterans can be so cavalier about such a splendid performance because it was disproportionally fashioned in the first half.
"We came out pretty strong but we've got to keep that up the whole game," Aprile said, dismissing the notion that a team leading 36-0 at halftime unconsciously might take its foot off the gas at that point.
"We're taught not to do that," he said. "You've got to keep that fire ignited."
Fair enough. If it's going to be left to others to describe the magnitude of what Aprile did on a sunny Sunday afternoon, so be it.
He scored the first touchdown of the season in the game's eighth minute, on a 26-yard end-around run on the very first play after a 40-yard punt return by Doug Corby.
After Dillon Wamsley kicked his first of five field goals on Queen's next possession, Aprile and quarterback Billy McPhee connected for a 58-yard touchdown pass two plays into the next series. The next time the Gaels had the ball, four plays into the drive came a 55-yard TD pass. Eighteen minutes into the game Queen's had just two first downs because Aprile kept blowing up the York coverage.
By halftime the Gaels had seven first downs, but 36 points.
The piece de resistance for Aprile was his 115-yard return of York's first attempt to score, a failed field goal that he caught five yards deep in the end zone. By the time he got to midfield, the only two people around him were teammates looking in vain for somebody to block.
He'd have had five touchdowns had he not stepped on the sideline stripe in the second quarter, trying to keep his balance as he dodged the last York defender at the Lions' 14-yard line. That play went for a meagre gain of 59 yards.
Indeed, the only person who seemed capable of covering Aprile all afternoon proved to be a teammate. Early in the third quarter, Aprile was - again - by himself well behind the York secondary in the end zone. As McPhee lofted him the ball Scott MacDonell, apparently unaware that Aprile was was two or three steps behind him, possibly because he had two guys covering him - yes, that's right, two men defending the guy with one catch, nobody on the guy having the career day, kind of gives you an idea, doesn't it? - lunged for the ball.
MacDonell almost - sadly, almost - made a spectacular fingertip catch on a ball Aprile could have caught with one hand while eating a sandwich with the other, but there were no hard feelings.
"I thought he had it," Aprile said later, wide-eyed at the recollection of MacDonell's attempt. "It stuck there for a second but a couple of guys collided with him and knocked it out.
"We were just doing our thing. Scramble rules. He did what he had to do."
Aprile finished the game with 176 yards receiving. (Point of reference: That's 38 yards more than anyone had in a single game all last year). His field-goal return matches the school's third-longest all-time. He had 349 all-purpose yards. With 24 points he is now part of a six-man tie for second place all-time at Queen's for points in a game, two less than Connie Mandala had in a match at Concordia in 1986.
(By the way, Mandala, a receiver, was also the team's kicker; he booted eight converts that day).
"Johnny did a great job today," Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said. "He's a cut above, a borderline pro. John's challenge is to use that to get better."
York's challenge, meanwhile, is to get better, period, and possibly to hope that one year soon the schedule maker will excuse the Lions from having to play Queen's. Not only has York never beaten Queen's - 0-16 all time - the Gaels have scored 362 points in the last six meetings, winning by an average score of 60-5.
"Quoting a great NFL coach, they're who they're supposed to be," York coach Warren Craney said of the Gaels. "They're supposed to be the best team in the OUA and they definitely played like it today."
Craney said the impact on his team of falling behind early was magnified by the way Queen's beat them with big plays.
"That was hard," he said. "Our defence is our weakest unit right now. The game plan was to move the ball and score early and hopefully get it to a shootout."
He chuckled at the recollection. "That was our plan. It definitely didn't work that way.
"We had to get more aggressive on play calling on defence to try and keep it close but they're a talented team and they made us pay."
The Lions actually moved the ball in the first quarter. They had seven first downs, one more yard of total offence than Queen's, ran 22 offensive plays - to seven by Queen's - and yet they trailed 17-0.
By the second quarter, the jig was up. York was three-and-out on six successive possessions. On one particularly spectacular sequence, on consecutive plays Gaels linebacker Sam Sabourin had two tackles for loss and a sack.
"That front seven is one of the best in the country," Craney said. "When you can get pressure with four guys you can do a lot of things in coverage. Coach (Pat) Tracey's very good in coverage schemes and he was able to keep on top of us. He made corrections very quickly and shut down what we had early on, so kudos to him."
It's difficult to be critical of a team that scored almost at will in the early part of the ball game, but it certainly won't escape the coaches that in the whole game Queen's had only two drives of more than six plays, and neither of them ended with a touchdown.
"Week 1 is going to be a game of mistakes," Sheahan said. "We had a few. They had more.
"We had some great execution at times. We had a few things that shocked me a little bit. They moved the ball a little bit on us. I didn't think they were going to do that (but) it was a good start. A win's a win and our kids played well, very well at times. We also had to fix a few things. Typical of Game 1, I'd say."
Offensively, the Gaels spread things around. Five different running backs carried the ball, including freshman Jonah Pataki, who scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter of his first intercollegiate game. Eight different players caught passes.
Five-for-six in field-goal attempts, Wamsley was good from 43, 15, 28, 17 and 35 yards, missing by about a foot from 48 yards out.
The Gaels will host the two-time defending Yates Cup champion McMaster Marauders in their next game, the home opener on Labour Day. McMaster opened its schedule with a 51-24 win Sunday over Ottawa.
"It's going to be a tougher game next week, everybody understands that," Sheahan said, "and we've got to play better. To have a chance against a quality opponent you've got to play well, you've got to play close to your best."
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