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Queen's taught painful lesson at Western
Posted: September 28th, 2013 @ 10:11pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
LONDON - Western Mustangs were full value for their victory Saturday afternoon. They never trailed and they never let the Queen's Golden Gaels get too close in a football game they put into the books as a 50-31 decision.
At the same time, the Gaels were, to a large degree, authors of their own misfortune.
Missed opportunities cost them 14 points and penalties cost them five more, a 19-point bit of foregone loot that, in a twist of fate bound to cost Queen's players a minute or two of sleep in the next few nights, just so happens to equal the margin of defeat.
"They are as aware of the missed opportunities today," Queen's coach Pat Sheahan said of his troops, "so it's not like we were outclassed, outplayed or out-toughed. That's not what happened.
"What happened was there were a few miscues, and a couple of mistakes made the difference."
On a gloriously sunny, 20-degree day, the No.2-ranked Mustangs entertained a sellout 100th anniversary homecoming crowd with their sixth win, without defeat, this season. They scored first, led 23-0 before Queen's scored a touchdown in the final minute of the first half and never allowed the visitors to get closer than 23-10, early in the third quarter, or 35-24, six minutes into the fourth.
Each time Queen's got that close, however, Western answered with a touchdown on its very next possession.
Ultimately, however, it was their own mistakes that doomed the No.3-ranked Gaels to their first loss in five games, as they turned the Western five-yard line into their own little Bermuda Triangle.
After the Mustangs scored on a long drive with their first possession, Queen's was poised to deliver the perfect counter punch when an 88-yard drive of its own landed them on the Western eight.
From there tailback Jesse Andrews carried to his left but lost the ball at the five-yard line, where Western recovered.
In the third quarter, on a broken play, Gaels quarterback Billy McPhee scrambled out of trouble long enough to find Daniel Heslop with a short pass. Heslop took it 87 yards down the left sideline before, while checking over his shoulder for pursuers, he inadvertently stepped on the paint at the Western - you guessed it - five-yard line.
A broken play and a short run later, Queen's faced third-and-goal, again from the five, but McPhee couldn't connect with Scott Macdonell, one of at least two receivers open in the end zone.
The penalty-botched points were a single on a Dillon Wamsley kickoff - at the time, it would have cut a 15-point Queen's deficit to two converted touchdwns - which came back when the Gaels were caught offside, and four points when Western kicked a field goal early in the fourth quarter, but got another chance when Queen's was caught with too many men on the field. With the new opportunity, the Mustangs went in to score a touchdown.
Even after a pitiful third quarter, when the Gaels had one first down and, but for Heslop's long play had negative net yards, Queen's was still in the game, trailing 32-17 with 14 minutes to play and the Mustangs punting from their own 12-yard line.
With the wind, Western's Lirim Hajrullahu boomed a kick over the head of return man Doug Corby, who tried to catch it over his shoulder, missed it, and ultimately didn't corral it until it stopped rolling at the Queen's 19-yard line.
Even the best teams can have only so much resilience. The Gaels couldn't get out of their own end, gave Western the ball back on their own side of midfield and Hajrallahu kicked a field goal to give his team a three-score cushion.
Gaels linebacker Sam Sabourin said the missed scoring opportunities weren't discouraging for a defensive unit that has been the Queen's salvation more than once this year.
"The offence did a great job all day," he said. "It was the defence that let us down. We didn't play our best game. We got backed up way too many times, gave up long drives. It was not a great effort by the guys on the defence.
"I don't know what was going on with their inside trap plays in the three-back formation. We couldn't really see what was going on, who was getting blocked where. We'll go into the film room, see what went wrong and come back next week."
His disappointment with the outcome aside, Sheahan did not seem displeased with his team's performance.
"Our kids (came) down here and scrapped under pretty adverse conditions and showed a lot of character, and that's what I demanded of them today," he said.
"I really liked the touchdown before the half; being down 23-0 there, coming back and scoring before the half, showed a lot of grit. And that last touchdown at the end, that was important. Our guys never quit."
Sheahan tipped his hat to Western - "a very good team, a very good opponent" - and he believes there's instructive value in the defeat.
"I think what our guys found out today is there's a level of competition required when you're in a big game against the best team, that all your mistakes will count against you," he said. "Today they did."
Western got two touchdowns from four Queen's turnovers.
"I thought our offence played better today save for two missed opportunities that figured very large in the outcome," Sheahan continued. "Defensively, we knew we had a challenge today. There were times when we stood up and there were times that they bested us"
The Gaels held Western to 548 yards of offence - about 130 fewer yards than the No. 1 offence in the land had been gaining in an average game - and Queen's managed 484 yards of their own, just seven yards off its season best.
"The opportunities were there," Sheahan said. "I liked the way our kids moved the football. Obviously, we've got to be a little bit better on the finish in the big games against good teams. And we'll play better against them defensively the next time."
Western quarterback Will Finch threw for 245 yards and rushed for 114 more, while Yannick Harou had a 153-yard day rushing the football in place of injured tailback Garret Sanvido.
"Anytime you are on the winning side at your first real homecoming, it's a good feeling," Finch said. "Everyone prepped hard for this.
"There are nerves and there's a lot of people staring at you. It's football. You just want to have fun, and these are the guys to have fun with. (Queen's is) a good football team. They are well coached, but all our guys wanted it. Everyone wanted it."
McPhee had a season-best day for Queen's, with 332 yards from 22 completions (in 36 attempts). Granberg also had his best day of the season, with 117 yards from 12 carries. It was the first 100-yard game by a Queen's back this season.
The teams traded explosion touchdowns. Western's Preston Higgins returned McPhee's only interception into a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter, giving the Mustangs a 21-0 lead. William Zed of Queen's blocked a punt midway through the third quarter, picked it up and went 45 yards for a touchdown that brought the Gaels back to 32-17.
The Gaels resume play Saturday, when they will host the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
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