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Home > Articles > CIS Football > Gaels, Laurier on course for crucial test

Gaels, Laurier on course for crucial test

Posted: October 4th, 2013 @ 1:09am

By CLAUDE SCILLEYThey're like two neighbours who take turns annoying each other, one with the cat that yowls late at night, the other with the aspiring teenage drummer.The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks have pinned on the Queen's Golden Gaels some of the Tricolour's most bitter defeats in recent seasons: A 67-7 thumping in 2000, the most crushing defeat, score-wise, in Queen's football history; a 36-33 overtime playoff upset in 2003; a 25-13 loss that was the only blemish on an otherwise undefeated national-championship season in 2009."Laurier has been a stubborn opponent over the years," Gaels coach Pat Sheahan put it Thursday.Likewise, the Gaels have rained on a couple of Laurier parades, having, for instance, eliminated the Golden Hawks from the playoffs each of the last two years.Saturday at Richardson Stadium, the two teams' schedules intersect at a crucial point in the season and for one of them it necessarily will not end well. A Queen's win will eliminate Laurier from playoff contention; a Laurier victory will greatly reduce the Gaels' hopes of securing a first-round playoff bye, and leave them scuffling with the other pretenders for a shot at third place. The eyes of Queen's fans - about 16,000 of them in a sellout Homecoming crowd - will be watching to see how the Gaels respond to their 50-13 setback last Saturday in London, where the Western Mustangs asserted themselves as the team to beat for the Yates Cup.It was a humbling defeat and though it was just the first for Queen's in five games this year, it was one for which the players paid an emotional price."The practice has not been quite as crisp this week as it was last week, but that's understandable," Sheahan said. "There's no question that the Western game was circled on everybody's calendar. The buildup wasn't just a four- or five-day buildup, it was a several-week buildup."There's a little bit of a flat line after a big emotional game like that. I've seen it over the years - you don't just bounce right back out there for Tuesday night practice and you're at the same level. There is just a little bit of a comedown from that. The challenge this week has been to climb back up to a competitive edge."The post-Western analysis was not all was doom and gloom, Sheahan said."We did demonstrate that we can compete at the highest level in our conference," he said. "There were some significant challenges that needed to be managed. Our guys had to deal with the reality of playing against a team that could score. That was the first time all season that our defence struggled to take control of the football game. I don't think they played badly, necessarily, because (Western) has been able to move the football against everybody."We can compete at that level. We're just going to have to play better, going to have to finish."Finishing, indeed, has been the Gaels' Achilles heel in the past couple of games. Of the 12 times Queen's has moved the ball into the so-called red zone - inside the opponent's 20-yard line - the Gaels have scored a touchdown just six times. Four times, they have turned the ball over."I think you need to get into a few good 15-rounders before it's over so that you can prepare yourself for the big games that are going to occur down the stretch," Sheahan said."We learned and we're a better football team because of it."Sheahan cautioned against satisfying yourself with just a superficial look at Laurier's 1-5 record. Two of those defeats have come by a margin of seven points or less, the most recent one in overtime. Two weeks ago, the Hawks were leading Western as late as 11 minutes into the third quarter."They're just a little bit green in a couple of positions but as the season goes on they're getting better and better," he said. "This game (will be) closer than anybody realizes."Laurier's biggest offensive threat is Dillon Campbell, a third-year running back who stands third in the nation with 665 yards rushing. Campbell may be licking his lips at the prospect of playing against a Queen's defence that allowed Western to rush for 299 yards last week, the most the Gaels have allowed in a game since the 3-5 season of 2005, when on Sept. 17 they permitted Windsor to gain 311 yards on the ground.A couple of other tidbits you mightn't expect of a 10th-place team: The Hawks have the second-best pass defence in the league, and have allowed the fifth-fewest points."We're a young team, but we've continually gotten better every week," said Laurier's first-year coach, Michael Faulds. "Even though we haven't won many football games, we won in Week 4 but we were still a better team in Week 5 against Western and we were a better team last week against Windsor than we were against Western or Waterloo."We've got a slim chance to be in the playoffs," he continued. "Three wins last year would get you in the playoffs so there's that glimmer of hope."
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