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Odd play gives Gaels overtime win over Laurier
Posted: October 5th, 2013 @ 11:43pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Of the 10,000 or so people in the stands, on the field and along the sidelines at Richardson Stadium Saturday, likely only a handful had the faintest idea of what was going on.
Fortunately for the Queen's Golden Gaels, one of them was the guy who mattered.
Thinking quickly, Aaron Gazendam turned a broken play into the winning score when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone in overtime, giving the Gaels a 40-34 victory over the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
"Football brilliance," Queen's coach Pat Sheahan said. "That's what it was."
It was a through-the-looking-glass ending that somehow was befitting a game that for the most part had a 4-1 team at the mercy of a 1-5 team. A chaotic ending to the fourth quarter landed the Gaels and Hawks in overtime and after Laurier failed to score when it had the ball, Queen's got as far as the Hawk's 10-yard line, with first down.
The Gaels ran one play to get the ball from the right hash mark to directly in front of the goal post and Dillon Wamsley came in to kick a field goal that would end the game.
The kick was blocked - the second time in the game Laurier got a hand on a Queen's kick - but instead of the ball dribbling along the ground, it bounced up in the air, where Aaron Gazendam, the holder, grabbed it.
A punter at Holy Cross in his high school days - and the Gaels' backup kicker - Gazendam booted the ball into the end zone, but it didn't cross the dead ball line. As the Queen's downfield coverage men backed up to avoid a no-yards penalty, the Laurier return men seemed unclear about what to do. While they dithered, Gazendam raced in and fell on the ball - as the punter is allowed to do.
Touchdown Queen's, for a victory that was starting to appear less and less likely as the fourth quarter ticked into its final three minutes.
"He knew that we had another down (and could have just gone to the ground and tried for the field goal on the next play) but he had the presence of mind - to take it and kick it," Sheahan said.
"It would have been a spectacular play to win the game by a single but to have the presence of mind to see that it didn't go out, that it took a bad bounce and came back and everybody's standing around it - was unbelievable."
Every Friday, the Gaels practise what they call their kick-out play. It's designed for end-of-game situations where the opponent is kicking into the end zone and the only option might be to kick it back out. Gazendam has a vivid memory of such a play, from the county high school championship of his Grade 11 season, when Frontenac won 18-17 on a last-second rouge when Holy Cross didn't have a man in the end zone to kick the ball back out.
"I was actually talking about that last night," Gazendam said. "Maybe that triggered (the quick reaction)."
In the Gaels' scheme, Gazendam is the guy on the other end of the play who waits in the end zone to kick the ball back out, but he also happens to be the team's backup holder on place kicks and he was doing that Saturday in place of the injured Justin Chapdelaine.
"I saw it get blocked, and I saw it shoot right up in the air," Gazendam explained. "The first thing I thought of was to try and punt it (through) the end zone. I thought they were going to kick it back so at first I kind of stepped back - but it was just sitting there.
"Our guys knew what to do. They gave five yards, but I don't think the Laurier guys knew what to do, so I just ran in there and jumped on it."
Laurier coach Michael Faulds shook his head.
"What are the odds there?" Faulds mused. "We block the field goal and it bounces right in their guy's hands. That's kind of what we've been dealing with all year, in terms of breaks going other teams' way. You block a kick, you think it's over, but they found a way to get it back."
It took the officials several seconds to sort out what had just unfolded but when the touchdown was signalled, it sent the 9,037 spectators who crammed the 8,500-seat stadium for the first official Homecoming game in five years home happy.
That's because Laurier, a team that had won but one of its first six games this year, led 20-9 late in the third quarter and 27-19 with less than three minutes to play. It was a raucous finish, with Queen's getting a touchdown and two-point convert to tie the game, then a touchdown to go ahead 69 seconds later, only to have Laurier come back and tie the game again just over a minute after that, with just 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
The finish, Gaels receiver Scott Macdonell said, "has taken away 10 years of my life."
"It was interesting," he said. "We knew we were in a fight, we knew they were going defend us hard. We just kind of dug deep. We've got a good group of seniors who aren't ready to give up that easily.
"It was nerve-wracking but it was good. We were never panicky. For the most part, once we were down only one score we knew our defence was going to hold them and we were going to get the ball back and we started moving on them. We got our confidence then."
With Queen's trailing by eight points with just over three minutes to play, the game began to turn on a bad Laurier punt into the wind. It bounced and went out of bounds off the heel of a retreating Hawks player and the resulting no-yards penalty gave the Gaels the ball on the Laurier 24-yard line.
The second of two completions from Billy McPhee to Macdonell resulted in a touchdown and McPhee's pass to Giovanni Aprile in the end zone for the two-point convert tied the game.
On Laurier's first play after that, Gaels rookie linebacker Mike Leroux sacked quarterback James Fracas at the 11, and another poor punt gave Queen's the ball on the Laurier 27. Three plays later came the go-ahead touchdown, by Jesse Andrews, on a five-yard run.
The Hawks weren't finished, however.
"As they were about to score (the go-ahead touchdown) I told our offence, 'We're going to have an opportunity to have the ball, so we can either lay down and give them the game or we can tie it up and send it into overtime'" Faulds said.
Now it was time for Laurier to get a break off a kick. Wamsley's kickoff went deep but out of bounds, giving the Hawks the ball on their 40-yard line.
"How about that?" Sheahan said. "It might have been enough to make a good Christian swear."
Fracas completed five straight passes on a six-play drive that ended with a 10-yard TD pass - his fourth of the game - to Greg Nyhof.
"He's really poised," Faulds said of his young quarterback, who threw for 359 yards in just his fourth intercollegiate start. "He's gritty. Whether it's running the ball or throwing the ball down the field, he's such a leader out there.
"I spent half the game yelling at him but he takes it so well. He looks me in the eye and says 'Yes, coach' and he learns from those mistakes. He doesn't make the same mistake twice. I'm proud of how he battled. He's the main reason we were still in it late."
From a game that could well have been out of reach by the time the heroics started - Laurier settled for a field goal facing third-and-goal from the Queen's one-yard in the first quarter, and the Hawks fumbled on the Queen's two late in the second - Sheahan was clearly relieved to have escaped with his team's fifth win in six games.
"Things did not quite go as they were scripted today," he said. "That was not a classic game but it was a classic finish."
Notebook - For Laurier, the loss was the second overtime defeat in a row. The Hawks bowed 26-25 at home to Windsor last week. It was Queen's first overtime game since losing 27-25 to Ottawa Sept. 25, 2010. Queen's is 3-2 in overtime all-time. - Two plays that will not appear in the statistics were nonetheless spectacular for the Gaels. Late in the third quarter Scott Macdonell made a splendid downfield block that knocked the last two Laurier players with a chance to stop Daniel Heslop's 75-yard touchdown dash down like 10 pins. On the ensuing kickoff Laurier's record-breaking return man, William Pitt-Doe, had broken through with a return that looked certain to end up as a touchdown. Ryan Granberg, just back from a first-half rib injury in time to rejoin the kick-coverage team, chased him down from behind to prevent the score, though the Hawks did score two plays later to restore an 11-point lead. - Queen's receivers played like they had chain mail in the palms of their gloves in the first half, dropping half a dozen balls they should have caught easily and leaving McPhee with a 2-for-14 log after 30 minutes. "Strange as it may sound, I thought our quarterback was really on point in the first half," Sheahan said. "I thought he threw some great balls. He deserved better." Gazendam agreed. "It was definitely one of our worst games today as receivers," he said. "We really didn't play well until the last four minutes of the game." - Laurier's Michael Faulds may be relatively young for a head coach but when it comes to the game he has a sense of tradition. "We told our young guys, 'Stay out here and watch them whip their jackets on the grass,'" he said of the Queen's engineers' Homecoming ritual of storming the field and slapping their leather jackets on the turf. "This is a memory," Faulds told them, "that you've got to have." - Queen's got touchdowns of 54 yards from Granberg and 75 yards from Heslop, but there were times when the offence was, frankly, terrible. The Gaels failed to complete a pass in the second quarter and, aside from Heslop's touchdown, mustered just two first downs in the third. "We can explode but we still have a little trouble with the clutch sometimes," Sheahan said. "It gets stuck. We had a couple of bad two-and-out situations there when the defence needed a breather and an influx of confidence (and didn't get it)." - The Gaels resume play Friday night, when they travel to Waterloo. The Warriors fell to 1-5 Saturday when they were edged 66-3 by McMaster.
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