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Gaels anxious as they prepare to face Waterloo
Posted: October 10th, 2013 @ 2:44pm
They haven't beaten Queen's since the Bush administration, they've only ever beaten Queen's twice, Queen's has outscored them 179-43 and shut them out twice in the last four meetings and they lost their most recent game 66-3.
And the Waterloo Warriors have the Queen's Golden Gaels scared stiff.
"Certainly, a loss would be devastating," Gaels coach Pat Sheahan told a news conference Wednesday in advance of his team's Ontario University Athletics football game Friday night at Waterloo.
Sheahan is always respectful of his looming opponents. He accents the positive attributes of the weakest foes and is reluctant to suggest weaknesses his team might exploit, no matter how sincerely he might believe it will. Inevitably, he predicts a close contest.
For him to introduce the spectre of defeat, however, is rare. For him to do so heading into a game against a 1-5 team that has scored just 122 points - only expansion Carleton has scored fewer among teams in Canada that have played at least six games - and given up 278 - only two teams in the country have allowed more - is extraordinary.
It perhaps points to some genuine concern that, despite the tremendous talent and experience the Gaels possess, the team hasn't yet quite figured out the solutions to its problems.
* A quarterback who can't seem to push his completion percentage much above .525, amid stretches of brilliance and mediocrity so extreme that when you witness one, it's impossible to believe he's capable of the other;
* Perhaps the most veteran receiving corps in the land betraying their quarterback last week with half a dozen or more balls that were simply dropped;
* One of the more highly touted defences extant, struggling amid a spate of injuries that has kept at least two, and just last week as many as five, starters unavailable to play (and only the man behind the curtain knows what that situation looks like this week);
* A kicking game that is still strangely susceptible to having balls blocked;
* An offence that, in its last 15 trips into the so-called red zone (inside the opponent's 20-yard line) has scored just eight touchdowns, a lightweight performance made more troubling by the four times the Gaels have turned the ball over. (In case you're wondering, in the same three games, opponents have six touchdowns and two field goals from nine trips inside the Queen's 20.)
These are all things that weren't supposed to happen. Neither was the closeness of the Gaels' game last week against Wilfrid Laurier, another 1-5 team that no doubt left the Gaels with a dose of humility.
"Before I came into this meeting," Sheahan told Saturday's post-game media de-briefing, "I had rehearsed in my mind the it's-too-bad-we-lost speech," before expressing profound relief that he didn't have to deliver it.
If losing at Western the week before didn't create any apprehensive tremors, having a 1-5 team take you to overtime in a game where it had two drives stall at your one-yard line sure would. It might also give you pause long enough to put the win at Ottawa U - amid all those squandered scoring opportunities - into a different light and let's not forget Queen's only beat McMaster by a touchdown, and as proud as the Gaels were to have done so, the Marauders are just a .500 team this year.
The Gaels believed they had something special when training camp convened, and many observers agreed. Now they can see it slipping away, and for a team that sincerely had high aspirations, it's frightening.
Hence, this isn't just another junket to Waterloo, where maybe they'll kick the computer kids' butts. This time it's imperative for the Gaels that they do just that, resoundingly. It's their last chance to establish some consistency before the real games begin, and Sheahan knows it.
"There's no question that we're in playoff mode now," he told Wednesday's gathering, "the reason being that every outing has consequences. A loss or a poor performance or a performance where you get some key guys injured because you don't hustle and you don't take care of your business will all bear consequences on our season.
"The goal for us is to go down there and come back at 6-1 and then prepare for our biggest week of the year."
That, of course, would be the final game of the schedule, at home Oct. 19 against undefeated Guelph. Not only is it an emotional encounter against a team that ousted Queen's from the playoffs last year, it's vital in the context of this season in that, all things being equal this week, it will give the winner a first-round playoff bye and home field for the semifinals.
"We've known that Week 8 has been circled on everybody's calendar (for a long time) but we have not spoken of it," Sheahan said, emphatically. "We have not mentioned it. We are preparing for (Waterloo). We'll deal with the following week when this one's over."
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