By CLAUDE SCILLEY
If the Queen’s Golden Gaels displayed anything Sunday afternoon, it was that they seem better equipped to overcome adversity than they were a year ago.
Certainly, there were enough occasions where that kind of resiliency was required, even in a game that ultimately resulted in a 34-24 victory.
“We’ve got some fixing and polishing up to do but we’ll do it after a W, and not an L,” Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said, after his team opened the Ontario University Athletics football season by defeating the Carleton Ravens in the first game of the team’s final year at the current Richardson Stadium.
It was the way the Gaels reacted to their hiccups that should provide encouragement for the faithful who watched last year as discouragement often seemed to overtake what was a very inexperienced group of football players.
Make no mistake, there was plenty about which the Gaels should be pleased from what was, dating to the end of last season, their fourth win in a row—not to mention their seventh win in a row over Carleton in a streak that dates to 1995.
There was the 177-yard rushing performance of Jesse Andrews, who scored two touchdowns, as did Doug Corby, who caught nine passes for 137 yards. There was the 24-for-36 passing day by Nate Hobbs, who threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns, with nary an interception.
There was a splendid collective game by the Queen’s defence which, after looking alarmingly suspect in the first nine minutes of the game—as Carleton built a 14-0 lead—was steady at times, brilliant at others, in denying the Ravens another touchdown in the final 51 minutes of the match.
There can be no bigger sigh of relief exhaled, however, than the one that followed not only the Gaels’ recovery from that initial bit of hardship, but a flutter in the fourth quarter, with the outcome still in doubt.
On a hazy, humid day, 17 unanswered points in the third quarter had turned a six-point Carleton lead at halftime to a 31-20 Queen’s advantage entering the final period. Pinned in their own end, the Gaels gave up a safety cutting the lead to nine points. Then Corby, fielding a punt at the two-yard line, got tackled in the end zone for another safety, putting the visitors within a touchdown with 10 minutes to play.
Two-and-out on their previous possessions, and their hard-earned lead in jeopardy, a poor kickoff gave Carleton good field position and the Gaels promptly had to take a timeout because they didn’t have enough men on the field.
A year ago, this might have signalled the first wheel was about the fall off the bus, especially when the very next Carleton play was a 23-yard gain on a reverse. Then, after getting the ball back, Hobbs had the ball knocked out of his hand near his own 10-yard line by a pursuing Ravens defender. Carleton’s Thomas Knapp scooped it up and took it to the end zone for an apparent game-tying touchdown that was only killed by an offside penalty.
Such misadventures were starting to take the shape of disaster but that penalty flag allowed the Gaels to take the collective deep breath they seemed to need. Three plays later Andrews took off for a 36-yard gain, Queen’s reversed field position, and though Andrews later fumbled at the Carleton 13-yard line, the Gaels had regained their composure. But for a penalty for roughing the punter, the Ravens didn’t gain another first down the rest of the way.
“The next drive after those two occurrences was a sensational bit of football for us,” Sheahan said. “We brought the ball all the way down and changed the momentum of the football game.”
Ravens coach Steve Sumarah agreed. He said the sequence was symptomatic of a lack of focus his team displayed many times during the game.
“That hurt,” he said. “You try to get your head around those things, but it’s tough. They had a big play after that, and that kind of finished us.”
Sumarah said there were times when his team “looked fantastic” but more typically it could not generate consistently effective play. That manifested itself in such things as dropped passes and penalties. “You don’t move your feet; you get a little bit lazy,” he said.
“Conditioning-wise, we weren’t very good. The heat really affected us, but for those (Queen's) guys, they seemed fine. To be honest with you, it was a little frustrating.”
After Nate Behar took a Jesse Mills pass 74 yards for the score that gave Carleton its 14-0 lead, Queen’s scored on its next possession, a nifty 71-yard, six-play drive that culminated with a TD pass from Hobbs to Corby on a third-and-four gamble from the Ravens’ 10-yard line.
Carleton was two-and-out on its next two possessions, and though the Gaels didn’t actually take the lead until much later, that was when the game turned, Gaels linebacker Nelkas Kwemo believes.
“In the first part of the game, guys were a little nervous,” said Kwemo, the second-year engineering student from Montreal. “Once we got that out of our system, the coaches sat us down and said, ‘OK, we’ve got this; relax, take care of your responsibilities’—basically play football. That’s what we did.
“Once that switch clicked, we did what we needed to do. We played with confidence. We know our responsibilities, but you’ve got to have confidence in yourself, your coaches, the whole team. Once you do that, you look to your right, your left, your teammates are playing the same as you’re playing, and all the pieces of the puzzle come together.”
No play personified the Gaels’ stiffening resolve than one made by Kwemo, stepping into the gap to stop Ravens fullback Stefano Napolitano in his tracks for virtually no gain on a second-and-five play at the Carleton 35-yard line. From that point, Carleton’s offence was tepid, at best.
“We’ve been preparing for him all week,” Kwemo said. “We knew he was a big player, a physical player, and we had to stop him. When I saw him come into the hole, I sat him down. (At that point) I just told myself, ‘There’s nothing else they can do.’
“That was my switch, personally, and I think it carried on to the whole defence.”
Describing the game as “a battle,” Andrews said the performance of his defensive teammates was inspiring.
“It’s never ideal to start a game with a 14-point deficit, but it seemed like once they got all the bugs and all the jitters out, they started playing together, and once we got all the pieces to fit in the puzzle, we were able to stop them,” he said.
“(Carleton) didn’t score a touchdown in the second half. That’s huge. The offence couldn’t ask for more.”
Sheahan characterized the contest as “a typical first-week game,” except in one respect.
“I’m shocked that there was nearly 1,000 yards of offence today,” he said. “Usually in games early in the season you’re going to see a lot of offensive breakdowns and a lack of precision but you know what? There were a lot of big plays made today.
“There were explosion plays on both sides. They got one, we got one; those things happen early in the year.”
Sheahan took comfort in the fact that his veteran players, namely Andrews and Corby, played strong games. “The big guys who had to play—they played,” he said, “I’m sure (Carleton) is disappointed because I’m sure they thought they were going to stop Andrews today. Knowing that they were going to do that, that he can still have the kind of day that he had today, is a pretty good day.
“Defensively we were up and down. We played great at times and (Carleton) made some plays at times but I think what everybody should appreciate is the closer they got to our goal line, the more stubborn we got, and that bodes well for us getting better in the weeks ahead.”
Notebook—The crowning touch for the Gaels’ victory was an interception in the end zone by sophomore corner Chris Mackey, his first intercollegiate pick. … Dillon Wamsley accounted for the remainer of Queen's points, four converts and field goals of 40 and 27 yards. … Sheahan was clearly delighted with the play of Hobbs in his first regular-season start. “He looked like a very seasoned pivot. He didn’t look ruffled at any point during the game," Sheahan said. "There wasn’t a single throw today that he couldn’t manage. He threw a couple of bad balls into people’s feet and stuff like that, but that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re in trouble: throw the ball away, out of harm’s way. I was very impressed with the way he played today. I think we’ve got something there.” … Sumarah echoed the sentiment. “He played a fantastic game. He played well within himself, he made the right decisions … he managed the game and that’s what they needed them to do.” … Queen’s had 509 yards of total offence, almost half of it in a third quarter when Hobbs completed nine of 10 passes for 150 yards. … One element of the Ottawa offence that the Gaels couldn’t seem to control was tailback Jahvari Bennett, who finished the game with 140 yards rushing—despite leaving the game twice with injury—with an average of almost 10 yards per carry. Sheahan, however, seemed relatively unconcerned. “There are a lot of things that you’ve got to try and stop with this team,” he explained. “The more weapons there are on the field, what you want to do is take away the most dangerous ones. If you single-play guys like (receiver) Nate Behar, he’s going to kill you. I’m sure most Queen’s fans would be happy to know that we prevented the big plays most of the game, but the cost was we had to give a couple of rips up the middle where we got out-manned. That’s one of those trade-offs that you make against a team that’s got some weapons … (Nos.) 8 (Dexter Brown), 11 (Behar) and 12 (Kyle VanWynseberghe), they’re all good players and if you make a mistake on those guys, it’s a six-point error, not a nine-yard run.” … The Gaels resume play next Sunday afternoon in Ottawa against the Gee-Gees, who had Opening Day off.