By CLAUDE SCILLEY
TORONTO, Oct. 17—Sure, you came from behind to win the football game. Yeah, you denied the other guy’s last gasp attempt to force overtime. OK, so you clinched a payoff spot.
Still, can the Queen’s Golden Gaels possibly feel good about any of those things in the context of narrowly defeating the lowly York Lions 33-32?
“You never feel horrible about a win,” Justin Gleben said, “but it’s a tough one, that’s for sure.”
The Gaels did enough good things not to declare the game an absolute stinker, but, boy, it was difficult to envision the Queen’s team on this day as one that could possibly have played so superbly against Guelph just two weeks ago.
Defensively, the coverage was poor, pressure on the quarterback almost non-existent for most of the game, and there was some awful tackling. Want proof? York, a team with just one win in eight games this year, had 589 yards of offence, almost 200 yards more than its next-best game; the Lions scored more points than in their last four games combined—10 more points, by the way, than a York team has ever scored in a game against Queen’s.
Now consider this—six of York’s 32 points came from field goals after the Lions got to the Queen’s one-yard line. Another came after a drive stalled at the Queen’s 11; a single ensued when a drive fizzled at the Gaels’ 16. Jason Shamatutu of the Gaels ended yet another threat with an interception at the goal line. Yes, good for Queen’s for keeping the Lions out of the end zone on those occasions, but that’s how close the Lions came, not only to winning the game, but blowing the Gaels out of the water.
So, did the Gaels take York, a team against which it has never lost, too lightly? Had the tires on their confidence wagon been over-inflated after beating Guelph? Were they adversely affected by the bye week? Was the early morning wakeup call for the bus ride to Toronto something they didn’t handle well?
“We were at stadium about 6:30, so a lot of the guys didn’t get a great night’s sleep, but I don’t know how to explain it,” Gleben, the Gaels fifth-year fullback, said. “(The bye week) is definitely different, but personally I felt way better for it.
“It’s a win, so we’ll take it, but it’s definitely not what we envisioned. We were a little bit slow coming off the bus today and I’m not sure if we ever really clicked in 100 per cent at all.
“It’s a lesson for us, that we can’t take any opponent lightly, and we have to focus on our prep work moving forward.”
Even some of the good things the Gaels did were mere silver linings to a bigger cloud. A nine-play opening drive that led to York’s first touchdown, for instance, was followed two plays later by a 48-yard touchdown run by Gaels back Jonah Pataki. It was on the 10th play of York’s subsequent drive that Shamatutu had his interception, and two plays after that, quarterback Nate Hobbs connected with Doug Corby for a 104-yard touchdown pass.
The game was almost 10 minutes old, Queen’s had run four plays and scored two touchdowns. Not bad at all, but, as Gleben said, “it worked almost to our disadvantage.”
“It’s hard on our defence,” he said. “They had those big, long drives and then we’d get a touchdown in two plays and put them right back on the field, so they don’t have a chance to catch their breath; they don’t have a chance to meet on the sideline and talk things up (about plays) that are getting yards against them.”
Indeed, the Queen’s defence was on the field for all but six of the game’s first 39 plays.
Queen’s took a 20-10 lead midway through the second quarter after York fumbled. Gaels defensive tackle Phoenix Grouse recovered the football and took it about 20 yards to the Lions’ nine-yard line. Again it was a short drive as it took just two plays to score, as this time Pataki, playing in place of the injured talback Jesse Andrews, carried over from the one.
Historically, it would be at this point that York would lose whatever confidence it had and crumble, but not today, and when Lions defensive back Brett Colangelo intercepted a Hobbs pass and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown with 1:15 remaining in the first half, York had a 22-20 lead to take into the break.
It was 23-23 when Dillon Wamsley kicked an 18-yard field goal for Queen’s in the 10th minute of the second half—ending a four-game, 0-for-5 drought—and that’s the way it stood until freshman Chris Osei-Kusi, in his first game as the Gaels regular return man, took a Nick Naylor punt 40 yards for a touchdown.
As had become the custom, however, if the Gaels were to get their scores on explosion plays, the Lions would get theirs by slogging it out and, sure enough, on a 12-play drive that twice went backwards due to holding penalties—and, decisively, forward once on a dubious Queen’s penalty for roughing the passer—the Lions scored to tie the game, on a two-yard run by freshman tailback Jesse Amankwaa.
The Gaels then drove from their own 28-yard line to the York 13, from where Wamsley kicked a 21-yard field goal for a three-point lead with 1:42 to play. Not done, from its own 35, York marched to the Queen’s 28, facing second-and-one.
Odds appeared certain that Anankwaa, who would finish the game with 182 yards rushing and six yards per carry, would get the football but instead York passed, unsuccessfully. For the third-down play, the Lions trotted out a trick play known as the swinging gate.
In it, the centre, an end and quarterback line up at one side of the field, in this case the left hash mark. Everybody else lines up to the extreme opposite side of the field, in this case the right sideline. It’s designed to confound the defence momentarily, as it tries to figure out where to defend—where the quarterback, or in this case, kicker, is relatively unprotected, or where a completed hitch pass would give the pack virtually clear sailing to the end zone.
Trying to determine who goes where and does what usually leads the defending team to call time out. This time, however, York ran the play, and was called for illegal procedure. The Gaels declined, took over the ball, and ultimately on third down Wamsley killed the final nine seconds by dashing back to the end zone and running around until time expired, giving York its final two points.
Lions coach Warren Craney defended his decision to throw on second-and-one at the Queen’s 28 with about a minute left on the clock.
“Our program needed to win the football game,” he said. “We felt that they were struggling with our (receivers) all day. They had made some personnel changes; they were expecting run, and they’re a team that can stop you in second-and-one. That (would be) a momentum shift and I didn’t want to put my kids through that. I thought we were either going to score a touchdown or throw an incomplete pass, then run the field-goal team on, kick the field goal and tie.
“We felt confident that we were going to go to overtime.”
The trick formation imploded with a failure to communicate.
“We’ve been running it all year, and we have a fake off of it,” he explained. “We were trying to make Queen’s call their timeout. Our special teams coach called a reset, and we were going to kick a field goal, but our young holder thought he saw something, and snapped the ball. We didn’t even have time to call time out.
“You know what? Stuff happens with young teams. Maybe we were getting a little too creative.”
The Lions got career-best performances from their prize rookies, quarterback Brett Hunchak, and Amankwaa. Hunchak completed his first passes, and 14 of his first 17.
“I was just playing the game, to tell you the truth, just reading it out, like I’ve been practising,” said Hunchak, a former Team Canada quarterback from Calgary who, due to injury, hadn’t yet played a full game this year.
Hunchak, 34-for-49 for 381 yards, was modest about his performance, and his ability to dissect the Queen’s secondary with what looked like relative ease. “Our coaches put us in a great position to be successful,” he said. “I went through my reads and delivered the ball.
“I have a long four years (remaining) here and I think this is a good beginning, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
Amankwaa was at a loss to explain the source of his team’s inspired play. Indeed, he said, it surprised even him.
“There was something in us,” he said. “It was something on the field that we’ve never seen before. (We had confidence) after that first drive, and the fact that some of (seniors) weren’t coming back … we had nothing to lose; we just went out and played to the last drop.
“We talked about finishing strong. Queen’s is in the Top 10 in Canada and we really wanted to get it.”
Craney said his team’s success wasn’t necessarily the result of identifying Queen’s weaknesses it could exploit.
“We felt the way they play coverage that we could take advantage of our run game,” he said. “We have a very good (offensive) line and we have a really good young tailback. We felt that if we could get him the ball we’d be able to play with second and five, second and four, the whole game. We felt that was to our advantage if we (could do that).”
Indeed, for the better part of the game, the Lions did just that.
“I think our kids deserved a better fate,” Craney said. “I don’t think we’re a better football team than Queen’s. Absolutely not, but I think we deserved a better fate today.”
Notebook—This was the second time this year that a weak team had its best game against Queen’s. Waterloo, the lowest-scoring team in the country, had 515 yards against the Gaels, more than 200 yards more than its per-game average. Despite its 4-2 record, 10th-ranked Queen’s is 22nd of 27 teams in Canada in terms of yards allowed per game. … Nate Hobbs had a troubled afternoon. He completed just 10 of 24 passes, with three interceptions. He’d thrown only two picks in the six games before today. … In the absence of Andrews, the Gaels had a good game from Jonah Pataki, who rushed for 119 yards, and, when he went out of the game, a splendid performance from rookie Brad Innis. Having carried the football just three times this year going into the game, Innis had 103 yards rushing on 12 carries, and was the key component in the drive that led to the go-ahead field goal, rushing on six straight plays, including one where he gained 37 yards. … Speaking of second-year backs, Adam Black made the decisive block on Osei-Kusi’s punt return, taking out the last man with a chance to stop Osei-Kusi at the five-yard line. … In addition to Andrews, the Gaels were without centre John Menagh, who was a last-minute scratch, and linebacker Nelkas Kwemo. … Hunckak's favourite receover was his brother, Colton Hunchak, who caught 13 passes for 235 yards. That's the most receptions by any player in an OUA game this year. … Queen’s completes its regular schedule Saturday at Richardson Stadium against Wilfrid Laurier, which lost today 30-21 to McMaster to fall to 3-4. The Hawks will need a win to make the playoffs but they’ll have to do so in front of the Queen’s Homecoming crowd.