By CLAUDE SCILLEY
When Matt Lapointe thinks about today’s football game, it’s not so much in the context that it could be his last. It’s not so much about the fact that the fifth-year lineman for the Carleton Ravens will be coming home, in a way, to play against his former Queen’s Golden Gaels teammates.
“The older you get, the more you look at these situations and see your role evolve,” said Lapointe, whose Ravens will face Queen’s in an Ontario University Athletics quarter-final at 1 o’clock this afternoon at Richardson Stadium.
“Every year that I’ve been at Carleton, I’ve been in that mentor role,” he said. “Some of these guys are more physically gifted and a lot more athletic. Where I was able to find my role was bringing them up to speed on the mental and schematic components of the game, where they might not have been as developed in their first or second year but are now coming along, and coming into their own.”
Lapointe came to Queen’s in 2009 to study history and play football. A redshirt freshman that year, he’s one of the last vestiges of the Gaels’ national championship team. When he graduated, he landed at Carleton to pursue a Masters in international affairs just in time for the Ravens to be reborn in 2013. This will be his third year with them, and his final year of intercollegiate ball.
The element of facing his former team has lost a bit of its lustre, Lapointe said.
“It was fun last year to go out for the coin toss and see my former quarterback, Billy McPhee, and a guy I lined up against almost every play, Derek Wiggan,” Lapointe said. “Two great guys … but being three years out of it now I am kind of distanced. It doesn’t feel as ripe as it did last year, on the last regular season game. We had a chance to get ourselves into the playoffs and it was our first time playing Queen’s, so that was probably the biggest game where the ex-Queen’s factor came into play.
“This week I’m looking at it as any other game, but then again, this team did beat us twice, and we haven’t beaten them at all yet.”
Where his Queen’s connection has come into play this week was in providing insight into what his teammates might expect.
“Having played for Queen’s for four years, I was able to help these guys learn what type of players we’ll be going up against,” said Lapointe, one of just two players on the Carleton roster with playoff experience at the university level. “I played against most of those players for one or two years, so there’s a little bit of cross-over, and it’s my job to let the guys know some of the basic things that we’re going to be seeing and some of the things that we can do to try and prepare ourselves.”
Going into their final game of the regular season last year last fall, Carleton, 4-3 at the time, could have clinched a playoff spot with a win at home against Queen’s, a team that was limping along at 2-5, having long since been eliminated from playoff contention. The Gaels played perhaps their best game of the season that day—and the Ravens maybe their worst—as Queen’s won 37-15.
That bit of history is something that’s been discussed around the Ravens locker room this week, Lapointe said. “That was one of the major points this year.
“As you walk into the locker room every day, there’s a big monitor that rotates pictures and videos, and one of the things it says on it is we’re 0-2 against these guys, and it has the combined score of both games.
“It’s something, a little reminder, something that we always see. I wouldn’t say it gives us motivation, but it keeps us focused on our goal this weekend, which is to beat Queen’s.”
There’s also the aspect of blowing an early 14-0 lead at Queen’s on opening day this year, in a game the Gaels came back to win 34-24, a victory that ultimately gave Queen’s home field for today’s game.
“That really stung with us all season,” Lapointe said. “It made us focus, that when we’re up on teams, we need to finish them.”
Indeed, for the rest of the year Carleton didn’t lose another game when it was leading at halftime, going 4-0 in that regard. The Ravens’ fifth win was a come-from-behind victory in the Panda Game against Ottawa.
“If we can get up on (Queen’s) and keep the highs and lows of the game on an even keel, we can come out with a win,” Lapointe said. “This is a young, talented team. If we can figure it out this weekend, it gives us another shot next week to keep figuring it out.”
Lapointe’s season is one he describes as “a microcosm of my entire career.”
“A CIS season has a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “You start low and build yourself back up and you never really know what’s going to happen. On a week-to-week basis, it’s a bit of a roller coaster.
“This year is a year where I’ve been able to reflect on my entire career, put it all in perspective. I started a few games at the beginning of the year, got injured and missed a few games, and was working my way back from that injury and missed a few more games. Now I’ve come into a role as a backup and a mentor to some of the younger guys.
“My philosophy has always been to do whatever I need to do for the team to get the job done on Saturday; to put the team first. The more people we can get thinking that way, the more successful we’ll be.”
After six and a half years of school, Lapointe says he’s looking forward to the next chapter in his life. “No future plans for football, but I’m going to take my degrees and put them to good use and find some work,” he said.
He’s worked for the past two years with the federal government, first in the realm of security and then in international trade. “I’ve absolutely enjoyed it, so I think a career, either in the public or private sector, in international trade is something I would like to continue.”
As today’s game approached, Lapointe allowed himself a few nostalgic moments, particularly around Richardson Stadium—the Yates Cup and national semifiinal victories there in 2009; his first start, versus Ottawa in 2010, the 37-0 victory over Western in 2011, which he correctly recalled as the first time Queen’s had shut out the Mustangs since the sixties (1966, to be precise). “Then there are games you’ll never forget for bad reasons,” he said. “Our two losses to Guelph in 2012 are definitely some things that stick in the back of my mind.”
To be part of the last game likely ever to be played at the current edition of Richardson Stadium, Lapointe said, is “kind of fitting.”
“I have a lot of fond memories there,” he said. “It’s definitely something, for me to be a part of it.”