By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Some days, you can analyze and parse and abstract an athletic event to try and understand why what happened, happened.
On this day, it’s not necessary. The reason why the visiting Carleton Ravens were allowed to take a 39-8 football playoff victory out of Richardson Stadium Saturday was simple and clear: the Gaels, on this day, were not good enough; not at any time, not in any aspect—not for a moment.
By the time the score reached 21-0—it didn’t take long; the game was barely 11 minutes old when Carleton scored its third touchdown—the Gaels were playing as if they collectively had something better to do next week than play another playoff game. By the middle of the third quarter, the number of Queen’s players who appeared still to be trying could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The worst part was nothing seemed to change. Gaels quarterback Nate Hobbs spent the entire day on the run. He was sacked seven times; certainly there were three times that many plays where he was throwing on the run, scrambling to make yards, chased from sideline to sideline, or wound up on his back after a hurried throw.
What good is it to send out five receivers if your quarterback doesn’t have enough time to find any of them? Might the Gaels have tried something different? Maybe a tight end or two for additional blocking support?
For virtually the entire game, Queen’s rushed four men against five bigger Carleton offensive linemen, and as a result only twice did the Gaels lay a hand on Ravens quarterback Jesse Mills, who, frankly, could have played the game in a rocking chair.
Were there any adjustments at halftime? Sure didn’t look like it, as the Gaels seemed content to keep trying to drive those square pegs into round holes.
“Our defensive scouts gave us an awesome look on defence all week,” Mills said, “so coming out here it was pretty much second nature, seeing it from Queen’s.
“We had a game plan going in and we pretty much executed it (the way) we wanted to do.”
Indeed, Mills said, that was a significant source of the confidence that swept over him and his teammates, and the Ravens, though beaten by Queen’s earlier this year—and every time since they rejoined the league—were undoubtedly playing with more self-assurance than was the home team.
“That was the biggest thing, having confidence, and realizing we belong here, and we can play with these teams,” Mills said. “It was more an intrinsic motivation to come out and do what we know we can do.
“We knew we could run on them. That was one thing we wanted to establish early, and then after you establish the run game, the passing game just opens wide up. That’s what we hoped to do and that’s what we did.”
Carleton’s first drive: Long run, short run, long pass to the Queen’s two; second drive: long run, short run, long pass for a touchdown; third drive, long run, short run, two short passes, long pass for a touchdown.
Perhaps there’s a pattern there.
It was something that could have been seen in the video from any of the Gaels’ last five games, in four of which an opponent ran for 274 yards or more: Queen’s couldn’t prevent the long run on first down, setting up second and short. The tragedy is this: in six weeks the Gaels couldn’t come up with answer for it.
How long can a team apologize for youth and inexperience? Last year, the Gaels quite understandably took their lumps with a rookie-laden lineup. This year, all those freshmen were better, but their collective will to compete seemed fatally wounded by successive poor performances going into Saturday’s game. In this milieu, Carleton thrived.
Ravens coach Steve Sumarah said his players simply believed in themselves.
“We’ve been dealing with a lot of confidence issues, off and on, all season long, and today they came down here, they were confident, they believed that they could come out and beat Queen’s. They played with that emotion.
“It was nice to see, because I was concerned that was going to be a problem.”
It was the modern Ravens' first win over Western, Guelph, Queen's, McMaster or Laurier, and Sumarah called it a milestone victory in the three-year history of the rejuvenated program.
“One hundred per cent,” he said. “Where we’re at, to be able to go on the road and win a playoff game, which is never easy—it’s huge.”
When Carleton played here on opening day, nine weeks ago, they similarly raced to an early 14-point lead, also making it look easy as they did so. This time, instead of faltering, as they did in a game Queen’s eventually won 34-24, they persevered.
Perhaps the pivotal play in the game occurred with Carleton, leading 14-0, had first down at the Queen’s 42-yard line, five plays into a drive that began at the Ravens’ 39-yard line. Nate Behar took a pass from Mills that would have produced about a 15-yard gain had the lone Queen’s defender managed to bring him down on first contact. Instead, Behar stepped out of the tackle and down the left sideline for a touchdown.
The play proved to be not just decisive, but symbolic.
Mills said the difference from the game nine weeks ago, and this one, came from knowing the systems better.
“We came in with a pretty hefty game plan in the first game,” he said, “and this game we kind of narrowed it down and tried to execute that the best we can; not have so many plays, but fewer plays and execute them well.”
One of the most heart-warming things to happen in Ontario University Athletics this year came late in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens put Matt Lapointe into the lineup. An offensive lineman by trade, the former Golden Gael lined up at fullback; he carried the football twice, for five yards reach time, and a first down.
“You’re talking about a guy who came to an 0-8 program who had been on a Vanier Cup winning team,” Sumarah said. “He brought such leadership to this program. He’s a Queen’s grad; this is a big part of his life and we wanted him to have a last special moment before the stadium closed.”
Lapointe had practised in a two-fullback formation the past few weeks.
“Ending it where it started, that was exciting for him and the guys were loving it, seeing him carry the ball,” Mills said. “We were really happy to see that.”
Notebook—Carleton got its other touchdowns from Jahvari Bennett, on a two-yard run, and Wilson Birch, on a 45-yard pass from Mills, in the first quarter; from Christian Battistelli, the killer, that came on a two-yard run with 17 seconds left in the first half, and from Quinton Soares, on a 78-yard pass from Mills, in the fourth. Michael Domagala kicked a 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. … For the freshman Soares, playing just his fifth intercollegiate game, it was his sixth catch of his career. “Having young guys make plays is exciting to see,” Mills said. … On the verge of being shut out in a playoff game for just the second time in school history, the Gaels got a single point when Dillon Wamsley missed a 32-yard field goal in the final minute of the third quarter. Queen’s only touchdown came in the game’s 53rd minute, when Doug Corby caught an eight-yard pass in the end zone from Nate Hobbs. … Bennett finished with 92 yards rushing, though he sat out a good part of the first half, gingerly walking off an injury of some sort. Mills finished with 337 yards passing, pretty good production from 15 completions that came from 21 attempts. Behar finished with eight of those catches for 161 yards. … The Gaels had just 61 yards rushing, 24 from Jonah Pataki and 27 from Hobbs. Queen’s has rushed for fewer yards in a playoff game only twice in the last 25 years: 53 yards, in the 1995 Dunsmore Cup game at Ottawa, and 18 yards, in a conference semifinal at home against McGill in 1997 the Gaels actually won, 10-7. … With Jesse Andrews out of the lineup, this was the third time in the last eight years the Gaels have gone into the playoffs with their starting tailback on the sidelines with an injury. It happened in 2008 (Mike Giffin was hurt in the final game of the regular season) and 2012, when Ryan Granberg also was injured in the season finale. … Carleton’s victory was its first over Queen’s since 1995, and the first ever in post-season competition. The Gaels had won the previous two playoff matches with the Ravens, also first-round encounters, in 1979 and 1983. … In terms of playoff defeats, the 31 points was was the third-largest margin of defeat in school history, behind a 40-point setback (44-4), to the Hamilton Tigers in 1935, and a 39-point beating administered by Western in 1971 (42-3). In terms of points allowed in a playoff game, it’s well down the list, 10th all-time. Interestingly, five of those 10 have come in the last six years.