Football Week 10: Powerhouses fall hard on Upset Saturday

Observations from a weekend of playoff football...


Guelph 38, Laurier 31
: This was the Elway-esque game OUA observers have long expected out of Gryphons QB Justin Dunk, who rescued broken play after broken play to lead Guelph's stunning comeback from a 24-0 deficit. His scramble and toss to Nick FitzGibbon for Guelph's first offensive TD seemed to be a game-turning play, along with the return of a missed field goal for a touchdown.

This almost went along the lines of the famous 1981 Chargers-Dolphins game... a comeback from 24-0 down, followed by a team who lost a big lead rallying late. Guelph will host a playoff game for the first time in 21 seasons — in the Yates Cup, no less.

Ex-quarterback Jamie Shaw, now a defensive back, recovered an onside kick and broke up Laurier's final third-down pass to seal the win. Game balls on the Guelph side have to go to the veterans in the force unit, D-lineman Chris Hladich and linebacker Tag Russell. Russell was knocked out early with a charley horse, but was on the field when Guelph won in the fourth quarter.

Talk about an abrupt end to a CIS career for Laurier's five-year players: Linebacker Anthony Maggiacomo, DB Brent Hickey and O-linemen Andrew Dietrich, Tyler Felber and Kyle Sanderson. This was devastating for Laurier, but it's also the only time in their careers they haven't played in a Yates Cup.

During the pre-season, Guelph coach Kyle Walters talked about finding a big time punt return man. Today, he had two: Freshman Jedd Gardner started the comeback with a 113-yard return touchdown off a missed field goal, while defensive back Sean Riley's long punt return set up the go-ahead TD. Riley also recovered a fourth-quarter fumble.

Walters learned his lesson from a Preposterous Punt early. He elected to kick on the Gryphons' second possession rather than gamble on third-and-1 at their own 49-yard line. It took Laurier only two plays to get past the point where the ball was kicked from, and they went on to score and go up 14-0. In hindsight, maybe he just didn't want to look desperate. Guelph had a similar scenario in the fourth quarter and picked up the first down on a sneak by Dunk before going on to score the backbreaking TD.

One nod to Laurier: Peter Quinnie would be an OUA all-star if the selectors make a point to pick a true fullback and a tailback instead of two tailbacks. He averaged 10.1 yards per touch in the regular season; today he had a terrific downfield block that cleared the way for Laurier's third touchdown, and he came up with a big catch on third down that kept Laurier alive for another couple minutes.

Western 23, Ottawa 16: The Mustangs pulled it out on a touchdown with just more than 2 minutes left and delivered a shocking end to the unbeaten Gee-Gees' season.

Western has been an excellent second-half team, now having outscored Waterloo, Queen's and Ottawa by a combined 58-3 after the intermission in three straight must-win games. A lot of credit has to go to their offensive and defensive lines, who have become more cohesive, along with defensive co-ordinator Paul Gleason and his fellow coaches making halftime adjustments.

That said, it's not fair that Western gets to be portrayed as an underdog. Western types are not underdogs in anything. Guelph will be my adopted team for a week. (Scratch that. N. Sager is nothing but a damn jinx for teams. Go Mustangs!)

One small consolation for Ottawa QB Josh Sacobie, who's undecided on returning for a fifth season: Phill Côte also had his 8-0 team lose in the playoffs during his Hec Crighton Trophy-winning season in 1999. The Gee-Gees won't be making any excuses for this; 16 points at home in the playoffs on a day when the weather was not a factor is inexcusable. Receiver David Crane, a likely all-Canadian, was ruled out, and not having him as a stabilizer hurt Ottawa's offence.

Is it even worth going into the stats? The Gryphons quietly came within two yards of leading the CIS in run defence (82.5 yards per game) and they will be facing a Western running game that was completely stymied vs. the Gee-Gees. Randy McAuley ran nine times for a grand total of 10 yards, raising questions of how fresh he is after catching or carrying the ball 257 times in the first nine games.


So it was crazy to think Calgary could upset No. 3 Manitoba: The Bisons forced seven turnovers in a 27-5 semi-final win and won going away despite being outgained 392-263. The defence, led by Justin Shaw's two sacks, had a statement game entering the conference final vs. Regina.

Has anyone seen a clip of Bisons receiver Jeff Strome's 50-yard touchdown catch? Apparently it would have been a highlight-reel grab in any league?

The young Dinos took a step forward in Blake Nill's second season. They just need some continuity in the passing game. Just wait till Dalin Tollestrup returns in 2009.

OK, maybe now Saskatchewan Huskies coach Brian Towriss will admit there is a rivalry with Regina: The Rams pulled out a 19-13 win over the Huskies in the Canada West semi-final on Friday, in the wake of Towriss downplaying the rivalry by saying "we're treating it as a playoff game."

Regina basically did to Saskatchewan what Western did to Queen's last week. Long derided as a soft team, they showed they can block, tackle and play physically. Second-year D-lineman Stan Van Sichem had four sacks and one-time Okanagan Sun standout linebacker Mat Nesbitt was once again all over the field, as the Huskies were held to 312 yards.

The Huskies' season-long shuffling of quarterbacks and tailbacks bit them in an uncomfortable place; down nine in the fourth quarter, a fumbled handoff at the Regina 1-yard line led to them kicking a field goal instead scoring a touchdown. Saskatchewan never scored again.


Irony: The Montreal Carabins player who had the most face time this afternoon, punter Michael Shouska, was wearing a tinted face shield. Meantime, who needs Benoît Groulx? Behind César-Roberto Sánchez, Laval scored the first 28 straight points to win 28-16. They might have had a few more points, but a potential touchdown pass to Duane John hit an official.

Concordia set up a rematch in the Quebec final with a 34-18 win over Bishop's, as Jamall Lee ran just 11 times for 28 yards. The story of the Stingers has been their ability to get people ready to go in wherever needed. QB Liam Mahoney, who ran for 105 yards and threw for 101, started the season as the punt returner. Cornerback Marc Champagnie, who took down a pair of interceptions, moved over from offence after playing wide receiver in '06.

It's a tough end for Bishop's, although as some consolation, Lee and Gaiters coach Leroy Blugh should be the conference's nominees for some national awards.

St. FX handled Acadia easily 38-17. The story of Acadia's season is youth and inexperience on defence and special teams.

Here's hoping Hurricane Noel somewhat spares the East Coast. It isn't expected to hit till tonight, well after the Acadia-St. FX semi-final.
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  1. I was at the Gee-Gees-Mustangs game and dropped passes certainly hurt Ottawa.

    I can't get on the CIS website, but I think the final score was 23-16 for Western. They scored a touchdown on the final play after Ottawa fumbled a missed Mustangs field goal in the end zone.

  2. Story from Ottawa viewpoint. Lines played well as did the LBs. RB Mason had a tremendous day. Defence held Stangs star running back to 10 yards rushing. BUT, both GG corner backs had an awful day , blowing coverages like crazy in the second half. On offense the receivers dropped catchable , balls; ran the wrong routes; a couple of times were open on long bombs but misjudged the ball and slowed down running prematurely.
    One might argue that Ottawa was out coached as Western adjusted at the half to exploit the weaknesses they saw in the Ottawa D, while Ottawa did not adjust. Then again if you are going to blow coverages and you receivers are going to execute poorly? No adjustment is likely to be effective if the players do not execute.
    Credit to the Mustangs as they just seemed to have more desire to win.

  3. I'm still trying to figure out the blown coverage on the second Clayton touchdown.

    I was watching him on the play and it looked like the corner was dropping into a short zone, like he was responsible for the flats but no one came in to help him deep, which left Clayton wide open.

  4. What a wacky Saturday... Guelph's definitely the team I'm interested in looking at this week. Who would have thought?

  5. Well, I recall Shi Davidi from the CP writing a pre-season preview and mentioning Guelph as an up-and-comer in the OUA.

    (He also mentioned Windsor and Waterloo in the same sentence. Still, give the man credit.)

    All I ever said was they would be a tough out in an OUA quarter-final... they've done significantly more than that.

  6. Guelph did really, really well in my point differential standings if you recall — they were a top 10 team on that basis.

    Saskatchewan, I believe, wasn't.