Football: Top 10 Tracker (and OUA ClusterFudge 2017): Calgary struggles, Guelph takes down Laurier, Regina heads to overtime

And boom went the tryptophan for No. 2 Calgary and No. 5 Laurier, who have each stumbled around in an apparent turkey coma after not playing during the holiday weekend.

The Dinos and QB Adam Sinagra are in the driver's seat for home-field advantage throughout the  playoffs regardless of whether it comes back to defeat Manitoba (!). Calgary, trailing much of the way, has scored 14 unanswered points to take a late 34-27 lead.

No need to remind anyone that Calgary won by 59 points in their first game; Manitoba certainly did not forget.

In central Canada, Guelph demonstrated why it was a Top 10-worthy despite three losses with a 24-14 win against Laurier that can only be described as thorough. The end result is that, apart from Western having first place locked, the other five playoff slots in Ontario are completely in an uproar. McMaster, the tortoise to Laurier's hare, can wrest the second-place playoff bye by defeating the sagging Golden Hawks in Waterloo next week.

So you know what this means for the Top 10? Laval and Western, who are both on bye weeks, are going to add support. The gilded teams gain without doing any work, yes, that's right. Which one is Jared Kushner and which one is Ivanka Trump? kidding, but not really.

  1. MontrΓ©al (5-0 RSEQ, 47-15 road win at Sherbrooke) Trop facile.
  2. Calgary (6-0 CW, 36-27 win against Manitoba) — Stand to lose some first-place votes after very slowly pulling away from the Bisons with 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
  3. Laval (5-1 RSEQ, bye week) — Really,  the third-place vote is a coin flip between a one-loss RSEQ team and an undefeated team in Ontario; the debate over it just wastes valuable oxygen.
  4. Western (7-0 OUA, bye week) — Might have mentioned this before, but Queen's in 2009, Western in 2011 and McMaster in 2014 all took it easy in the final game when first place was in the bag. The cautionary example for OUA teams will always be 2007 and '08, when first Ottawa and then Queen's ran the table only to lose at home in the semifinals to teams who were better than their 4-4 regular season indicated. But with Western essentially having their reg-season finale sandwiched between bye weeks, they will need to play some starters to keep them sharp.
  5. Laurier (5-2 OUA, 24-14 road loss at No. 10 Guelph) — The Golden Hawks were already lower than McMaster on some ballots. They still rate being the fourth Ontario team on the ballot at No. 9 or No. 10. Their results on the road against Queen's and Waterloo, as well as against Carleton, top what Ottawa (5-2) did against those teams.

    Meantime, the Golden Hawks were once again held to fewer than 17 points — and their longest gain, rush or pass, was 19 yards — in a test against a credible defence. And next week they face OUA's No. 1 ranked defence, McMaster.
  6. McMaster (6-1 OUA, 29-13 home win against Windsor) — Speaking of which, the Marauders had another workmanlike win, coming within five minutes of completing their home schedule without allowing an offensive touchdown. Windsor's Marcus Kentner, capping an 11-play, 75-yard drive (yes, Mac was already up by 20), went over on a three-yard rush with 4:55 left.

    The Marauders and frosh QB Jackson White will start the playoffs at home, since they cannot finish lower than third in Ontario.
  7. UBC (4-2 CW, 29-25 win at Saskatchewan ) — The Thunderbirds are the wild card on both the ballot and the national playoff picture. Don't let them come near your means of conveyance.

    The Thunderbirds built a 20-point lead and, in light of QB Michael O'Connor putting up 466 yards, likely should have more to show for their toil than 29 points. Getting the W at Griffiths Stadium counts as a character win and UBC should draw in at No. 6, behind Calgary, the two Quebec teams and McMaster and Western in whatever order.
  8. Regina (4-2 CW, 58-55 overtime win against Alberta) — The Rams stuck it out in a score-fest.

    It was a basketball game. Regina's Noah Picton passed for 386 yards; the U of A's Brad Baker played pitch and catch for a total of 437. And each running back, Regina's Atlee Simon and Alberta's Ed Ilnicki, went for more than 200 yards. Both teams had two receivers with century games.

    I'm not as high on Regina as some voters. They'll probably be my 10th-place vote.
  9. Saint Mary's (5-1 AUS, 55-11 win against Bishop's) — Did you pick the Huskies defence and special teams in your fantasy league? One can call the special teams player of the week honour for SMU's Johnny King, who housed both a kickoff (99 yards) and a punt (56 yards). Throw in a pair of pick-sixes and the always-popular team safety, and the Huskies' D/ST outscored the offence 34-21. That was more interesting than the actual game.

    Saint Mary's should draw in around No. 7 or 8.
  10. Guelph (4-3, 24-14 home win against No. 5 Laurier) — Validated why people voted for them despite three losses. On the field, the winning margin for Guelph came through the 10-point swing in the third quarter when Jacob Scarfone went up (and down) the right sideline for a 120-yard missed field goal return TD. That opened a 17-0 lead and Laurier never got closer than six points.

    Guelph controlled the line of scrimmage on each side of the ball, with Johnny Augustine rushing 31 times for 176 yards and backup QB Theo Landers complementing with 14 rushes for 86. Laurier's Levondre Gordon (21 rushes for 71 yards) was well-contained.

    The Gryphons still aren't in the playoffs officially, but put themselves into a win-and-in road game at Carleton next week. 
Also in consideration:
  • Ottawa (5-2 OUA, 40-30 home win against Waterloo) — Still hesitant to anoint Ottawa at the expense of Laurier due to the Golden Hawks, or at least the version of themselves that they were before Oct. 1, having a better showing against common opponents.

    Does one really want to give Ontario five out of 10 spots? But do either Concordia or Saskatchewan really look like they could be No. 10?

    This  was Ottawa's fifth game decided by 10 or fewer points, and it has won four. Two are directly attributable to hybrid linebacker Jackson Bennett, whose 36-yard interception return for a touchdown was his second fourth-quarter game-winner this season (again, he's on defence). Bennett also housed a 99-yard kickoff return in Ottawa's one-point win against Queen's on Sept. 4, and does that not seem pivotal.

    As odd as it might sound after a 40-30 game with almost 1,100 total yards, Ottawa really won due to its defence. The stats show that Waterloo's wunderkind Tre Ford averaged a Sinopoli-esque 11.7 yards per rush (and a very cromulent 8.7 per pass), but Ford might have gone past 200 if not for being tracked by Bennett and DB Jamie Harry

Now for OUA clusterfudge:
  • The main question is whether three teams tie at 5-3 or as many as four tie at 4-4. The former of those logjams involves a Guelph win next week with Laurier and Ottawa each losing. Since Laurier and Ottawa have not played, it gets complicated.

    The four-way tie for the final two spots requires Carleton to defeat Guelph, with Queen's winning to join Waterloo at 4-4. All four would be 4-4 and tied for fifth. Guelph and Queen's did not play, which would mean turning to the dreaded "common opponents" tiebreaker.
  • Western (7-0)  has home field advantage through to the Yates Cup, as you know.
  • McMaster-Laurier, with the Marauders (6-1) trending in a more positive direction than the Golden Hawks (5-2), decides second place.  
  • Ottawa (5-2) is at least clear of the pile-up for the final playoff spots. They are resilient and resourceful, and finishing the regular season in the black deserves acknowledgement. They have held it together after the death of defensive end Loic Kayembe and, while, nothing can repair the loss of young life, it seemed to be galvanizing.

    Oh, and they pulled off a reverse flea-flicker.

    Ottawa also pivoted from having an air show for three seasons with Hec Crighton finalist Derek Wendel to turning to frosh Alex Lavric, the first rookie to become QB1 for the Gee-Gees since 2004. And it' graduated all-Canadian receivers in back-to-back years. Yet Ottawa has kept grinding.

    By the way, Ottawa coach Jamie Barresi went against the book with third-down situations twice in the fourth quarter on Saturday.

    The first didn't lead directly to points, but it was huge in the situational football sense it was great. Ottawa had third-and-3 on its 43 with the score tied 30-30 with seven minutes left. A punt would have given Waterloo decent starting position, with its offence riding the crest of three consecutive long drives.

    So Ottawa snapped the ball directly to No. 2 tailback Donald Shaw, who darted for 18 yards. The possession still ended with a punt, but Waterloo instead started on its nine-yard line. The long field let Ottawa get more aggressive, and soon enough Bennett had the pick-six.

    In the second-last minute, Ottawa also had third-and-1 on the Waterloo 35-yard line with a seven-point lead. Typically that's a go-for-it situation. But like the baseball manager with a lights-out reliever, why wait to bring on a kicker such as Lewis Ward, who's fairly automatic from 45 yards in? Ward, with Jamie Harry teeing up the ball since regular holder Bryce Vieira had been injured moments earlier, delivered the dagger from 42 yards out.
  • Whether Waterloo (4-4) gets their Week 9 miracle through a Toronto upset of Queen's, they were full value for their effort at Ottawa on Saturday. Waterloo-Ottawa was likely the best-played game, pound for pound, in Ontario all week, with Warriors co-quarterbacks Lucas McConnell and Tre Ford each leading game-tying touchdown drives in the second half.

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