OUA Football, Week 5: Western Beats Waterloo By 60 points, While Queen's Should Try Playing A Full 60 Minutes

The low-hanging fruit is just there, those juicy pregame quotes from the Hopeful Waterloo Warriors — "it's Yates Cup or bust" ... "I think the only way they win is if we beat ourselves" ... — which were drawing fruit flies by the first-quarter media timeout.

That was just youth and inexperience passing through the empty-handed (on this day) vessels of Tyler Ternowski and Tre Ford. The 67-7 win that Western rolled up against the Waterloo Warriors on Saturday simply conveys the black-and-gold Bertoia brigade still has plenty of the latter. We knew going into this Fine Football Saturday that Western was going to beat Waterloo handily, so it should be set aside. Or not. Have at it.

Only those slavish to Media Both-Siding — and look where that has taken the political zeitgeist lately — would have set the scene any differently. Western, as the season develops, is rolling by like an army of steamrollers and the entire Ontario University Athletics season, please prove me wrong, is a perfunctory exercise before they go trophy hunting in November. It would be nice if legacy media could break away from the tired-and-trite storytelling models and convey things more honestly. The Local Athlete Hopes To Win Game story form needed to go 10 years ago yesterday. Increasing understanding of the subject can do wonders for its following. Instead, what was technically a first-place showdown ends up as a 60-point blowout and knees start jerking about lack of competitive balance. They should, by all means, but not just because of that.

That is a thing when Western is involved, but as far as the Others go, this week built on the theme that theme of Ontario being the Coin Flippin'-est Conference going. Minutes apart, Queen's and McMaster — remember those guys? They won national championships just within the last decade? No?! — both got Reprieve By Opposing Kicker. McMaster mildly upset No. 5-ranked Laurier 21-20 at home, while Queen's won 33-32 at No. 10-ranked Guelph, both after experienced kickers, Laurier's Nathan Mesher and Guelph's Gabriel Ferraro, missed potential game-winning field-goal attempts in the final minute. As luck and convenient jumping-off points would have it, that sort of symmetry — wins over ranked teams, each of whom missed a potential game-winning field goal and also took the three-pointer on their penultimate drive instead of trying the more all-or-nothing third-down gamble — conveniently ties into a larger narrative.

While Western is the elephant in the room, the other subtext is the respective regression by McMaster and Queen's, which tinged the reaction to their narrow wins. Let's put a pin in McMaster and talk about Queen's

In Queen's case, the away win that might put them into the playoffs feels Pyrrhic, since blowing all but the last of what was a 26-point lead with 16½ minutes left — holy channeling the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 — is not that extraordinary with the Gaels of recent vintage.

I own the Queen's pyjamas, but there was a familiar dread with every tap of the F5 key. Check in at work to the pleasant surprise that Queen's was up 33-7 against Guelph. OK, now it's 33-14. Man, didn't it get to 33-21 awful fast? Better be ready to see 33-28, and sure enough ...

Without being in position to point fingers, Queen's has been the shakiest closer this side of Gil Gunderson s in recent season. The bullet points are not pretty:

  • Week 2, 2017: 14-13 loss at Ottawa, which took its only lead of the game when Jackson Bennett scored on a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown in the final two minutes.
  • Week 1, 2017: 22-17 loss to Carleton, after having a five-point lead and the ball with 2:44 left in the game.
  • Week 9, 2016: 42-41 overtime loss to Ottawa after having a 13-point lead with 4:08 left in the quarter.
  • Week 8, 2015: 33-32 win at York where the largest Queen's lead was 10 points, but to paraphrase Sam Ecklund in American Vandal: "Dude, it's York."
  • Week 2, 2014: 37-30 loss to Ottawa, which scored on its last three drives of the game. From the point that Queen's took a 14-point lead with 10 minutes left, Ottawa's Derek Wendel was 6-for-6 for 79 yards on second downs, plus two rushes for 28. 
  • OUA semifinal, 2012: 42-39 loss to Guelph, which scored 22 points in the final 10 minutes to force overtime.
  • Week 7, 2012: 33-28 loss at Guelph, after being ahead 28-3 in the second quarter.

Some of that can be put down to the never-over nature of Canadian football that we know and love. All of the above is facts minus context; it's hard to say how coaching contributed to those late collapses or struggles to take control late. There is probably even a counter-argument that maybe great coaching created that cushion until attrition and athleticism ultimately decided who won the day, as it always does in the end.

Either way, Queen's under longtime head coach Pat Sheahan certainly has a fourth-quarter problem, but those are only symptoms. Admitting there is a problem is always the first step.

The ponderous palaver from the week:
  • Three wins in a row where Western (4-0) has scored at least 40 points and kept the opposition in single digits. Hard pass.
  • Carleton (4-1) and Ottawa (3-1) have respectively won in four and three in a row on the bounce heading into the Panda Game, where goodness knows the Gee-Gees haven't got a bounce lately. The winner will have the inside track on finishing 6-2.
  • Buh-bye to a bye for Laurier (3-2) after having it in 2016 and '17. The Golden Hawks have lost two in a row since breaking out the yellow jerseys last week. Does Michael Faulds have some sort of ceremonial burning like Coach Taylor in Season 4 of Friday Night Lights? The Golden Hawks still have Western on the schedule, so best-case Ontario, they finish 5-3.
  • Also holding a realistic shot at 6-2: McMaster and Waterloo.
  • Seven games, almost a quarter of the docket, have been decided by three points or fewer.
  • The universe is a sadist. Windsor is idle on the same weekend that the nearby Detroit Lions are probably going to get beat by the Patriots

Let's get to the games.

McMaster 21, No. 5 Laurier 20 It was Mouchoir Day at McMaster, with Laurier getting 15 penalties for 190 yards while the Marauders had 13 for 163. None was more hurtful than an after-yards-made holding penalty in the second-last minute that affected Laurier's ability to give Mesher, whose killer miss was from 43 yards, a better look at a game-winning cook.

The flags probably cancel out each other; where Laurier might have really got its own way is revealed by how the play-by-play data show that reigning OUA MVP Kurleigh Gittens Jr. did not have a target in the fourth quarter, when his lone two touches were punt returns. That is a credit to the retooling McMaster defence and the denizens of the back eight such as Eric Blake, but unless Gittens was injured there is not much excuse for not finding a way to get the ball to make-you-miss target. McMaster also got to Laurier QB Tristan Arndt for a sack and he was out of the game for the first eight minutes of the final quarter, during which time inexperienced understudy Connor Carusello ended up playing 500-Up with one receiver and about three Mac deep backs, with Nolan Putt making the by-default second-biggest interception of the afternoon. That was why Laurier found itself down five late in the ballgame.

Queen's 33, Guelph 32 — The comme ci comme รงa with the Gaels is that splitting back-to-back road games against credible teams was their mostly likely scenario. Their road to the playoffs does not mandate beating both Guelph and Carleton (42-39 overtime loss last week), and they'll be at .500 after the likely Western walloping at Richardson next weekend.

But damn, that late third/fourth-quarter meltdown overshadows everything good that they did across the first 43-some minutes, when it was shaping up as he Gaels' best performance on the road since a 2013 win up at Ottawa.  The macro is wondering how they could so easily take their Uggs off of Guelph's thorax. The same Guelph team that's been kept under 20 points twice already this season took only 83 seconds — with a Queen's pass interference penalty on second down — for the 33-14 touchdown. Queen's had zero first downs on its next three possessions, and the drive for the 33-21 touchdown took a whole 94 seconds. The Gaels bent as far as humanly possible before Ferraro had his seventh miss of the season, from 32 yards, in the final 20 seconds.

Guelph, with Theo Landers behind centre, had yet to have its quarterback pass for 200 yards or multiple touchdowns in a game. Landers wound up 26-of-35 for 318 yards and three scores, plus seven rushes for 85 and another score in a commendable performance.

The Gaels go into their Western game eighth in yards-per-rush on offence and ninth in total defence. That seems rather inauspicious.

On the Guelph side of things, it's encouraging that the Gryphons were productive in the passing phase. How they stick with it after losing thrice by a combined five points is the question going forward. The other noodle-scratcher is whether anyone on the sideline, least of all interim head caoch Todd Galloway, had the conversion chart. They kicked converts after every touchdown during the rally. Some math skills might have led to the Gryphons cutting the score to 33-22, then 33-30 ...

Picking up a deuce was probably doable with the way Landers can work the RPO (run-pass option), and it might have led to Ferraro getting to tie the game with 1:55 left, when his 29-yard boot drew the Gryphons to within two points. Instead a kicker who's having a tough month had the all-or-nothing attempt in the final seconds and we know how that worked out.

The final four weeks for Guelph are, starting next week, at Laurier, bye, then Toronto and Waterloo at home. I think we'll call that Oct. 20 Waterloo-Guelph game the ELO Bowl.

No. 1 Western 67, Waterloo 7 — Submitted for your approval.

Western faced the No. 2-ranked offence on Saturday and held Ford, et al., to seven points, 13 first downs and 279 yards. The Mustangs won by 60 points.

Western has also faced the No. 2 defence, McMaster on Sept. 8, and put up 44 points, 32 first downs and 523 yards. The Mustangs won by only 38 points.

OK, more statistical porn: Chris Merchant had more touchdown passes (6) than incompletions (4) on Saturday. And the Mustangs face a ninth-ranked Queen's defence next week.

At least Waterloo gets some style points for both the route-running and the catch Ternowski made for the Warriors' only scoring.
Ottawa 42, York 16 — The Gee-Gees should, by stealth, sneak on to some of the Top 10 ballots that are compiled by humans. Like a soccer team, my ballot is in a 4-4-2 formation — top four out of Ontario and top four in Canada West, with the Blue Team and the Red Team from La Belle Province. It is not yet clear how good Ottawa is after two close home wins and a blowout against a bottom-feeder, but they're not getting in their own way. Their defence is also disruptive. One way to simplify defensive football is to tally sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries cumulatively. Ottawa leads the conference with 25 while having played only four games. Two others have cracked the 20 mark after five games, while you-know-who got there after four.

Ottawa has a good enough defence to contain Carleton. It's not clear what their highest gear is offensively, besides "Kalem Beaver or Bryce Vieira randomly turns into Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson."

Carleton 38, Toronto 26Linebacker Trevor Hoyte had a good month in the fourth quarter: two game-changing sacks sandwiched around an interception. The first sack forced Toronto quarterback Clay Sequeira out of the game, and the interception and second sack (on backup Connor Ennis) created short fields for Carleton, leading to field goals.

A two-touchdown road win against the U of T doesn't do much to disabuse anyone from being skeptical about the true strength of this Carleton team. The points in their favour is that this was totally a trap game for them coming in between Queen's and the Panda Game. Toronto also had a couple of outlier plays — a Nathan Carter lost fumble that gave a U of T a very short field, as well as a 99-yard punt return touchdown by the Varsity Blues' Daniel Diodati in the fourth quarter — that might have made the game artificially closer.

Carleton's actual defence allowed zero points in the second half. If there was trouble with motivation this week, there should not be in front of 20,000-some fans next Saturday.
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  1. “maybe great coaching created that cushion until attrition and athleticism ultimately decided who won the day”

    Great writing AND smart analyses.

  2. Man, I am so glad that you are doing this again. That style and flair brings back great memories from the 2009 season. It's no exaggeration to say that you are the king when it comes to free content Canadian university football writing. The folks writing drivel for a paycheque can only wish they did the job as well.

    Great comment on the both-siding that's a too often resort when it comes to OUA football media. Calling a spade a spade isn't cruel when any other spin makes us all dumber for the effort.

    But what can we do.

    Most folks writing about this sport are here and gone in four years. Most want a paying gig, and upsetting the status quo isn't usually the best way to go about that.

    You are the best, brother.

    You are the best.