OUA Football, Week 6: Ottawa's Panda Game win means playoff picture is starting to come into order

It is no longer clear who is No. 1 in the country, but there is a lead horse for that second playoff bye after Ottawa and Sawyer Buettner vented an entire undergrad degree's lifesplan of Panda Game anguish.

Why look up the definition of catharsis when you can just embed a worthy-of-Webster's video of Ottawa fans getting to storm the field for the first time since the rivalry game moved to TD Place in 2014?

When city rivals play every year, the past is much more prologue and each game is a callback to prior contests. During the four-year losing streak, Ottawa had spans where it went up and down the field but stalled in the red zone. Carleton would be opportunistic and come up with the explosion plays. Instead, Ottawa was a finisher par excellence in the red zone, particularly on stretched-out catches by Kalem Beaver, Dylan St. Pierre and Carter Matheson, while the defence generated a 5-1 edge in turnovers. More on that down below.

The other major moving parts involve the purple teams coming back to the pack, while Waterloo evidently turned back into a pumpkin right in time to end up in a Starbucks latte. Western needed to score on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter to edge Queen's, heretofore the third-most generous — that means ninth-ranked, Bubba — defensive side in the conference, for a 26-23 win. It's a wild coincidence that Western has made two trips to Eastern Ontario and had the same squeaker of a scoreline each time; by the way, they still have to schlep up to Ottawa in two weeks' time. The Mustangs showed some heavy mettle in the fourth quarter, but their voter support in the polls could be (groan) softening.

Meantime, Laurier apparently has a volleyball team now, because they give the ball away about every three touches. The Golden Hawks had six interceptions charged to Tristan Arndt as Guelph scored all 17 second-half points in a 27-24 win that the Gryphons were badly overdue to get after losing thrice by a combined four points.

The league is hella unpredictable; with York actually on the fringe of playoff contention after a 34-32 win against Waterloo, exactly half of the games so far (15 of 30) have ave been decided by seven or fewer points. One would have to have a special kind of confidence of a mediocre white man to start projecting final standings, but there is a playoff pecking order. Carleton coach Steve Sumarah said it will take a 5-3 record to get into the playoffs and it appears he might be right.

Time for Worst Case Ontario:

  1. Western (best-case 8-0, worst-case ... 8-0). The road to Quebec City is still going through London, but damn Western (5-0), would a statement road win kill ya? Waterloo doesn't count, not with how the Warriors lost against York on Saturday.

    Western might welcome a well-orchestrated loss.
  2. Ottawa (best-case 6-2, worst-case 5-3). So what if Carleton and Ottawa finish second and third? Do they go back to TD Place for a semifinal game that could probably draw 10,000 people on very short notice?

    The worst thing would be for a Panda Game win to prove Pyrrhic. The Gee-Gees (4-1) haven't had to travel outside of their city since the opener up at Laurier. Coach Jamie Barresi doubtlessly enjoyed the most emotional and eye-catching win of his six-season Gee-Gees tenure but cautioned about falling into a "stupor" heading into a short week before a roadie to play winless Toronto, who are the best 0-5 team in the country. (For those trolling at home, UBC is the best 1-4 team, especially in the budget:win ratio.)

    In terms of motivated opponents, Ottawa has it all. Toronto, which hasn't won a game but has come close in the past two weeks. In Week 8, Western will likely be looking to clinch home field through to the Yates Cup and Mitchell Bowl. Then it's a finale at Queen's, which could be in a win-and-in scenario.
  3. McMaster (best-case 6-2, worst-case 4-4). It's not even too certain that McMaster (3-2, idle this week) will win its final home game, against Queen's on Friday. Their Oct. 13 roadies at Waterloo and even Windsor aren't gimmes, the former since the Warriors can score a lot of points and the latter due to the distance and distractions.

    Not beating oneself seems to one of the cardinal virtues this season. McMaster has yet to do that, plus it has Jordan Lyons in the rushing phase.  
  4. Carleton (best-case 6-2, worst-case 4-4). There is no anecdotal evidence about how the Ravens will react after losing a Panda Game, which is a feather in their cap. The Ravens (4-2) could win out against Laurier (Oct. 5, home) and York (Oct. 12, away) and have a bye before hosting a quarterfinal. But their pass coverage has been porous for four games in a row. 
  5. Guelph (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). As previously noted, Guelph (3-3) has the favourable October schedule of bye-Toronto-Waterloo, and they're only a few blown scoring opportunities from being 6-0. That puts the Gryphons ahead by a nose among the quartet of three-loss teams.
  6. Queen's (best-case 5-3, worst-case 3-5). They were good enough to tease against Western and, although few sports fans ever admit this, sometimes that is really all we want. The Queen's-McMaster game is pretty much a playoff game for at least one of the teams and, no, I'm not just saying that since it's one of the few I can see due to work commitments.

    Having the extra week to prepare for Ottawa might help Queen's a little. Not too sure how their blocking group would hold up against a pretty decent Gee-Gees D on Oct. 20.
  7. Waterloo (best-case 5-3, worst-case 3-5). There are a couple of plaintive little hopes that keep one from writing off Waterloo (3-3).

    One is that they have their bye week before hosting McMaster in Week 8, in what should be a bitter battle, since Warriors pass game coordinator Jon Behie will be matching wits against the defensive coaches from his alma mater. McMaster hasn't put up points against a credible team on the road, or really even at home. Then Waterloo finishes against Guelph, which it scored 49 points against last season.
  8. Laurier (best-case 4-4, worst-case 3-5). The Golden Hawks have gone from hell on wheels on likely needing help to make the playoffs. The Carleton game next Friday is a must-win and, based on how the Golden Hawks have been shooting themselves in the feet, it is tough to envision a win against Western in Week 9 unless the Mustangs field a totally B team.  
  9. York (best-case 4-4, worst-case 2-6). The Lions (2-4) are mathematically alive. About a million things would all have to break their way, and Carleton's offensive line might quickly kibosh those faint playoff hopes by opening 400-series highway-wide holes for Nathan Carter in that Oct. 12 Ravens-Lions game. But credit to York and Brett Hunchak for sweetening the plot with a homecoming win against Waterloo on Saturday.
As far as the games on Saturday were concerned:

Ottawa 38, Carleton 27 — Well, the beauty of the Panda Game is that you don't really have to do much analysis, since it's really just a fun time and no one thinks about it too deeply beyond whether the Black team or the Garnet & Grey team won. For one Saturday each year, the city's two university populations create a true, uniquely Canadian, big-small-town event. I used to resent that, for all the booze consumed, there wasn't much spillover into watching the Gee-Gees or Ravens play teams from outside the world's biggest village, but that's the city of Ottawa for you. It's really a bit of a face-dance: play at having a fierce football rivalry, then back to being friends on Monday.

Anyway, a lot of the characteristics that make the Gee-Gees program unique came to the fore on Saturday. One, Barresi is a quarterback whisperer, and Buettner was beastly with the five touchdown passes, as Ottawa took home-run shots whenever they presented themselves in the score zone. Then there was the backstory with how Kalem Beaver and Carter Matheson, who caught two touchdowns apiece, were relatively late converts to football who didn't even play until well into their high school years, since they were busy being athletes, not one-sport automatons. They found a niche and uOttawa coached 'em up.

The way Ottawa finished drives also erases the memory of that 2014 game when a skein of red-zone stalls left the door open for Carleton to win on Nate Behar's Hail Mary catch on the final play.

This time, the Gee-Gees led by as much as 24 points. The huge scoreline swings came mainly via a Jamie Harry end-zone interception in the third quarter, along with takeaways that set up Buettner inside Carleton's 20-yard line.

The smokes-and-mirrors narrative with Carleton probably got a boost. The Ravens offence and Michael Arruda had 475 yards. The easy way out is to point to the four interceptions and the penalties, several of which came in the return phase.

Even that 475 figure looks like empty calories. Take out the trick-play touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. After trading touchdowns in the second quarter for a 14-14 tie, Carleton went interception-punt-punt-interception-punt-punt on the rest of its possessions through the end of the third.

That's bad. The margin was only really close since the Ravens ran some bubble screens and draws to Nathan Carter against loose coverage, hoping Ottawa's tackling completely fell apart. (Ron Howard voice: it didn't.)

Western 26, Queen's 23 — One refrain on loop is that Western didn't get much off of Queen's except for having superior athletes. At no point did it cross my mind this could be close, given that the Mustangs had won the last six matchups by an average of 25.7 points. Lo and behold, the Mustangs found themselves down 11 points with nine minutes left. But they cranked up the interior pass rush to take away Nate Hobbs' time and space in the pocket, while Chris Merchant and the offence clicked with consecutive seven-play touchdown drives, the peak of which was a 49-yard pass-and-run to Malik Besseghieur that was, in MMA terms, a major body blow.
Western should pay a price in the polls for this, since two "playing down" wins are not an anomaly. That's neither here nor there for Queen's, which might have had its best defensive day of the season with the secondary of Nolan Bedard, Ejaz Causer, Blake Cory, Zackary Kealey and Oliver MacKenzie limiting Western to one touchdown for 3½ quarters; they just only had so many stops in them, apparently.

Queen's hasn't been able to touch Western in a few years, so this was a moral victory on some level. Younger readers, assuming there are any — look, there's videos embedded! — might not be aware that the Gaels used to handle the Mustangs on the regular, going 11-4 from 2000 through '12. Suffice to say, the 'Stangs have kicked it up a notch.

Deep-down, I do wonder if they were trying to get someone on Freezing Cold Takes. Thanks?

Guelph 27, Laurier 24 The commonalities between the pick-six touchdowns from Dokun Aketepe and Job Reinhart was pressure, and some serendipitous ricochets right into the hands of both defenders. Reinhart was in the Laurier backfield after a well-timed A-gap blitz when edge rusher Tavius Robinson batted a Tristan Arndt pass, which Reinhart returned 72 yards. On the Aketepe play, Guelph brought seven and it looked as though Laurier had the right pattern and read, with three receivers on shallow crosses, but a harried throw went off of Kurleigh Gittens Jr. and right to Aketepe, going 69 yards the other way.

It might be tempting to put some that down to the Bounces,  but not after the way that three opponents in a row have limited Laurier. The Gryphons gang took down six interceptions and didn't allow a completion longer than 20 yards. McMaster allowed nothing longer than 25. Throw in a solid second half from the Waterloo defence, and the Golden Hawks have scored only 14 second-half points in their last three games.

Arndt has got the hook two weeks in a row, and what's really worrying about Laurier is where the interceptions have occurred. I'm not a football coach so I'm a little more blasΓ© about turnovers. Take fumbles; they come from players over-exerting themselves sometimes, and once the ball is scooting around on the carpet, it's 50/50 whether the defence will complete the takeaway or the offence retains it. Interceptions are bad, but there are some that come on deep balls where the defender just makes the play, or the wind affects the direction of the pass. And there's those second-and-a-click prayers that sometimes work as well as a directional punt.

But all of the six interceptions charged to Arndt came on throws within 12 yards of the line of the scrimmage, according to the play-by-play data. So Guelph really had Laurier figured out.

One who's closer to the situation with Laurier would have better licence to look into the quarterback situation with Tristan Arndt and second-year backup Carson Carusello. Coach Michael Faulds made the switch with 6:28 left, on a changeover at Laurier's own 10-yard line, after the sixth interception. The field position isn't relevant since that doesn't play into the decision, but it would contribute to any intimidation factor Carusello might have felt.

If Arndt needs help seeing the game from another perspective and Carusello can be an asset, why not give the backup a designated series in the second or third quarter? Either way, Laurier has a short week to figure it out before it heads up to Carleton.

York 34, Waterloo 32 — Why did the football Gods point to York's side of the field in this offensive slugfest between brave but determined minnow teams with a penchant for throwing deep and game uniforms that can be worn home or away? Because Warren Craney and the York staff called for a two-point convert when already up 14 points in the first half. Because every little bit counts.

Ultimately, what one would like to take away is that this illustrated that there isn't any quit in either team. Waterloo scored 24 consecutive points when it would have been very easy to give in to checking out of the game. Hunchak answered the 85-yard drive where Waterloo went ahead for the first time by essaying a nine-play, 89-yard march of his own for a three-point lead.

And then it came down to fate, or foot, as it seems to every week. York's Matt Dean got through to block the kick after Waterloo had a sluggish snapback.

Windsor 26, Toronto 24Best. Doughnut. Bowl. Ever. Windsor surmounted a 21-0 deficit across the final 2½ quarters whilst crossing the alumni stripe only once all afternoon, which sounds like a challenge Barney Stinson would have demurred from. Clark Green had a day going 6-of-6 on field goals, including two go-ahead boots from 40-plus.  

Another tip of the cap is due to Lancers defensive end Adam Slikboer, who made back-to-back plays to end the Toronto possession right before Windsor drove for its only touchdown to get within two points. They needed to score a TD since otherwise, Green would have had to go 8-for-8 on field goals to win the game.
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