OUA Football, Thanksgiving short week edition: #FreeGK, Justice Allin, Marshall the Merciful & at least Laurier is livin' again

At least McMaster had Justice on the field on a day when its players protested a perceived injustice off of it.

However the Queen's-McMaster affray that was replete with playoff ramifications played out on Friday — the Marauders won 27-24 after withstanding a late, desperate rally by a Gaels side that seemed to gain maturity over the course of play — the chain overreaction that led to Marauders coach Greg Knox being off the sideline due to being on "administrative leave" is the first point of reference. The ground with Knox being absent is being well-tilled by the much more established media. Whatever actually happened between the Marauders coach and a chain-crew official during the Sept. 22 Laurier-McMaster game was regrettable, but not unforgivable. (Full disclosure on the ambiguity: as a blogger who works at one of the media portals covering the story, there's info I'm not at liberty to put on a blog; it's called the Cut Your Own Grass Policy.) The Knox situation, coming at a time when Mac is in transition after director of athletics Glen Grunwald moved on to head up Canada Basketball recently, escalated into the coach being put on leave before Ontario University Athletics could wrap up an investigation into whether a one-game suspension was warranted.

It's not even apparent, because university sports, if Knox will helm McMaster (4-2) next week against Waterloo (3-3) in another Major Playoff Implications game.

"I'm not going to comment on that," said Marauders co-offensive coordinator Tom Flaxman, who split Knox's duties with defensive coordinator Scott Brady, "But I can say that as coaches and players that we all support coach Knox and we hope there's a timely resolution."

The only clear takeaway was that what could have caused a downward spiral gave McMaster that extra 2 per cent of resolve to squeak out its third home win by three or fewer points.

"The message we had was just to ignore the media on it, we can't control that so just let this bring us closer together," said the Marauders field-side halfback Noah Hallett, whose two Madden-stick pass breakups in the end zone turned seeming Queen's touchdowns into field goals, representing an eight-point swing in a three-point decision. "It's brought us together, the motto's McMaster vs. everybody.

"Obviously it's a big thing to lose our coach. Knox is a great coach and we wanted to express ourselves on that."

The autumn of close games continued, at least on Friday. McMaster survived by three points against Queen's (3-4). Laurier won by six at Carleton, 37-31, behind frosh QB Connor Carusello, and the Golden Hawks (3-3) are back in the thick of things while the Ravens (4-3) have eaten some reality sandwich.

University sports, to use the old saw, is a great game to survive the institutions that offer it. In the wake of that kerfuffle, the short week produced the considered one of those below-the-radar battles that October lends itself to with the in-season incremental improvements began to show up in teams' games — or don't — as playoff positions are firmed up.

Something had to give in a matchup between two mid-level teams that both came in with a glaring deficiency in the passing phase. Up until this week, Queen's couldn't stop the pass and Mac couldn't complete many. Ultimately, Marauders QB Andreas Dueck had the complements around him to win the day, finishing 23-of-30 for 367 yards with one interception.

The biggest one in going forward was the fellow listed as McMaster's fifth running back, Justice Allin, who was making his season debut after having his 2017 campaign scuttled by a torn ACL. Jordan Lyons is the alpha in the rushing phase for McMaster, but the Marauders worked in Allin beautifully as the scatback, decoy, or beta-back, getting defenders out of areas, creating single coverage downfield for receivers as Tommy Nield and Levi Paul. to exploit The boxscore might have shown some modest usage, apart from a 62-yard reception on a swing pass in the first half, but Allin was the X-factor for a Marauders attack that showed some sizzle.

"One thing I want to say about Justice Allin is that in all the time I've been doing this (coaching), I have never seen an athlete take as seriously as he did his rehab," Flaxman said.

"Justice has only had five or six practices but when he's in it changes what we can run," Flaxman added. "We can get more potential for explosive plays. It's a credit to him for making it back. He's going to be a big part of things — he just needs to get some touches. And get some hits."

One doesn't get to grasp the effect of Allin being back from watching the webcast, or checking stats, or watching the tweeted highlights, as much as those resources are appreciated for making the games more accessible. And you sort of miss the influence that Hallett had by denying Queen's two surest-handed receivers, Matteo Del Brocco and Richard Burton, touchdown catches.

"The first one definitely hurt," said Hallett, who needed the trainers' staff after denying Del Brocco in the second quarter. "But I told myself I could play through it."

The hard reality is football games only have one winner, but getting an in-person viewing did show that Queen's, with head coach Pat Sheahan doing something similar to Wally Buono in the CFL by eschewing a headset on the sideline, is trending positively. While Mac has those three narrow wins, Queen's (3-4) has three narrow losses against quality opponents, having also taken Carleton to overtime on the road, while making Western score twice in the fourth quarter last week. With Nate Hobbs buying time throughout the day, Queen's had perhaps its best offensive effort against McMaster in a decade with 482 yards. That normally adds up to more than 24 points, but McMaster seems bound and determined to prove the hypothesis that nothing matters in Canadian football until the offence enters the score zone.

Hallett and his teammates were able to limit the damage.

"We've had a bit of practice with those close games," he said. "Our defence has learned how to tighten up the coverage when we need it."

Three of four OUA games are now in the books, so we can update, pending the Laurier-Carleton outcome in the 1 p.m. contest that is the late game by default.

McMaster 27 Queen's 24 — Probably talked out about this game, so we'll pivot to video:

No. 8 Laurier 37, No. 9 Carleton 31 — Please don't be That Guy who says Laurier getting a desperately needed season-saving win justifies why they were nationally ranked with a losing record. That is neither here nor there for them. What matters is you can sort of read some of that spirit coming back into their game.

The Golden Hawks, behind Connor Carusello — and I'm going to call him Carson one of these teams; apology in advance — always seemed to have a response. It went way beyond the Esson Hamilton pass-and-run touchdown that put them up for good with 7½ minutes left. Laurer responded with a touchdown drive three times after Ravens touchdowns. The only time they didn't was with an interception, and Will Amoah picked off Carleton's Michael Arruda to get the ball back immediately. Carleton never really kept momentum in a game that had eight lead changes.

Veteran Laurier kicker Nathan Mesher left with an injury. Nick Petermann had to kick the last two converts. He was a two-way player in high school, so apparently his talents have no end.

The other big takeaway is Laurier got the curse off the yellow jerseys, perhaps by combining them with white helmets and white paints. They kind of look like Georgia Tech crossed with Los Angeles Rams throwbacks.

Circling back, Laurier being not only ranked but ranked higher than the Ravens is not as far down the silliness spectrum as one might think. The OUA is such a muddle that I nearly put them on my top 10 ballot as a fifth team out of Ontario, but Occam's Razor as expressed by Herm Edwards won out; you play to win the game, and Laurier had been losing games, by razor-thin margins. So undefeated Saint Mary's got my 10th-place vote on Sunday night.

Thursday's action, in a matter of speaking

No. 1 Western 66, Windsor 14 — Hot take: Western coach Greg Marshall thin-sliced this turkey perfectly by pulling Cedric Joseph after he broke the OUA single-game rushing record in the first half with 17 rushes for 355 yards in the first half.

There was no upside to having Joseph go in for another possession or two for a shot at the national mark of 395. Showing mercy was an editorial comment.

It also made a point, if indirectly, that it would have been semi-halfway worthless — you need a record performance to defeat Windsor? — to do this against an outmatched counterpart. By the same token, Joseph broke a conference record set by the matchless Andre Durie, who had 349 in a game for York in 2003. He still gets something,  stays fresh for Ottawa next week and no one looks at it as Western pouring it on a against a bottom-three team.

Windsor's coaching staff really should wear it for this debacle. The Lancers decided to play a lot of press coverage, leaving them exposed in run support and giving Joseph relatively easy passage to rushing lanes wider than Mile 114 of the Arthur Burkhardt Expressway. It's Western. Put eight defenders in the box and make them beat you with the pass. That way you still lose about 66-14, but temporarily taking them away from their wheelhouse strength is a small victory.

No. 5 Ottawa 53, Toronto 21
— Competitive balance through intervention is the best way to describe the Gee-Gees having 17 accepted penalties for 202 yards. Without that, Ottawa might have really blown out Toronto after knocking Varsity Blues quarterback Connor Ennis out of the game with a late hit on a 41-yard reception, which set up a touchdown that brought Toronto within two scores at 22-14.

To think someone who is halfway to being an idiot savant fretted that this was a trap game for the Gee-Gees, who hit 200 rushing yards and 400 passing, including 258 through Good Kingston Boy Carter Matheson.

Worst Case Ontario update:
  1. Western (best-case 8-0, worst-case 8-0). If they came out of that Windsor controlled scrimmage with refs and cheerleaders with any significant injuries, the entire coaching staff should have to run the stadium steps 100 times immediately after eating their turkey.

    It was a big fireworks display in London in more ways than one.
  2. Ottawa (best-case 6-2, worst-case 5-3). Not since 2012, when future Hec Crighton winner Will Finch was a frosh quarterback and Ottawa had the last remnants of the good Denis PichΓ© recruiting classes, have the Gee-Gees hung in with the Mustangs. Have things changed?
  3. McMaster (best-case 6-2, worst-case 4-4). It's not clear how good these Marauders are and is not yet clear who will be their head coach(es) on Oct. 13. What a time to be alive.
  4. Carleton (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). Of course  the Ravens and Gryphons, the teams with the most likely "win out" routes to finishing 5-3, have missed each other in the schedule. That will make it complicated to figure out in two weeks' time.

    A short week and a young opposing quarterback and Carleton allowed 619 yards. Oy vey.
  5. Guelph (best-case 5-3, worst-case 4-4). In these divided, fragmented times, a university athletic department, public school board and Catholic board found a way to give high school football a bigger platform and perhaps convince classmates and the community to get a little more invested. Well-played, Guelph.

    Meantime, the bye-weeking Gryphons have the great setup with Toronto and Waterloo at home over the final quarter-leg.  
  6. Waterloo (best-case 5-3, worst-case 3-5). The version of itself Waterloo presented against Carleton and Laurier is fully capable of winning out against McMaster and Guelph and earning the Warriors' first berth in a six-team playoff. (Eight teams made it in 2003, the last time they got in.)

    The version of itself Waterloo presented against Western and York likely topples into Next Year Country again. Either way, with the football Warriors off, it's not too self-indulgent to shout out Waterloo hockey forward Kenny Turner for scoring his first OUA goal in the season opener. Turner was a black ace for most of the last two seasons after coming to UW from Junior A ranks in northwestern Ontario. A lot of striving and sacrifice went into that goal, which broke a 9-0 shutout.
  7. Laurier (best-case 4-4, worst-case 4-4). The Golden Hawks will predictably handle Windsor next week and then get rolled real good by Western. Then what happens when they get thrown into the hopper of 4-4 teams?

    I thought of putting 5-3 for the best case, on the odd off-chance Western has to sit everyone with so much as a canker sore. But overall Laurier's final record is the one 4-4 mark that I feel most secure about writing in with the same pen I use to do The New York Times crossword in 23 minutes, seriously, really.

    (If we've learned nothing else from Donald Trump Jr., you make your humble-brags really specific and totally unrealistic.)
  8. Queen's (best-case 4-4, worst-case 3-5). Flaxman did call Queen's "a great team; eventually they're going to find ways to win games." McMaster's skill-position guys just made a few more plays.

    Rookie receiver Richard Burton had a promising afternoon and the lost fumble at Queen's 30-yard line in the third quarter was a killer, as did having two penalties on the punt immediately prior that pinned Queen's on its one-yard line. The turnover was a classic case of where the runner keeps his legs churning and the defenders pry the ball out. Mac only cashed in for a field goal and a 17-16 lead, but a skein of productive Queen's marches was broken up and they didn't regain rhythm until it was almost too late. One really empathizes with Burton.

    It might be too late for Queen's to get into the playoffs. Figuring out the tiebreakers is like counting proxies before the big stockholder's meeting and Queen's is lacking tiebreakers with losses to Carleton and Laurier.

    If little else, Week 9 against Ottawa is a spoiler situation for Hobbs' final home game. Queen's was in the same situation against Carleton in 2014 when Billy McPhee was the fifth-year quarterback, and they stepped up to wreck someone's season that day.
  9. York (best-case 4-4, worst-case 2-6). It will be a tall order for York to upset Carleton and finish 4-4, but there's a reason to root for that beyond doormat-does-good sentiment. A closing thought:

    Toronto (2013) and Waterloo (2017) have cracked .500 in recent years without getting a playoff berth, as only six of the 11 teams make the playoffs — 54.5 per cent, lower than the other three conferences (60 per cent in the Atlantic, 67 in Canada West, 80 in the RSEQ).

    It takes so much outlay of athletic budget, plus human capital, to go from doormat to viable, but the entry point is still too restrictive.

    Ontario University Athletics was right on one level in 2004 when it eliminated the 1 vs. 8 and 2 vs. 7 quarterfinals. At the same time, if an expanded national playoff is on the way then some incentives need to be created for the characteristically bottom four teams to enjoy some form of post-season play.

    But something can be well-designed and still prone to unintended consequences. The system shouldn't just be a fail-safe for the powerhouse that got upset in its own conference. It was nauseating to some degree that happened last season with the Alabama Crimson Tide and the College Football Playoff in the U.S., but in terms of who was fooling who, Nick Saban's evil empire still had a better case than Central Florida.

    Likewise, hypothetically, if there had been a six-team playoff in 2016, Western would have got a wild card after an ignominious fourth-quarter collapse in the Yates Cup. That's fine, but there is an opportunity to create something in Canada with avenues for teams from all walks of the football life, and budgeting levels.

    That is a message I hope OUA hears, as the country's most diverse football conference. All the other stakeholders' wishes are pretty clear. Quebec likely wants to have two berths, and considering that either Laval or MontrΓ©al have played in and/or hosted the last 10 Vanier Cup games, they deserve it. Canada West will probably want two, and AUS will want the guarantee of its champion hosting the Atlantic Bowl every year, as either a quarterfinal or semifinal.

    Pinky-swear to bloviate more about this after the turkey coma wears off.
Week 8 slate: Windsor at Laurier (Fri.), Carleton at York (Fri.), Western at Ottawa (Sat.), McMaster at Waterloo (Sat.), Toronto at Guelph (Sat.), bye, Queen's.
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1 comment:

  1. Thank yo for this..."which is in Hamilton"

    It hurts, it hurts, it hurts to laugh so hard.