"A tough act to follow" OUA In The Huddle with Mike Hogan - Week 5

"A tough act to follow" OUA In The Huddle with Mike Hogan - Week 5

It was an incredible way to reignite the rivalry.

The Ottawa Gee-Gees led the 2014 Panda Game 31-27 with just five seconds left to play and the Carleton Ravens needed a miracle. Back-up quarterback Jesse Mills hadn't thrown a pass all game, but was called upon to try and pull off the unlikeliest of plays - the Hail Mary.

It would take a prayer to be answered for the play to work, but the upstart Ravens had nothing to lose by looking for a little divine intervention.

The ball was placed on the left hash mark on the 55-yard line.  Four receivers squeezed into the 24 yards between the hash and the sideline, one of whom was Nate Behar, then a second-year player and the team's biggest offensive threat. Mills took the snap and saw the Gee-Gees were sending four linemen after him. He stepped up in the pocket and let the ball fly from his own 49-yard line.

A gathering of seven players converged at the Ottawa 15. Among them was defensive back Randy Williams. As the ball came down, Williams timed his jump perfectly, fully extending his left arm to make sure he was able to swat the ball away and preserve an Ottawa win.

The plan seemed to be executed to perfection until the Ravens prayer was answered.

The ball bounced up and toward the goal line as opposed to hitting the ground. Behar - the outside receiver in the formation and the furthest away from the ball of the seven players in the cluster – was in the right place at the perfect time. The deflected ball fell into his hands at the 13-yard line, he then sprinted into the end zone for the most unlikely of victories.

The rivalry was officially back.

"Excitement. Energy. Incredible atmosphere," was the way that Ravens head coach Steve Sumarah remembered the day to "In The Huddle." "The hype of the Panda Game lived up to the hype of the Panda Game."

"People for a week kept telling me that the Panda Game will be the best game you've ever been a part of," continued to the coach before chuckling. "They were right."

You would think that Ottawa head coach Jamie Barresi's memories from the game would be diametrically opposed to his counterpart's, but he also chose to remember the positives.

"Everybody talks about the final play," recalled the coach. "It was a good venue, it was pretty exciting for the fans and I thought it was a good, clean game."

It was. It just had a much better ending for Carleton.  It also provided a finish that was a first for Sumarah.

"I can't remember a game I've been involved in ever ending that way for me, in either direction," said an obviously happy, but realistic coach. "We were a bit lucky. We practice that play once a week on Fridays. We just make sure that players know that 'you go here, you go here', but we did get a bit lucky."

A crushing loss like that could ruin an emotionally vulnerable team, but the Gee-Gees didn't allow negativity to creep in. Barresi dealt with the loss quickly and put the loss in perspective from personal experience, evoking a memory that has haunted people involved with a game that has already become a major part of CFL lore.

"The first thing I said to them is that I didn't want a pity party around here, get over it," Barresi told 'In The Huddle.' "I told them this is nothing, I was a part of the '13th man game' and that had a lot more finality to it."

Barresi was the quarterbacks coach for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2009. The team advanced to the Grey Cup final that year against Montreal. The Riders led 27-25 with just five seconds left in the game. Als kicker Damon Duval lined up for a 43-yard field goal attempt, but it sailed wide right.

Pandemonium erupted on the Saskatchewan sideline, but it would be short lived as the team was called for having too many men on the field. Duval got a second chance from 38 yards out and didn't miss.

It would go down as perhaps the most crushing defeat in the history of the Grey Cup. When Barresi talked to the Gee-Gees about painful losses, his team knew he had been there before on a bigger stage and in a sudden-death game. For them, life would go on.

"I told them don't point fingers at anybody, there were many plays before that one that could have made the difference," said the coach, who went on to say everyone was at least partly to blame, from himself to the scout team.

"We had to put it in perspective pretty fast."

The garnet and grey did exactly that, rebounding to make the playoffs by defeating McMaster on the final Saturday of the season.

For the Ravens, the victory meant a lot more than just two points in the standings. It meant national exposure and lots of it.

"For the brand experience there was no better thing that could have happened to our program," said Sumarah. "We were on TSN's 1v1 every night for over a week, it was incredible."

That said, the coach admitted the euphoria was short lived.

"The next week we went into Laurier and they just cleaned us."

After the 53-3 thrashing at the hands of the Hawks, the birds of a different feather instituted a new policy to try and ensure that players' heads were always in the game.

"One of the things we started doing we call 'five seconds, 24 hours.'", explained the coach. "If we make a good play or a bad play we move on five seconds after it happens. If we win, I tell them for 24 hours go out and enjoy it, or if we lose, sulk for 24 hours and then move on to the next game. We had a problem not moving on."

Sumarah himself then moved from the near giddiness of recalling last year's miracle, to the sober thought of a rematch against a team that obviously wants to exact revenge from their gut-wrenching defeat of a year ago.

"This is a huge game for us for a lot of difference reasons," said the coach. "We need to see a bounce back after last week (a 70-14 loss at Western). Ottawa is one of the top four teams in our conference and a win would bring back our confidence after last week's performance. This could set us up for a home playoff game, but we really have to play well. This is a big stage for us."

The Gee-Gees will also be looking to rebound from a bad game. They trailed the Gryphons 28-0 after the first quarter last week in Guelph, losing 48-26.

"It will be emotionally charged," said Barresi. "We don't want to make this out to be more important than it is."

However, there is no hiding from the fact that the game is important. The 3-2 Ravens against the 2-2 Gee-Gees as the teams race toward a home game in the first round of the playoffs. Add that to the historic nature of the rivalry and the added factor of last year's game and you have all the ingredients for a classic.

Saturday's kickoff can't come fast enough.

The O-Zone

The Gee-Gees came out flat against the Gryphons last week and couldn't rebound. The ball was in the air a lot with Guelph's James Roberts passing for 391 yards and four touchdowns, while Derek Wendel threw for 471 yards and three majors. The Gryphons' Jacob Scarfone had another big day, hauling in seven passes for 122 yards and two TDs. He leads the country with 618 yards, 73 more than the next highest total in CIS. Johnny Augustine had 102 yards rushing for Guelph.

The Ravens were torched by Western. The Mustangs piled up 765 yards in offence in the win. Will Finch threw for 350 yards and four TDs. Despite Western calling off the dogs in most of their games this year, Finch still leads the country with 1,719 passing yards. Alex Taylor had 108-yards rushing and added a couple of touchdowns. London native Nate Behar had the only TD on the day for the Ravens. The 'Stangs picked off three passes on the day. Western led 48-14 at the half.

There was another blow out in Hamilton as McMaster rolled over York 67-10. Asher Hastings' outstanding season continued for MAC as he threw four more TD passes without an interception. So far he's thrown for 17 touchdowns against just two interceptions, an outstanding ratio. It's virtually impossible to shut down all of McMaster's receivers. The hot hand on Saturday was held by Dan Vandervoort, who caught six passes for 132 yards, two of those for TDs. Jake Heathcote had a couple of interceptions for the Marauders.

Toronto gave Queen's a major scare. The Blues trailed 22-18 with just six minutes left, but the Gaels would score 15 points in just 48 seconds to secure a 37-18 win. Less than a minute after a Nate Hobbs TD extended the Gael lead, Natu Myers picked up a loose ball at the Toronto 2-yard line and scored the clinching points. Hobbs threw for 401 yards and two majors. Jesse Andrews was busy for Queen's, carrying the ball 26 times for 155 yards. Doug Corby led all receivers with five catches for 143 yards. Varsity was led by Divante Smith's 127 yards on the ground.

Laurier's Homecoming was ruined by Windsor. The Lancers won their first game of the season 22-18. Neither team threw for 150 yards. Dillon Campbell was the big gainer for either team, with the Hawk rushing for 118 yards. Windsor's Tarrence Crawford was held to just 59 yards on 16 carries, but scored the game's only TDs on a pair of one-yard runs. Kellen Leclair led the Lancers defensively with 2.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss. The Hawks committed 20 penalties for 181 yards. The loss ruined the return of most of the 2005 Vanier Cup winners, who were honoured the night before the game by being inducted into the Golden Hawk Hall of Fame.

Gaels get past Blues
September 26, 2015 Gaels get past Blues