Guelph, ON - For the third time in the last four years, the Guelph Gryphons will be heading to the Yates Cup. On Saturday afternoon at Alumni Stadium, the Gryphons booked a spot in the Yates Cup with a 33-21 victory over the visiting Carleton Ravens in an OUA semi-final showdown. U of G running back Johnny Augustine stole the show, rushing for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns on 35 carries. The Gryphons will travel to London next Saturday (November 14) to face the Western Mustangs. Western advanced to the Yates Cup with a 32-18 win over Laurier in their OUA semi-final matchup.
You do not have to go back far to find the last time the Gryphons and Ravens met up as they also clashed just two weeks ago in what was the OUA regular season finale for both teams. In that game, which Guelph won 44-12, the Ravens were unable to score a single offensive touchdown after a dominating performance from the Gryphon defence. On Saturday at Alumni Stadium, that same Gryphon 'D' was once again impressive, and put together a nearly perfect opening half of football. Keyword, "nearly." The Ravens, who struggled to sustain anything significant offensively throughout most of the first half, were able to come up with one big play through the air to grab an early lead. On Carleton's second offensive possession of the game, Ravens QB Jesse Mills would pump fake on a receiver screen to get the Gryphon defenders to bite, before airing it out for a wide open Wilson Birch for a 69-yard touchdown. The extra point was no good, but the Ravens held an early 6-3 lead. It would prove to be one of the few mistakes the Gryphon defence would make all day.
The first half was close on the scoreboard, but not on the stats sheet. At halftime, the Gryphons had outgained Carleton 317 to 176 in total offensive yards. Guelph had 141 yards rushing, Carleton had 50. The Gryphons had run a total of 48 offensive plays, the Ravens offence had been on the field for just 26. In the first half alone, Gryphons running back Johnny Augustine was already over the century mark, rushing for 108 yards on 16 carries. In contrast, Carleton's star running back Jahvari Bennett, who was 5th in the CIS during the season with 1,008 rushing yards, was held to a modest 3.6 yards per carry (13 carries, 48 yards). Despite the lopsided stats, the Gryphons went into the locker room at the half leading just 12-9 on the strength of four Gabriel Ferraro field goals (22, 20, 30 & 18-yards respectively). The Gryphons certainly moved the ball early on, but struggled in the red zone and were repeatedly forced to settle for field goals. From Carleton's perspective, "settling for field goals" is something that is easier said than done. They can thank to U of G linebacker John Rush for that. Rush wasn't settling for anyting.
Leading the way defensively for the Gryphons, as he has all season, was fifth year middle linebacker John Rush. In the 3rd quarter, Rush would chase down Carleton's speedy backup QB Jesse St. John for one of Guelph's three sacks on the day. That sack meant that the Ravens had to send out their field goal unit. Their ensuing field goal attempt would be blocked. Guess who? Rush was able to get a hand on the Mike Domagala kick, helping the Gryphons maintain their 12-9 lead. While the Ravens offensive woes continued, the Gryphons red zone woes were about to come to an end.
Although Johnny Augustine was undoubtedly the best player on the field on Saturday, the single-biggest run of the game actually belonged to his backup, Brandon Gordon. With around 11 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, Gordon would rip off a 51-yard scamper down to the Carleton 5-yard line. Two plays later, Gordon would punch it in from 2-yards out to give Guelph a 19-9 lead. The seven points from that touchdown would prove to be the only points scored in the 3rd quarter from either team, as the Gryphons took a 10-point lead to the final quarter.
The Ravens had the wind at their backs for the 4th quarter and were able to get back into the game with a conceded saftety from the Gryphons and a field goal of their own. That meant that the Ravens deficit was trimmed from 10 down to just five as Guelph's lead was now cut to 19-14. But if Carleton was going to pull off the upset on Saturday at Alumni Stadium, they would need to find a way to stop Gryphons running back Johnny Augustine. And Augustine, in a word, looked unstoppable. The third year back out of Welland finished the game with 35 carries, 245 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those TDs came in the 4th quarter, the first of which capped off a 10 play, 60-yard drive to put Guelph up 26-14 with around six minutes remaining. Augustine's second TD of the game would come with two minutes remaining. This time, the drive summary was much shorter. In fact, it was one play. Thanks to some great work up front from the Gryphon offensive line, Augustine was able to take the handoff from James Roberts and go right up the middle of the field, untouched, for a 33-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach. For Augustine, the 35 carries and 247 yards rushing are both career-highs. Carleton would tack on a touchdown in the final minute, but the outcome was never in doubt as the Gryphons would go on to the 33-21 victory.
Gryphons QB James Roberts finished the day 17-of-31 for 208 yards. Carleton running back Jahvari Bennett finished the day with a season-low 2.7 yards per carry (18 rush attempts for just 48 yards). Gryphons return specialist Ryan Nieuwesteeg had another outstanding game, finishing with 10 punt returns for 162 yards and a long of 35. With a strong wind blowing into Alumni Stadium, Nieuwesteeg's returns were crucial in helping the Gryphons win the field position battle throughout the game.
With the win, the Gryphons advance to the 108th Yates Cup. Awaiting the Gryphons in the Yates is the No. 2-nationally ranked Western Mustangs. These two teams did not face each other during the regular season, but will square off next Saturday (November 14) with a trip to the national semi-finals on the line. The winner of the Yates Cup will have the opportunity to host a national semi-final on their own campus, as the winner of the OUA is set to play host to the winner of the RSEQ (Quebec conference) in the 2015 Mitchell Bowl (Saturday, Nov. 21).
The Gryphons last won a Yates Cup in 1996. Saturday's game versus Western will be televised live on CHCH and can also be seen live online at OUA.tv.