GUELPH, ON - Sunday afternoon in hot and humid conditions at Alumni Stadium, the Gryphon football team kicked off their 2016 season with a convincing 41-22 victory over the visiting University of Toronto Varsity Blues. The Gryphons led 36-1 at halftime and never looked back to improve to 1-0 on the season. The Gryphons finished the game with 570 yards of total offence (283 rushing, 287 passing) while the U of G defence held the Varsity Blues to just one point through the first three quarters of play.
It's a new season. Which means Gryphon fans will need to familiarize themselves with some new player names. Although the Gryphons return several key players from last year's Yates Cup winning roster, they also boast plenty of talented first and second year players who appear poised to make big impacts during the 2016 campaign. Included in that group is rookie receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker. In the first quarter, the 6-foot-3, 180 pound freshman hauled in 35 yard pass from James Roberts for what was the first reception of his promising OUA career. It set up a 5-yard touchdown run from fourth year running back Johnny Augustine as the Gryphons jumped out to an early 10-1 lead.
In the second quarter, that Gryphon lead would grow thanks in part to another one of the new names Gryphon fans may soon know well. After battling hamstring injuries during his rookie season, second year running back Mack Jones made his OUA debut and turned plenty of heads on Sunday. Jones, a powerfully built back at 6-feet tall and 220 pounds, was able to rip off several big gains in quick succession before punching it in from 5-yards out to give the Gryphons a 20-1 lead.
The Gryphon rushing attack on Sunday turned out to be a three-headed monster with Augustine, Jones and Daniel Palmer-Salmon all making significant contributions. At the 5:58 mark of the second quarter, it was Salmon-Palmer's turn to burn the U of T defence. The third year back out of Brampton would take the handoff and explode for a 45-yard touchdown run to give the Gryphons a 27-1 lead. Before the first half came to a close, the Gryphons would tack on one more rushing touchdown on a 1-yard plunge from Mack Jones, his second major of the day. Jones finished with 11 carries for a team-high 92 yards and two touchdowns. Palmer-Salmon rushed 11 times for 91 yards. Augustine left the game after just five carries and 29 yards. While second year running back Jamal Hooker entered the game late and also impressed in his OUA debut, finishing with 11 carries for 62 yards.
The Gryphons led 36-1 at the half and 39-1 after three quarters of play.
Quarterback James Roberts spread the ball around to seven different receivers while finishing the day 22 of 30 for 262 yards, 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
Defensively, the Gryphons put together an impressive performance. The Varsity Blues were unable to sustain any long drives on the day, with the Gryphon defence also forcing a couple of turnovers. Fifth year senior corner back Colin Mandich recorded an interception, fourth year linebacker Derek Drouillard scooped up a fumble recovery, and the Gryphon defence limited U of T to just 179 total yards in the opening half (compared to 339 for the Gryphons). Other notable defensive performances on the day include fifth year free safety Tristan Doughlin who was a physical presence all afternoon long, recording 8 tackles and 1 pass break up. Linebacker Luke Korol finished with a team-high 10 tackles. Riley Baines and Matthew Delmas each picked up sacks, rounding out a strong defensive display for defensive coordinator Adam Grandy's group.
On special teams, OUA All-Star kicker Gabe Ferraro got his 2016 season off to a good start by going 3-for-3 on field goals with makes from 15, 20 and 18 yards out, respectively. Ferraro also averaged 37.2 yards per punt on 11 punts. In the return game, Ryan Nieuwesteeg led the way with 66 yards on 8 punt returns.
The win also marked the first victory as a CIS head coach for Kevin MacNeill, who was named Gryphons interim head coach back in January after having spent the previous six seasons as Guelph's defensive coordinator. "It was great to get out here and get that first 'W' of the season. Just eager now to get back to work to clean up some of our mistakes and prepare for Week 2."
Up next for the Gryphons, a road trip to Windsor on Labour Day Monday to face the Lancers. Kickoff in Windsor is set for 1pm on Monday, September 5 and can be seen live online at oua.tv.
Following that, the Gryphons will return home for a matchup with the Queen's Gaels on Saturday, September 10.