BURLINGTON, Ont. – After finishing the season with an identical 5-3 record, the No. 4 uOttawa Gee-Gees and No. 5 Guelph Gryphons will clash in the nation’s capital with a semifinal berth on the line.
The fourth and fifth seeds will be meeting for the second time this season, but it will be tough to provide a more compelling on-field product than in their regular season debut. The teams may have combined for just one touchdown on the day – a 74-yard pass from James Roberts to Jacob Scarfone – but a collection of field goals kept the end result up in the air. Guelph’s Gabe Ferraro tallied four field goals for the Gryphons, including the game-tying kick with just 0:01 on the clock, while Ottawa’s Lewis Ward connected on six of his eight attempts, with a pair of overtime marks to power the Gee-Gees to the 24-21 win.
It isn’t often that the kickers shine brightest, but just like in Week 1, it will be two of the best going toe-to-toe once again, with each coming off record-setting efforts since then. Ward, now in his 5th year, has set a new OUA record for career field goals, while Ferraro ended the season with a 7/7 performance against Carleton to give him an OUA record 33 makes on the year. But while the recent news may have surrounded these special teams standouts, the season as a whole tells a far more complex tale.
Despite the identical records, the two quarterfinal combatants have taken winding paths to their Saturday matchup. Ottawa opened the season on a high, with three straight wins to kick off their gridiron festivities, while the Gryphons settled for back-to-back overtime losses to open their 2017 campaign. Guelph has since picked up momentum; however, notching three straight wins to close the book on their regular season, including a clutch victory over defending Yates Cup champions, Laurier. For Ottawa, a 33-30 double-overtime loss in the iconic Panda Game was rebounded with a thrilling 40-30 playoff-clinching win against Waterloo. Last week, a homecoming loss to the undefeated Mustangs in London closed out the regular season for the Gee-Gees.
Despite some ups and downs, Ottawa has looked strong at home all season – going 3-0 at Gee-Gees Field – and will look to keep their streak rolling against the visiting Gryphons. Helping them to do just that will be the likes of 1st year QB Alex Lavric, who threw for 1,409 yards and 8 TDs to go along with a 55.4% completion rate; 4th year RB Bryce Vieira, who rushed 95 times for 460 yards to top the Gee-Gees back field; and 3rd year WR Carter Matheson, who led the team with 38 receptions and nearly 500 yards on the season.
Even under the direction of this capable crew, however, the team’s offense was inconsistent moving the ball in 2017. Ottawa rushed for just two touchdowns, while adding an average of just over one passing TD per game as well. But while the team’s tenth ranked yards per game (338.3) and eighth-ranked points per game (23.8) average didn’t tip the scales toward a playoff berth, their top-tier impression on defence was certainly a standout; something they have in common with their opponent this weekend.
On the defensive side of the ball, the teams put up similar numbers in many categories. Guelph does have the edge in points per game allowed (24.5) and yards per game allowed (368.8), but it is Ottawa that has been able to make the big time plays on D. To go along with their six fumble recoveries, the Gee-Gees snatched an OUA-leading 13 interceptions and three defensive touchdowns; something that any offence must be on the lookout for.
Helping the Gryphons avoid being bitten by this big-play defence will be freshman QB Theo Landers, who has been a steady presence for Guelph after starting QB James Roberts went down with an injury. While Landers hasn’t put up the flashiest of numbers in his time under centre, he has used his accuracy and, predominantly, his legs to not only give Guelph a chance to win, but actually get them the victories they needed down the stretch.
Landers does have a star-studded lineup to help him on the offensive side; however, including scoring threats at receiver and in the back field. Jacob Scarfone tied for fourth in the OUA in receiving touchdowns (5) to go along with nearly 80 YPG, while Johnny Augustine rushed for a total of nine (2nd in OUA) along with over 86 yards on the ground. Ranking in the bottom half of the conference in several offensive categories, like their opponents, suggests that defence may in fact reign supreme in the two teams’ encore performance.
So can the uOttawa Gee-Gees run their unbeaten home record to 4-0 with a quarterfinal win or will the Guelph Gryphons build on their strong finish to up-end their fourth-seeded foes?
The winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal tilt will advance to the semifinals – taking place on November 4.