Let’s just say it wasn’t an ideal situation.
When the Guelph Gryphons looked up at the scoreboard after three quarters last Saturday, they were facing a 39-26 deficit to the hometown Waterloo Warriors, and were sporting a 2-3 record with their playoff hopes slipping away. And by the way, they also had their back-up quarterback leading the way. Little did they know it at the time, but the Gryphs had the black and gold right where they wanted them.
Third-year QB Theo Landers, playing for the injured James Roberts, was making his first OUA start. He wasn’t great, but wasn’t horrible in the first 45 minutes, but something started to click for the Maple Ridge, B.C. product when the pressure was at its most intense.
He threw a five-yard TD pass to Jacob Scarfone on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut the lead to six, but just two plays later, the Warriors scored a touchdown of their own. For many teams that would have essentially ended the game, but Landers led Guelph on a seven-play TD drive, capped by the QB calling his own number for a five-yard score.
A pair of Gabriel Ferraro field goals would tie things up, but the Warriors would counter with a FG of their own to take a three point lead. After the ensuing kick-off, Landers and the Gryphons took over at their own 45-yard line with just 58 seconds left on the clock.
After two pass completions, Landers would hand the ball off to Johnny Augustine, who raced 22 yards for the go-ahead score with just 22 seconds left, helping the Gryphons escape with a 53-49 win to keep their post-season hopes alive.
In the fourth quarter alone, Landers was 8-11 passing for 94 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 20 yards and another TD.
Just a routine win, right Kevin MacNeill?
“Through it all, we really believed in what we were doing,” the second-year head coach told In The Huddle. “We remained focused on the small details and continued to stick to the process.”
Running that through the world renowned “In The Huddle Coach-speak Translator”, MacNeill essentially said “Holy crap that was awesome!”
The Gryphons’ 3-3 record leaves them two points ahead of Carleton for the final playoff spot, though the Ravens have a game in hand. The schedule evens up as Guelph has a bye this week, while the black birds travel to Western.
The Gryphs have a couple of weeks to prepare for their next game, where they host Laurier, a team they played well against in 2016 before ultimately losing 27-25.
“Laurier is a really good team,” MacNeill said of the school where he was a star linebacker, graduating with the Hawks record for career tackles. “We’re really focused on that game and we did play them tight last year.”
Guelph has just two games left – the aforementioned tilt against Laurier, followed by an enormous game at Carleton where the final playoff spot may be determined. That doesn’t put any additional pressure on Guelph, who put themselves in a 0-2 hole after losing their first two games to Ottawa and Western, both in overtime.
“After we lost those first two games, we’ve been in playoff mode,” said the coach. “I’m really happy with the chemistry in the locker room and the leadership job our vets have been doing. There’s so much belief and trust in each other, and that’s been ongoing.”
MacNeill isn’t sure if Roberts or Landers will get the start against Laurier. Roberts, who left the McMaster game after a helmet-to-helmet hit, is going through the protocol to make sure he’s healthy enough to play.
“It’s more up to the doctors than it is up to us,” said MacNeill. “We’re concerned about his safety first.”
And also concerned about getting into the playoffs. Despite their .500 record, the Gryphons can get to the playoffs through the front door with a win or two in their final games. After the two heartbreaking losses to start the season, combined with the injury to their starting quarterback, a trip to the playoffs would be a pretty significant accomplishment.
The O Zone:
Landers would finish with 205 passing yards and 106 more on the ground to lead all rushers. Waterloo’s offence is third in the country with an average 42 points per game, trailing only Calgary and Western. The Warriors hurt themselves by taking 16 penalties for 127 yards. Waterloo clinches a playoff spot with a win at Queen’s.
Western won the battle of the unbeaten in convincing fashion, rushing for 361 yards in a 29-13 victory at Laurier. Quarterback Chris Merchant surprisingly led all rushers with 143 yards. Alex Taylor added 124 more, while Cedric Joseph chipped in with 80 yards and two TDs. Marc Liegghio was a perfect 5-5 in field-goal attempts. Laurier moved the ball effectively for the most part, with Michael Knevel passing for 317 yards, while Levondre Gordon added 107 on the ground, but the Hawks could muster just one TD on the day.
As exciting as Guelph/Waterloo and Western/Laurier were, the most exciting game of the day happened in the capital. The annual Panda Game between Carleton and Ottawa was played before a sell-out crowd of 24,420. The contest featured multiple lead changes; an 84-yard punt return TD; touchdown passes of 27, 49 and 75 yards; a 45-yard FG on the last play of regulation; a 256-yard rushing performance by Carleton’s Nathan Carter; double overtime; and a game-winning TD run by Ravens QB Michael Arruda, who transferred to Carleton from, you guessed it, Ottawa. It’s amazing how high the bar has been set in this series in terms of excitement, yet almost every year the teams jump over it. It was a spectacular advertisement for OUA football.
Queen’s won its first game of the season in convincing fashion, 54-10 over Windsor. Nate Hobbs threw for 486 yards, while Jake Puskas added 135 on the ground. Chris Osei-Kusi had a huge day for the Gaels, catching eight passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Marvin Gaynor had another afternoon where he cracked the 100-yard mark, rushing for 109 yards. Daniel Metcalfe finished with 15 tackles and now leads the country in that category with 51.
York gave McMaster all it could handle early on in their game. The Lions’ Dante Mastrogiuseppe was outstanding. He punted the ball out of bounds inside the MAC 22-yard line six times in the opening half, with five of those being inside the 15. It was 14-1 at the break before the Marauders started to get their offence in gear and ended up with winning 32-2. McMaster finished with 561 total yards compared to York’s 142. Jackson White is looking more comfortable at quarterback every week for MAC. He threw for over 300 yards, with fellow freshman Justice Allin leading all receivers with 106 yards. Jordan Lyons rushed for 181 yards on 25 carries.