Determined defensive squads set for semifinal clash in the nation’s capital

Determined defensive squads set for semifinal clash in the nation’s capital

Ottawa – Defence was dominant in their last meeting, but both offences have taken great strides since their Week 3 clash to make them among the most well-rounded clubs across the country. So when the Guelph Gryphons and Ottawa Gee-Gees take to the field for the right to play for the 111th Yates Cup, both sides will be aiming to showcase their all-around championship-caliber rosters against their fellow semifinalists.  

While the Gee-Gees used their No. 2 ranking to take advantage of a bye last week, the Guelph Gryphons took to the field for a hard-fought quarterfinal matchup with the Waterloo Warriors. After delivering an action-packed regular season finale the week prior, the Gryphons once again need to be firing on all-cylinders to take down the high-octane Warriors, which they did for the second straight week to punch their ticket to the semifinals.

Like he was in Week 9, Gryphons’ Jean-Paul Cimankinda (Ottawa, Ont.) was a difference-maker for Guelph, running his way to a 256-yard, 3-touchdown outing in the win. The ground game proved critical to the team’s eventual win, but QB Theo Landers (Maple Ridge, B.C.) was also steady under pressure to give Guelph the edge. The fourth-year pivot went 16-for-23 with 240 yards and two touchdowns, while also running one in from 26-yards out. Kade Belyk (Regina, Sask.) led the way for the receiving corps, just as he has for much of the season, while Thomas Bresciani (Weyburn, Sask.) added a touchdown grab for the semifinalists to all but put it out of reach.

That makes it two straight weeks wherein the Gryphons topped the 40-point plateau and they’ll be hoping to translate their sizzling offence into their next test in the nation’s capital. It won’t be easy; however, as the Gee-Gees will roll out one of the best defensive units in the conference. Giving up just 22.4 PPG, Ottawa has been especially strong against the pass, with a second-ranked mark of 236.5 yards against per game, and part of the reason of that success is their pick-happy secondary.

Leading the OUA with 17 interceptions, the likes of Jamie Harry (Lachine, Que.) and Luke Griese (Newmarket, Ont.) have given quarterbacks nightmares all season. Their totals of six and four, respectively, anchor an unmatched group that knows how to throw a wrench in the opposition’s plan; something that may prove tough for the Gryphons and their 11th-ranked passing offence (179.5 YPG) to overcome. Only Windsor and York average fewer yards per completion than Guelph, but that hasn’t stopped the team from putting up nearly 30 points per contest, because what they may not feature in the pass game, they make up for on the ground.

Cimankinda wasn’t overly involved in the run game early in the year, but his back-to-back 100-yard games to end the regular season, followed by his coming out party in the quarters, makes him a key part of the team’s offensive plan. Even more so, however, is Landers, who has proven his value time and time again as a dual-threat QB to the tune of 526 rushing yards on the year. Like Cimankinda, meanwhile, fellow freshman Juwan Jeffrey (Brampton, Ont.) rounds out a talented crop of runners that will look to once again shoulder the load in Saturday’s penultimate OUA game.

Dawson Odei (Oshawa, Ont.) will look to counter the Gryphons’ rushing efforts with a performance similar to that of his regular season output. The OUA’s no. 2 rusher in yards per game tallied four 100+ yard contests this season; a stretch highlighted by his season-high 153-yard performance against the Guelph Gryphons. Odei was one of the few offensive players that shone in that one, as both defences put their best foot forward in the low-scoring affair.

The Gee-Gees running back opened the scoring with one of only two majors scored throughout the entire meeting. Just a few minutes later, Campbell Fair (Carrying Place, Ont.) split the uprights to push Ottawa’s lead to 10-0 after the first quarter. An 85-yard passing play to Guelph’s Zeph Fraser (Mississauga, Ont.) cut the lead to 10-7 and wrapped up the scoring in the half. A safety pushed Ottawa’s total to 12 in the third, which is where they would top out, while a field goal from Gabe Ferraro (Mississauga, Ont.), who now sits tied atop the U SPORTS record-books for career field goals (91), brought the final score to 12-10. And while both teams have taken several strides since this Week 3 clash, defence could very well reign supreme again on Saturday.

Like Ottawa, one of Guelph’s key strengths lies on the defensive side of the ball, and at the heart of it, is fifth-year captain Luke Korol (Dundas, Ont.). The OUA’s leader in tackles has been a force this season and will have his work cut out for him with the likes of dynamic playmakers Odei, speedster Kalem Beaver (Dartmouth, N.S.), perpetual deep-threat Carter Matheson (Kingston, Ont.) and Panda Game standout Sawyer Buettner (Moose Jaw, Sask.) lining up for the hosts. But with Korol and company helping Guelph to a third-ranked 21.9 points and 123.5 rushing yards per game against, as well as under 270 yards per game in the air, Ottawa will need to be at their best to reap the benefits their offence can provide.

Whether the offensive talent finds the room to operate or the defensive prowess keeps points at a premium, both the Guelph Gryphons and Ottawa Gee-Gees know how to win different styles of games, which will make their final step before a Yates Cup appearance an intriguing one. Ottawa will hope that their home crowd at Gee-Gees Field gives them a boost when the game kicks off on Saturday, November 3 at 1:00pm, but for any fans who can’t make it to the game, it will also air live on oua.tv and via the app on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.

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