Kingston, Ont. (by David DiCenzo) – There are seemingly a couple certainties in November – the temperature plummets and the Queen’s Gaels collide with the Guelph Gryphons in the Ontario University Athletics men’s rugby championship match. The two provincial powerhouses have dominated the conference for years and they have again earned the opportunity to battle for the Turner Trophy this Saturday, November 9 when Guelph travels to the Gaels’ Nixon Field pitch.
The match will be the third straight provincial final played in Kingston and the sixth consecutive championship meeting between the two OUA sides. Kick off is at 1 pm with the game streamed live on oua.tv.
Queen’s is in search of an historic 25th OUA banner, the most of any school, with six of those victories coming in the past seven years. The only team to break up that run is the Gryphons, who won a 25-24 thriller in penalty kicks back on November 13, 2016. Incredibly, that was the last time an OUA opponent overcame the Gaels, who have reeled off 27 straight wins, including the past two finals over Guelph (62-17 in 2017 and 48-10 in 2018).
That record of success suggests it will take an incredible effort for Queen’s to be dethroned. But the Gryphons are a team that enters the final with a unique understanding of the Gaels and what it would take to beat them. Head coach Cory Hector’s side can look back to that 2016 season for inspiration, not just for the win in the final but also because Guelph completed the season double after taking their regular-season meeting 18-12 on September 11 of that year.
But the Gryphons might prefer to rely on the more recent history between the rivals, when Queen’s left Guelph with a fairly tight 21-10 win just under two months ago. The Gryphons were always in that match with a game-tying try from Colin Lynch to make it 7-7 and a successful penalty kick from fly half Aria Keshoofy that got the hosts close at 14-10 Gaels. The two-time defending champions would ice it with a 61st-minute try from Trevor Aelgason to hand Guelph its only loss of the season.
Keshoofy has been the catalyst for a Gryphon team that finished 5-1 and tops in the OUA West with a division-best 227 points scored. The Population Medicine Masters student from Alliston, Ont. has been a steadying presence after taking over kicking duties in 2019 and a player that others look to for leadership. He is a primary figure in Guelph’s prolific attack and a true ironman, having played every single minute of the season so far.
The Gryphons will also lean heavily on third-year centre Dalton Campbell. The Management Economics and Finance student from Calgary, Alta. is an integral part of the offence when Guelph builds phases, but is equally adept at halting the opposition’s runs. It’s not about stats for Campbell, who has earned his status as one of the program’s cornerstones. He and Keshoofy are hungry to lead the side to a championship against the OUA’s most successful team one week after taking down Trent in a lopsided 53-7 semifinal.
“We won’t have to say much to the guys,” says Hector, now in his fourth year at the helm of the Gryphons after directing the team to the third OUA title in program history back in 2016. “This is a game that everyone is excited for. From earlier in the season, I think the guys built a lot of belief in our ability and have grown from there.
“We are very excited for the weekend.”
Queen’s head coach David Butcher takes his battle-tested team into the championship match knowing that they have precisely what it takes to keep the Turner Trophy in Kingston for a third straight year – if the team plays to its potential. The Gaels score a lot (a conference-high 326 points) and they’re incredibly stingy defensively (an OUA-best 53 points allowed). They haven’t tasted a defeat in almost a full calendar year when the UBC Thunderbirds beat them 21-10 in the Canadian University Rugby Championship gold-medal match back on November 25, 2018.
Queen’s powered through the regular season thanks in part to the work of fifth-year star scrum half Dylan Young and third-year prop Stefan Zuliani. Young, a Political Studies major from Toronto, Ont. is one of the most dynamic players in the country and was near the top of the conference in tries scored. Guelph will have to contain him to have a legitimate shot at taking the banner.
Zuliani starred in last week’s 61-21 dismantling of the Brock Badgers in the other OUA semifinal. He scored the first two tries of the match, showing an ability to run through defenders, who bounced off the powerful Thornhill, Ont. native. Young also contributed 15 points in that critical game with a try and five conversions.
There have been several constants in this heated rivalry and though Queen’s has won the majority of the championship meetings, the Gryphons have played the role of disruptor before. Both have booked their spots at the national tournament but a Guelph win in the hostile environment of Nixon Field would go a long way towards erasing the pain of the past two finals.