Things work out, football Gryphons qualify for playoffs
Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal
GUELPH — Everything fell in place for the Guelph Gryphons to stretch their streak of OUA football playoff appearances to five consecutive years.
The Gryphs went into their final game of the regular season Saturday needing to beat the York Lions and also requiring wins by the Laurier Golden Hawks and Ottawa Gee-Gees to keep a chance of defending their OUA Yates Cup championship win of last year despite a 3-5 record.
The Gryphs did their part as they dropped the Lions 52-8. Laurier came through with a 38-9 win over the Windsor Lancers and Ottawa won in dramatic fashion, scoring a two-point convert in overtime to edge the Queen’s Gaels 42-41.
However, the Gryphs were unaware of the scores elsewhere as instructions were given for no scores to be announced while the team was out of its locker room. Scores were announced to the crowd at halftime and after the lengthy game.
“We were just focusing on our task,” Guelph running back Johnny Augustine said. “That was the most important thing.”
“It really wasn’t a worry for us,” quarterback James Roberts said. “We were just focused on today’s game and that was it.”
“We didn’t want them focused on anything but winning this game,” Gryphon interim head coach Kevin MacNeill said.
The Gryphs had no problem with York as the hosts led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, 27-0 at halftime and 37-8 after the third quarter.
“We take it one game at a time,” Augustine said. “Things clearly haven’t been our way this season, but this is what we needed. We knew how big it mattered for us and we knew that playoffs are next week, but we thought this was a playoff game. That was what we were focusing on and taking it as a playoff game.”
“We approach every game like a playoff game,” MacNeill said. “The kids were focused all week and we definitely came in with a good game plan and stuck to it.’
Augustine ran for touchdowns of one and nine yards, Kade Belyk grabbed a pass from Roberts in a scoring play that covered 73 yards, Geoff Bezruchko caught a 13-yard TD pass from Roberts and Jamal Hooker scored a TD on a 31-yard run. The Gryphs also had two safeties and Gabe Ferraro kicked five converts, a rouge and field goals of 14 (two of them), 18 and 28 yards.
“I’m always going to say it’s because of our offensive line,” Augustine said. “Whenever you run for that many yards, whoever it may be, no matter who’s in the backfield, it’s because of those big boys up front. Because of them, that’s why we had so much room.”
“We wanted to run the football on them and we thought we could run on them and kind of establish that identity,” MacNeill said. “The weather, the wind really kind of adjusts on when we huddle, when we don’t huddle, when we go fast and slow down the clock.”
On a blustery, cool day, the Gryphs had their running game working as they gained 422 yards on 61 carries for an average of just under seven yards a carry. York gained 59 yards on 17 carries.
“We understand when it’s raining or really cold or whatever it may be, it comes down to who us, who can run the ball better,” Augustine said. “That’s why we play this sport and that’s why I play the position that I do because I understand that there are going to be times when the team relies on me or whoever is in the backfield.”
Mack Jones gained 141 yards on 16 carries, Augustine 133 yards on 22 carries, Hooker 83 yards on four carries and Jean Pierre 35 yards on nine carries.
“We imposed the ball on the ground,” Roberts said. “If we can impose our will on the ground like that, there’s no reason to throw. If we’re getting five or six yards a carry, that’s fantastic and that just shows how good we are up front and our backs.”
The wind made passing difficult, although the Lions kept trying. Quarterback Brett Hunchak attempted 39 passes, completed 18 of them including a six-yard TD strike to Kayden Johnson for 196 yards and had two intercepted.
Roberts and late fill-in Theo Landers completed 11 of 17 pass attempts for the Gryphs for 186 yards and one interception. Belyk caught five passes for 115 yards and A’dre Fraser caught two for 35 yards.
The Lions did take the majority of the 36 penalties accepted during the game as they were assessed 184 yards on 23 calls. The Gryphs were moved back 126 yards on 13 calls.
Gryphon rookie Jordan Terrio returned eight punts for a total of 168 yards.
Such was Guelph’s dominance that they had possession of the ball for 13 minutes longer than York. That’s two minutes shy of a whole quarter of possession.
“I’m happy for the fifth-year guys,” MacNeill said. “I’m happy this isn’t their last game and they get the opportunity to live on. For those guys working their butts off for five years for us, it’s a great feeling for them.”
Gryphs in their fifth and final year of eligibility include receiver A’dre Fraser, offensive lineman Kyle Fraser-Audit, defensive backs Colin Manditch and Tristan Doughlin (he had two interceptions Saturday) and defensive linemen Corey Flude and Donnie Egerter.
The game was marred by a serious injury to York defensive lineman Rossini Sandjong-Djabome in the fourth quarter. He was taken off the field on a stretcher. After the game, the teams gathered at centre field and both said prayers for him.
The Western Mustangs and Laurier finished atop the league with 7-1 records and will get byes in the quarter-finals. Western goes in as the top seed due to its 45-26 victory over Laurier at London Oct. 1.
The McMaster Marauders, Carleton Ravens and Ottawa finished with 6-2 records and were placed in that order after tie-breakers were used. The Gryphs and Queen’s finished at 3-5 with Guelph getting the sixth and final playoff berth thanks to its 38-29 win over the Gaels Sept. 10 at Alumni Stadium.
Others not qualifying for the playoffs were the Toronto Varsity Blues, York, Windsor and Waterloo Warriors. Toronto, York and Windsor each finished at 2-6 while Waterloo had its second consecutive winless season and third in six years.
The Gryphs are to play the McMaster Marauders at McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium in their quarter-final game Saturday. Game time is 4 p.m. The Marauders defeated the Gryphs 27-15 there Oct. 1.
The other quarter-final pits rivals Ottawa and Carleton at Carleton Saturday at 1 p.m.