Gryphons squeeze out win to get quarter-final at home

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – The Guelph Gryphons followed their trend of close games by needing more than regulation time to nail down a spot in the OUA football league’s playoffs Saturday.

A record-tying 42-yard field goal by Gabe Ferraro on Guelph’s second possession of overtime and a fumble forced by rookie defensive end Tavius Robinson and recovery by teammate Uriel Kalenga on the very next play gave the Gryphs a 47-44 victory over the Waterloo Warriors at Alumni Stadium.

“This pretty fitting,” Gryphon coach Todd Galloway said. “We’ve had a lot of close ones this year. Just through the guys’ perseverance and how much heart they’ve shown, we’re starting to come out on the other side of these close ones which is nice to see.”

Of Guelph’s eight games this season, only two were decided by more than six points – a 33-18 win over the York Lions Sept. 3 and a 46-8 win over the Toronto Varsity Blues last weekend. All three losses were by a point or two and the other three wins were by a total of 12 points.

“They continue to make unbelievable football plays,” Galloway said of his defence that secured the win with the turnover. “That’s a great offence over there that we played today with a lot of weapons to contain. We knew that. We were just going to try to limit what they do, we can’t stop everything that they do. I was proud of those guys. They had a great game and once again they came up big when it mattered.”

Robinson was pretty modest of his efforts in the forced fumble and recovery.

“That one play doesn’t really mean that much,” he said. “Our defence balled out and our offence balled out at the end of the game. It’s a team thing. That play doesn’t mean nothing. We’ve got to get ready for next week. This game’s playoffs now and we’ve got to get ready for next weekend.”

However, it was the reach of the lanky rookie that knocked the ball away from Waterloo quarterback Tre Ford.

“I went upfield on my pass rush and I saw him sneak back,” Robinson said. “I saw the ball was loose so I just stretched my arm across and got it out. That’s what we practise in practice so I just did what we do.”

And Kalenga was there to scoop up the free ball.

“It was just pure will,” Kalenga said. “Just running to the ball, keeping my eye on the ball and playing until the whistle blows. In football, anything can happen and you always have to run to the ball. On defence we’re taught to always run to the ball. Always run, run, run because you never know what can happen.”

What can happen is a ball free for the taking.

“Thank God that ball was there and I could run to it and I got it,” he said half an hour after the game, still clutching the football. “That’s my baby now.”

For Ferraro, the field goal that sent the game into overtime brought back memories of a missed try in the one-point loss to the Queen’s Gaels Sept. 22. In that game, Queen’s called a time out and Ferraro stayed on the field. Waterloo called a time out this time, but Ferraro went to the sidelines to talk with coach and brother Daniel Ferraro.

There was no time out in OT, but the pressure wasn’t any less.

“At the end of the day, it was just another kick,” Gabe said. “I always have to make the next kick and that just happened to be the next kick. It was the same as any other kick. I just took it slow and took it light and it is what it is.”

There were no thoughts of the disappointment against Queen’s.

“I think that definitely helped us, the whole team, kind of learn how to fight back from adversity, how to fight back from losing and just keep fighting until the game’s over,” Gabe said. “We learned a lot.”

In a game where a win was Guelph’s best bet of getting into the playoffs, the Gryphs and Warriors engaged in an epic battle that saw neither team get a double-digit lead and no lead was ever safe.

Waterloo was up 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, but Guelph led 18-9 at halftime. The teams traded the lead throughout the second half with Waterloo ahead 30-27 at the end of the third quarter.

The Warriors looked to be in good shape with 1:17 to go in regulation time when quarterback Tre Ford plunged into the Guelph end zone from a yard out and Caleb Girard converted the touchdown to put Waterloo ahead 37-34.

However, the Gryphs started their final drive on their own 20-yard line and used two receptions by Kade Belyk, one by Thomas Bresciani and three bruising runs by rookie running back Jean-Paul Cimankinda to get the ball to the Waterloo 25 where Ferraro hit a 32-yard field goal to force the overtime shootout.

In the overtime, the teams took turns getting possession at the opposition’s 35-yard line.

The Warriors finished the first possession with a Ford pass to Gordon Lam for a four-yard TD and Girard converted.

Cimankinda ploughed ahead six yards into the end zone on Guelph’s first possession and Ferraro’s convert tied it up.

The Gryphs got the ball first for the second possessions and looked like they might be in trouble when they settled for a 42-yard field goal by Ferraro to shoot ahead by three. That field goal was the fourth of the game for Ferraro and 22nd of the season to give him 91 regular-season field goals during his five years as a Gryphon to equal the U Sports record set three years ago by Johnny Mark of Calgary.

“It’s pretty cool,” Ferraro said. “I’ve got to give thanks to God first of all and my family. This is more for them than anything. They’re happier than anyone. Just seeing their faces afterward and seeing my teammates’ faces, that’s what it’s all about.”

While the Gryphs didn’t look to be in the best shape after the field goal in OT, the defence came up big again by forcing the turnover that gave them the victory and started a mass celebration on the field.

During the game the Gryphs had received touchdowns from Kian Schaffer-Baker on a 53-yard run on a double reverse and a 17-yard toss from QB Theo Landers, Jason Richards on a return of a blocked punt when the ball never touched the field, Belyk on a four-yard pass from Landers and Cimankinda on his six-yard run to the end zone. Ferraro hit field goals from 24, 27, 32 and 42 yards, a rouge and four converts.

Waterloo had two touchdown receptions by Tyler Ternowski (on 39- and 19-yard passes from Ford) to give him an OUA single-season record of 14 receiving TDs. Mitch Kernick (17-yard pass from Ford) Richmond Nketiah (two-yard pass from Ford), Ford (one-yard run) and Lam (four-yard pass from Ford) also scored touchdowns for the Warriors while Girard kicked six converts and the Gryphs conceded a safety.

The win not only secured the Gryphs a playoff berth, when all the calculations were done following the completion of all the games in the league Saturday, they were third-place finishers at 5-3.

The Western Mustangs finished first at 8-0 while the Ottawa Gee-Gees were second at 6-2. Both will get byes in next weekend’s quarter-finals. The Gryphs, Carleton Ravens and McMaster Marauders finished in that order at 5-3, their record against common opponents breaking the tie. Both Waterloo and the Laurier Golden Hawks finished at 4-4, the Warriors getting the final spot in the playoffs thanks to their Sept. 15 win over Laurier.

And if you think the Warriors and Gryphs can turn in another game like that one, you’ll get a chance to see when they meet in next Saturday’s quarter-final at Alumni Stadium. Game time is 1 p.m.

“We’ve definitely got to watch film and learn from the mistakes that we made,” Galloway said. “We’ve got to finish better when we get the opportunity. We’ve got to try to turn them into a one-dimensional offence a little bit more and not let them getting the run game going so much. When they can get both phases of that offence going, they become pretty tough to stop.”