Gryphons to again battle Queen’s for OUA men’s rugby title

GUELPH – Ah, more of the same in OUA men’s rugby as the Guelph Gryphons are to meet the Queen’s Gaels to decide the league’s title for the sixth consecutive year.

When the Gryphs took to Varsity Field on a cold, blustery Sunday with the odd snowflake falling, they were already already aware that they’d have another championship-game meeting with Queen’s should they get by the Trent Excalibur in the semifinal. And they’d be overwhelming favourites to do so.

The Gryphs didn’t take long to jump ahead as Collin Smibert scored the first of Guelph’s nine tries on their way to a 53-7 victory.

“I think the scoreboard shows how good a game that was,” Guelph’s Aaron Pacha said. “If you look at it from a physicality standpoint, Trent’s always a physical team and we came out and we were tougher. We were harder than they were and they couldn’t hang.”

“Overall, I was pretty happy,” Gryphon coach Cory Hector said. “I felt like that for 60 minutes we really played the way we wanted to. There’s parts of it that we’ll continue to work on, but to have that kind of a performance with 14 guys for about 70 minutes, I’m pretty happy with the way the guys played.”

The Gryphs also used the game as a good tuneup for the gold-medal match with Queen’s.

“We executed a lot of things that we wanted to execute. We’ve had the privilege of having basically two weeks off and then we went into the playoffs and we’re looking fresh,” Gryphon captain Aria Keshoofy said. “We really executed a lot of the stuff we were looking to execute. We added in a few new wrinkles and it was nice to see that pay off and execute that, too.”

“We’ve made some small modifications to our game,” Hector said. “We felt it was things we needed to be very good at today in order to be successful and we thought it was something that would help us next week. More or less we were happy with it. I think there are a few things we’ll have to review and see how the changes that we need to make.”

The Gryphs led 31-0 at halftime before Darby Bradley connected for Trent’s try to open the second half’s scoring. Fawad Nasseri added the conversion before Guelph responded with four more tries later in the half.

Quenton McLean Lavado had three tries in the game for the Gryphs while Smibert had two and Guerschom Mukendi, Max Goodwin, Riley Di Nardo and Mitchell King added single tries. Keshoofy kicked four converts.

The Gryphs have won an OUA medal every year since 2011 when they had their first of three straight bronze-medal finishes. Their lone gold-medal win was the exciting 2016 final at Varsity Field when they edged Queen’s 25-24 in the second round of shootout kicks. All the other years were silver-medal finishes with losses to the Gaels in the final.

Having played in medal games in eight consecutive years, the Gryphs know their season has been a good one if the temperature outside is cold.

“We’re used to it now,” Hector said. “It could’ve been a lot worse. It was pouring rain yesterday and it was pouring rain on Wednesday night.”

Queen’s has hoisted the Turner Trophy as league champs six of the past seven years and 24 times since the league’s inception in 1923. The league took a hiatus from 1940 to 1944 due to the Second World War.

Guelph has won the title three times – 1974, 1998 and 2016 – and the Gryphs are hoping that their desire to claim their fourth championship win can be a deciding factor.

“In terms of physicality, I don’t think there’s a team that matches us like Queen’s does,” Pacha said. “The thing is it’s going to come down to who wants it more. Teams that have nothing to lose like Queen’s, they’re on top of they’ve won it so many years, they’re dangerous because they don’t care. But we’ve got everything. We need it and we want it and that makes us even more dangerous.”

The Gryphs can look back to their lone loss of the regular season and use it as motivation in the gold-medal match. The lone setback in their 5-1 season was a 21-10 loss to Queen’s on Gryphon Rugby Day Sept. 20 at Varsity Field.

“It was a tough game and we really saw that they were strong and that we’re not really intimidated by that,” Keshoofy said. “That’s an area we’ve been working on all year and even going into that game and I thought we did well to address anything that they had.”

The Gryphs will also fine-tune their game plan at practice this week.

“I think we’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing every week,” Pacha said. “If you look at the time we played Queen’s last, it was 7-7 at half and they only beat us by 11 points. I think we’ve got to keep doing what we have been doing.”

“If we play like we did today, I don’t think there’s many other teams that can touch us,” Keshoofy said. “I’m confident in saying that we can beat Queen’s and do well at Nationals with what we’ve done so far. It’s just been building every single week to get to this point and I think this week is just when it all clicked.”

“One, we’ll have to make sure we’re healthy and then, two, just focus on the little, little things and make sure that we’re doing the little things right,” Hector said. “I know it’s really cliché, but there’s no magic recipe. Queen’s doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and so in turn we can’t make a lot of mistakes if we want to be competitive and give them a go.”

Sunday’s final at Nixon Field on the Queen’s campus is to start at 1 p.m.

 

Gryphons 53 Excalibur 7
Trent               0-7–7
Guelph     31-22–53
 
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