(No) October Surprise - Gryphs fall to Lancers

Monday, October 16, 2006

Written by Stephen Sweet

The Guelph Gryphons football team took an unfortunate step backwards on Saturday in their attempt to make the post-season for the third straight year when they fell to the Windsor Lancers by a score of 23-13. With this game being the last home game for around a dozen seniors, and with it being a nationally televised game, there certainly was no shortage of hype or emotion. But the Gryphons weren’t able to harness it positively in the early going, with a couple of dropped passes and needless penalties impairing their early drives.

On Windsor’s opening drive, there was a balanced run and pass attack that allowed them to get into the red zone. The Lancers got to within a few yards of the end zone, but passes on both second and third down were denied by rock-steady defensive back Sean Riley. Neither team had any significant point-scoring offense in the first quarter, with the only points coming from a conceded safety by Guelph (as punter Rob Maver was standing ten yards deep in his own end zone) and a single point from a punt through the end zone by Windsor punter/starting quarterback Dan Lumley. Windsor led 3-0 after the opening quarter.

The Gryphons’ attack was the first to wake up in the second quarter, and they did it at a crucial time. Facing a second and long from within their own 5-yard line, OUA passing leader Justin Dunk rolled out to his left, running behind the uprights in the end zone until he emerged just outside the end zone and launched a pass towards graduating slotback Adam Slomer. Slomer made the catch, and then deked his way past a couple of Lancers for a 79-yard gain. That play seemed to spark the Gryphons, who on the next play completed an 18-yard pass to Lorne Foster. Following a Maver 18-yard field goal, the Gryphons drew even at 3.

The Gryphons and Lancers played pretty evenly for most of the second quarter, with neither team able to get a strong drive going in the windy conditions. In the end, it came down to who would make a mistake first, and unfortunately, it was Gryphons rookie running back Nick Fitzgibbon. On a second down at their own 30, Fitzgibbon fumbled the ball as he reached the line of scrimmage. Tyler Horricks of Windsor recovered and the Lancers got great field position. They did not waste the advantageous positioning, taking less than 90 seconds to score, on a Daryl Stephenson 3-yard run. The score was almost evened before the half thanks to strong play by QB Dunk. However, despite completing a 41-yard pass to Jeff Keegan, and running on a critical second down for a 12-yard gain, the Gryphons had to settle for another field goal, and went into the locker room down 10-6.

Nick Fitzgibbon started the second half on a mission. After getting a 26-yard return off of the half’s opening kickoff, he caught a Dunk pass and bulled his way to a 20-yard gain. Unfortunately, it would be all for naught as the Gryphons couldn’t capitalize after being unable to convert on a second-and-1, or the following third-and-1, which was the second of 3 times that it had happened in the game. Missed opportunities continued to be the theme of the game for the Guelph, who recovered a blown punt snap by the Lancers in Windsor territory but couldn’t muster anything. Windsor ended up taking a 13-6 lead into the fourth quarter, where they followed a long drive with another field goal. Shortly after, the Gryphons penalty woes saw them leave the ball at the Windsor 25-yard line, where the Lancers first play of the drive proved to be all they needed. Lumley threw a quick out pass to Glenn Mackay, who broke by the Gryphon tacklers and went 85 yards down the field for the touchdown, thus increasing the lead to 23-6.

At long last, the Gryphons started playing with some urgency. Dunk found his veteran receivers, Foster, Keegan, and McKoy, all of whom made spectacular catches on a drive towards the end zone. The successful drive was capped off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Keegan, the third all-time Gryphon in receiving yards, to cut the deficit to 10. However, more needless penalties, including removing a helmet on the field of play and an ejection for punching an opponent, meant that the Lancers had ample opportunity to take valuable time off of the clock. When Guelph did recover the ball, they scrambled to make up for lost time and in the end turned over the ball on downs, failing on their third-and-1 attempt by mere inches.

In the final home game for graduating veterans like Slomer, Peter De Gouw, and Adam Wigdor, it was a disappointing finish. Their loss, combined with Queen’s overtime victory against York, means that their game against McMaster in Hamilton next week is likely their last games in the OUA. For some of them though, playing at Ivor Wynne stadium next week might not be the last time they see a CFL field. Players like Keegan, McKoy and possibly Shaun Arbuckle could be drafted or signed by a CFL team by next year, should they choose to go that route. They certainly wouldn’t be the first Gryphon alumni to make it in the CFL, with Toronto Argonauts defensive captain Mike O’Shea and receiver Michael Palmer as a couple of example of Gryphons who went on to successful professional football careers.

It will also be interesting to see if young quarterback Justin Dunk can find as much success next year with a much less inexperienced core of receivers. For people such as Dunk, Fitzgibbon, and even first year head coach Kyle Walters, this has been a learning experience, where there have been many positive strides, and the hope is that things will continue to improve for the Gryphs. As the Brooklyn Dodgers used to say, “Wait ‘till next year”.

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