Written By: Mike Hogan
At the beginning of the season, they were perhaps the biggest mystery in the OUA. The Guelph Gryphons had talent, but could they put it all together? Were they in the next tier of teams behind Western or were they not quite there? How would they respond to the head coaching change? Would interim Head Coach Todd Galloway be ready for prime time?
At times they’ve looked fantastic, their 17-point come-from-behind win over Laurier being the high point. One-point losses to Queen’s and McMaster and a two-point loss to Ottawa – all winnable games – would be at the other end of the joy spectrum.
Their other three wins have been against Toronto, Windsor and York, teams you’d expect them to beat, yet they could easily be 7-0 at this stage.
What the Gryphons appear to be is a team that doesn’t surprise you if they win, but doesn’t shock you if they lose. The same can essentially be said for the seven teams in playoff contention not named Western.
Galloway took over the head coaching duties in April from his best friend, after Kevin MacNeill was relieved of his duties. Being a coach is one thing, but being the coach is something totally different, and he’s learned something in his new role that has impressed him a great deal.
“The kids and how resilient they are,” the coach told OUA.ca. “It’s a group that’s faced adversity and fought through it. They’ve tried to create a culture of winning.”
That was no doubt tested early on. The Gryphons opened the season with their heartbreaking loss to McMaster, and after beating York, lost to the Gee-Gees in Ottawa, another game that went down to the wire.
Despite the pair of losses, and sitting with a 1-2 record, the Gryphons continued to crack the U SPORTS Top Ten ranking. No matter what coaches or players say publically, they all are well aware of where they are on the list, if they’re on it at all. Galloway admits he noticed where they were ranked early on, but didn’t dwell on it.
“We lost the first couple of games and saw that we were still ranked in the top ten,” he confessed to ‘In The Huddle’, “but we needed to focus on us. We didn’t put a lot of importance in it, we just put our head down and focused on us.”
And that seems to be working. If you were to ask someone outside the program to talk about Guelph’s strength, in all likelihood, that person would mention the team’s defence. The offence, however, has made a steady progression, scoring at least 24 points in each of the last four games.
A big part of that has been the development of quarterback Theo Landers. While the passing numbers aren’t spectacular, Galloway says the improvement of his quarterback has been substantial.
“Night and day,” said the coach. “Going into the season we just didn’t know. He had a great off-season and a great training camp. His lack of experience showed at the beginning of the year, but I think the turning point was the Queen’s game. That really helped his confidence.”
It’s the defence though that gets most of the accolades, especially linebacker Luke Korol, leading all U SPORTS players with 84 tackles,
“He’s a leader, he keeps the defence together,” said Galloway. “I’m biased, but I definitely think he should be an All-Canadian. He’s not only leading the country in tackles, but it’s sacks, breakups, tackles for a loss. He’s not just a sound tackler, he’s respecting the game every time he’s on the field.”
Korol is a throwback player. He’s not a player that will blow you away with his Combine numbers, but his instincts, tenacity, and sure tackling make him a player that far outperforms whatever the tangible numbers would indicate.
He’s also the perfect leader for a defence that doesn’t care about accolades, just getting the job done. The group will be tested big time this week as they host Waterloo in a game that has enormous playoff implications. The winner is in, the loser will need to wait and see what happens elsewhere in the conference.
The Warriors coming to town means that the Gryphs have to prep for Tre Ford, who leads the country with 22 TD passes and is eighth in rushing. It’s an interesting enough storyline, but it’s even more fascinating when the game features the two schools it’s believed Ford narrowed his decision down to when picking a university to attend.
“He’s an unbelievable kid, a great athlete, but just a great kid,” said Galloway. “It will be exciting to see him again. He’s a really good two-way quarterback. For us discipline is the key word. We can’t pin back our ears and go after him, he’ll find an open lane. We can try to spy him, but it’s tough for the spy to match him athletically. Our best way to limit him is to have a good game offensively.”
Galloway says his team has essentially been in playoff mode for some time now and feels, like most people, that Guelph is one of those teams behind Western that is part of the OUA’s version of The Group of Seven.
“I think we compete with all of them,” said the coach. “It’s great to see the parity in the conference, and I’m confident we can compete with any one of these teams.”
We’ll see how they stack up against the Warriors on Saturday and how the playoff picture ultimately plays out.
WESTERN 33 OTTAWA 0
While nobody was shocked by the final score, Western’s complete domination of the game was, perhaps, surprising. After setting the OUA rushing record a week earlier, Cedric Joseph ceded the featured back role to Alex Taylor, who responded with 225 yards rushing on 13 carries, scoring two TDs in the process. The score may have been even more one-sided, but on Western’s first three possessions, they threw an interception in Gee-Gees territory, missed a field goal, and were stopped on a third-and-goal from the Ottawa one-yard line. The ‘Stangs led 2-0 after one quarter. It was not a huge day for either passing attack. Western’s Chris Merchant was 7/12 for 126 yards with one TD and one interception, while Sawyer Buettner of the Gee-Gees completed 17 of 30 passes for just 114 yards with a pair of picks. Dawson Odei finished the day with 82 yards rushing on 21 carries. The Mustangs rolled up 471 yards in total offence compared to just 181 for U-of-O. If there was a positive for the at times penalty-plagued Gee-Gees, they were flagged just twice in the game for five yards. Western clinched the regular season title and will host any OUA playoff game they appear in.
WATERLOO 34 McMASTER 16
Waterloo erased a two-point deficit after three quarters in their win over the Marauders. Mac led 14-12 heading into the final 15 minutes, but the Warriors stormed back for 22 points in the final frame. Tre Ford looked like, well, Tre Ford, passing for 302 yards with three TDs and no INTs, while rushing for an additional 99 yards. Meanwhile Tyler Ternowski looked like, well, Tyler Ternowski. He had a dozen catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Ternowski leads the country with 12 TD catches and 1,052 yards, 271 more than Laurier’s Kurleigh Gittens Jr., who is ranked second among U SPORTS receivers. Levi Paul hauled in six passes for 105 yards for Mac. It was the first time the Warriors have defeated the Marauders since 2008.
GUELPH 46 TORONTO 8
This one was over early as the Gryphs jumped out to a 37-0 lead at the half. Kiondre Smith’s outstanding 52-yard punt return for a TD was the highlight of the afternoon. Jewan Jeffrey and Jean-Paul Cimankinda each rushed for well over 100 yards for Guelph, who saw Luke Korol lead them defensively with 7.5 tackles, three tackles for a loss, and a pair of fumble recoveries. Gabe Ferraro had a fantastic day that should help him get his groove back. He was 6/6 in field goal attempts, the longest being a 43 yarder. Vince Luccisano got the start for the Blues and passed for 262 yards and a TD. His favourite target was Dan Diodati, who caught nine passes for 97 yards.
CARLETON 35 YORK 20
The Lions hung around in what was a must-win game for them, trailing just 20-17 after three quarters, but the Ravens pulled away in the fourth. It was still a one-score game until Nathan Carter sealed the win with a 16-yard TD run with just over two minutes left. He finished with 128 rushing yards. Michael Arruda hit three different receivers with TD passes without throwing an interception. Jack Cassar had a monster day for the defence with 6.5 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. Brett Hunchak passed for 347 yards, but no TDs. The Lions only found the end zone once, on a Kayden Johnson three-yard run. York won the total yards battle 396-310. The Ravens once again hurt themselves with penalties, taking 15 for 120 yards.
LAURIER 39 WINDSOR 24
The Lancers put a scare into Laurier, who was playing in a ‘must win’ game. Windsor led 19-15 at the half thanks to a pair of Sam Girard touchdown passes. He finished with 249 passing yards. Laurier scored the only 21 points of the third quarter, including a defensive touchdown. Esson Hamilton recovered a fumble in the end zone after Christopher Haggart knocked the ball loose. Kurleigh Gittens Jr. had eight catches for 101 yards and became the leading pass catcher in OUA history in the process, passing former Lancer Jordan Brescacin, who finished with 192. Levondre Gordon rushed for 173 yards and one touchdown for the Hawks. Nathan Mesher kicked four field goals and became Laurier’s all-time leading scorer, passing Ronnie Pfeffer.