In The Huddle: A fun-filled start for new Gryphons coach

Photo by Kyle Rodriguez
Photo by Kyle Rodriguez

Burlington, Ont. (by Mike Hogan) - It was one of the most interesting stories of the U SPORTS football off-season.

The Guelph Gryphons decided to move on from interim Head Coach Todd Galloway, despite his team surprising most by making it to the Yates Cup final. He’d be replaced by Ryan Sheahan, the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at the University of Calgary.

That left the Dinos in search of an OC, that void soon filled by Ryan’s father Pat, the long-time head coach at Queen’s.

The younger Sheahan seemed destined to become a head coach. The family’s coaching roots run deep, with Ryan’s brother Devan now coaching the receivers at Guelph.

Ryan had great success in his time with Calgary as an assistant. His teams lost just three regular-season games in four years, reaching the Vanier Cup once. He also saw his two quarterbacks, Andrew Buckley and Adam Sinagra, each set the U SPORTS single-season record for passing yards, with each QB winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as the top player in the country.

But this is his first crack at being the top dog. How is he liking it so far?

“I’m having tons of fun,” he told In The Huddle. “There’s been a learning curve at times. Sometimes I want to act like I’m just the offensive coordinator, but have to realize I’m essentially the general manager. One of the biggest challenges is having the players learn a new system and new terminology.”

If the job itself is a ton of fun, he must have been downright giddy last week watching his team defeat the Warriors 39-13 at Waterloo to improve its record to 3-1.

The script was a familiar one for Guelph. Play stifling defence, establish the run, and get just enough out of the passing game. The only thing missing from the usual M.O. was a kickoff return TD from Clark Barnes, who did not play against Waterloo. He had one in each of the first three games.

Sheahan is used to winning, but the way this offence has gone about it is quite different from his days in Southern Alberta. Buckley and Sinagra were both pass-first quarterbacks, as opposed to the player Sheahan is now working with, Theo Landers. The native of Maple Ridge, B.C. has a strong arm, but is even more adept at making things happen with his legs.

He’s been inconsistent though, always leaving you wanting a little bit more. For instance, in the win over the Warriors, the Gryphons had zero passing yards after the first quarter.

Sheahan knows his QB is a work in progress.

“I’m going to help him as much as I can,” said Sheahan. “Like it is with any quarterback, I don’t know what they’ve learned (before Sheahan arrived) and there are some bad habits you have to break. I think we’ve done some of that with Theo, especially with his footwork. He has incredible athletic ability.”

It’s tough to complain when the team is averaging 34.8 points per game, third-best in the conference, but the Gryphons have scored three defensive touchdowns to go with the Barnes hat-trick. The offence has scored 10 TDs so far.

Perhaps the best thing the offence has going for it is that it gets to practice against the Guelph defence on a daily basis. It’s a group that’s allowed just 19.3 points per game, and leads the conference with 15 sacks.

“They’re fun to go up against every night in practice,” said Sheahan, “because they always give us different challenges.”

Speaking of challenges, this week’s is a doozy. The Western Mustangs invade Alumni Stadium Saturday afternoon for a Yates Cup rematch, a game won 63-14 by the ‘Stangs a year ago.

The purple ponies are stacked once again, and at 4-0 they’ve won their games by an average score of 37-21. So, what do they do best Coach Sheahan?

“They score points,” he said matter-of-factly. “I left Ontario after 2014 and they’re still a scoring machine. They’re very good at every position. I admire Chris Merchant’s toughness, and his deep ball is on point.”

The coach continued.

“They’re No. 1 in the country for a reason,” said Sheahan. “They’re well coached and they don’t give up many big plays. They have no losses in the province since 2016.”

Will his group use last year’s OUA championship game as added motivation?

“I don’t think it’s a revenge game,” stated the coach. “But here’s a commonality between me and this team, we’re both upset at how 2018 ended. I didn’t like how the Saskatchewan game ended (a 48-13 Calgary loss to the Huskies in the Hardy Cup final). They didn’t like how the Yates Cup ended.”

This game will be a fantastic test for the Gryphons, and an indication how much they’ve closed the gap between themselves and the Mustangs, if at all.

THE O-ZONE:

GUELPH 39, WATERLOO 13

After a plodding start offensively for both teams, the Gryphons turned it up a notch and ended up with an easy win at Waterloo. How tough were things offensively? Guelph had zero passing yards after the first quarter, and led 10-3 at the half. The second half belonged to OUA Offensive Player of the Week Kaine Stevenson. The freshman out of Windsor finished the day with 21 carries for 194 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, Tavius Robinson sacked Tre Ford three times, while also recording four tackles for loss. Kade Belyk was the top receiver, catching seven passes for 82 yards. The Warriors moved the ball well enough, but couldn’t find the end zone. Ford passed for 301 yards, but no TDs. The Warriors rushed for 147 yards, but just one score. Ford was sacked five times on the day; no easy feat.

OTTAWA 25, LAURIER 22

The fourth quarter of this game could have huge ramifications for both teams at season’s end. Laurier’s Nathan Mesher kicked a 30-yard field goal at the start of the final quarter to give the Hawks a 22-3 lead. Two minutes later Laurier’s Malcolm Thompson fumbled a punt in his own end zone, which was recovered by Ottawa’s Rashad Spooner for a touchdown. Midway through the quarter, Mesher’s 21-yard punt was returned for a TD by Kalem Beaver, then with less than two minutes left, quarterback Ben Maracle hit Tristan Park for a touchdown to complete the comeback. A sack in the end zone of Laurier QB Connor Carusello in the dying seconds finished the scoring. Levondre Gordon rushed for 188 yards for Laurier, who held the Gee-Gees ground game to just 28 yards. Maracle passed for just 170 yards, but the Hawks lost five fumbles on the day, and Mesher threw a fourth-quarter interception – it was that kind of day for Laurier, who led 5-3 at the half. The Hawks won the time of possession by a whopping 15 minutes. OUA Defensive Player of the Week Kyle Rodger of Ottawa had 11.5 tackles and forced two of the five fumbles.

QUEEN’S 15, WINDSOR 8

Last year the pair shared an office as assistant coaches at Western, now both are first-year head coaches. Steve Snyder’s Queen’s Gaels got the better of J-P Circelli’s Windsor Lancers at Richardson Stadium, despite a wild comeback effort by the visitors. A pair of field goals by Nick Liberatore gave the Gaels a 6-0 halftime lead. They’d add to that with an acrobatic Marko Xidos TD catch and a safety, giving them a 15-0 lead. A Griffin Fenton punt single and a Sam Girard TD pass to Kaeden Walls cut the Windsor deficit to seven, but they couldn’t get the tying score. They came close, but Girard was intercepted in the end zone by Thompson McCallum with two minutes left, then a last-second Hail Mary was picked off by Ejaz Causer around the goal line. The win spoiled the return to Queen’s by receiver Chris Osei-Kusi, who transferred to Windsor this year. He had six catches for 93 yards. The Tricolour’s Richard Burton caught five passes for 104 yards. Windsor sacked Keenan eight times, with Nathaniel Vaikla and Mitchell Kootstra recording three each. The 2009 Vanier Cup winners were honoured, with several members of that team in attendance.

McMASTER 27, YORK 9

The Lions gave the visitors a good scare, leading McMaster 9-6 midway through the third quarter. Two one-yard Jordan Lyons TD runs, along with a 17-yard touchdown catch by Tommy Nield finally gave Mac the win. Lyons finished with 94 rushing yards. The Marauders Noah Hallett and York’s Talik Ehouman each had a pair of interceptions. Ehouman led all defensive players with seven tackles. McMaster’s Tyler Munro had 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and forced a fumble. York took 11 penalties for 120 yards.

WESTERN 40, CARLETON 23       

The Mustangs built up a 26-9 halftime lead on their way to improving to 4-0. Western amassed an even 500 yards of offence, led by Chris Merchant’s 354 passing yards. Trey Humes added 113 on the ground. Carleton’s Quinton Soares led all receivers with 127 yards and a TD. Carleton’s Tanner DeJong passed for an impressive 354 yards. Western’s Alex Salytchev was the game’s top tackler with eight, adding a sack and a TFL. The Mustangs held Carleton to 59 rushing yards.

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