Mistakes take down Ottawa in tough home opener loss to Queen’s

Ottawa, ON – Perhaps the metaphor is a little on the nose, but the thunderstorm which overtook TD Place on Saturday night and ultimately forced a nearly two-hour delay for the Ottawa Gee-Gees in their home opener against the Queen’s Gaels could also describe their performance on the night.

The storm itself was not a surprise. As lightning flashes slowly rolled south towards TD Place throughout the first quarter, it was clear what was coming before; eventually, it hit, unsurprisingly drenching the crowd of nearly 3800 spectators across the stadium’s south side. Similarly, the Gee-Gees didn’t fall to Queen’s in some spectacular fashion, but rather through mistakes that kept building and building before finally the clock had run out, and it was 26-16 Queen’s, handing Ottawa their first loss of 2022.

When the evening began, albeit with a slightly delayed 7:26 pm kickoff due to potential lightning in the area, the boisterous crowd was quieted quickly as neither team could find a rhythm in the air offensively, particularly Ben Maracle. The veteran Ottawa QB struggled out the gate, going 1-5 on his first three drives, including getting picked off by Ashton Miller-Melancon.

With 4:58 to go, though, in the first quarter, the storm that had threatened all evening finally came to pass. The skies above TD Place opened up and sent both teams to their rooms and about half the crowd to the exits.

“We had a situation in practice that was like that as well,” Ottawa head coach Marcel said. “We anticipated it, so we had food for the players, and they had a chance to relax, so no reason why we shouldn’t have been fine.”

Finally, at about 9:35 pm, nearly two hours later, the rain stopped, the Gee-Gees and Gaels re-took the field, and the game restarted and closed out the first quarter with the teams tied 0-0.

It was in the second quarter when things finally broke open. Queen’s opening drive of the quarter was stuffed on the Ottawa 11, forcing them into a field goal to make it 3-0. On the first play of the next Ottawa drive, though, Ben Maracle found new Ottawa receiver Willy-Pierre Dimbongi for a 65-yard touchdown pass for his first touchdown pass of 2022.

For Dimbongi, an Ottawa native who had to wait two whole years to suit up in the garnet and grey after transferring from Guelph in 2020, the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family is not something he is taking for granted.

“It means a lot to me, having my mom in the stands seeing me play, having my family here, my friends here, this is just home, “Dimbongi said.
“I hold this team to heart because this is my city, this is where I was born, and this is where I come from.”

Along with his touchdown catch – his first in the OUA – Dimbongi finished with four total receptions for a game-high 104 yards.
Another field goal by Queen’s and a pair of field goals by Campbell Fair, the hero in Ottawa’s 19-16 week one win over Windsor, got the score to 13-6 for Ottawa at halftime.

After halftime, the mistakes started to pile on for the Gee-Gees. Queen’s opened the third quarter on a six-play drive that got them to the Ottawa 24, but on the next play, a pass interference call on the Gee-Gees moved the ball up 15 yards and Gaels running back Anthony Soles pounded it in to tie the game at 13-13.

The next Ottawa drive saw Ben Maracle picked off at the Ottawa 46-yard line by Stephane East before James Keenan found AJ Chol with a 37-yard connection to give Queen’s a 19-13 lead.

After going an absurd 20/24 for 246 yards in their 47-25 blowout win over Toronto in week one, James Keenan had a more subdued night on Saturday, hitting 176 yards on 13/25 in the air.

It was another steady performance for the fifth-year Keenan, especially compared to Ben Maracle’s. It’s hard to describe Maracle’s night. He had the touchdown pass but threw two interceptions and nearly had a third on back-to-back plays in the third quarter. He looked much more comfortable on the ground, picking up 62 rushing yards.
“He was aggressive, he ran the ball in the second half, and he was trying to do whatever he could to help us win,” Bellefeuille said.

A late Campbell Fair field goal cut it to 20-16 heading into the fourth, but Tyler Mullan added his third field goal of the game early on, and the Gee-Gees only managed two first downs on their first three drives of the fourth quarter.

The last gasp drive saw the Gee-Gees at 3rd and one on their own 34 with three minutes to play, but J-P Cimankinda was not able to break through the wall, the Gee-Gees turned over on downs and Queen’s sealed the game with one last field goal from Mullan with ninety seconds remaining.

Post-game, Coach Bellefeuille was pretty straightforward about where the Gee-Gees needed to improve heading into week three. “We can’t turn the football over, can’t give up long passes on defence, turn it over on offence and take penalties; those things really killed us.”

A storm swept across TD Place on Saturday and forced two sides to play to just before midnight, but the storm wasn’t surprising; it was something that everyone could see coming as it built across the sky. If Gee-Gees want to bounce back against McMaster next week, it will take them seeing the slow build of mistakes that overtook them on Saturday night and fixing them, or they’ll risk getting washed away again.

COVER: Greg Kolz/Ottawa Gee-Gees Athletics

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