Ottawa Gee-Gees ride hot offence to blowout win in 2022 Panda Game

Ottawa, ON – It’s one of the biggest spectacles in Canadian university football, and for the Ottawa Gee-Gees, a 37-7 win over the Carleton Ravens in the 2022 Panda Game also served as a statement of their claim as potential Yates Cup contenders. 

Tim Austen

The Gee-Gees entered the afternoon as three-time defending champions after picking up a tight 19-17 win in the return of the Panda Game in 2021. With a heavier security presence at TD Place, the crowd, finally allowed to again reach the full capacity of the stadium at 24,000, was slow to reach their seats for the 12 pm kickoff. 

The Ravens faithful that had made it into the north stands were brought to their feet early, though, as Tanner DeJong found Kaseem Ferdinand for a 27-yard pass to make it 7-0 for Carleton. 

Ottawa found their response late in the quarter, though, as Ben Maracle connected with Nicholas Gendron for a monster 81-yard touchdown pass that tied the game up at 7-7 after the first quarter.

We have this motto; we don’t react to adversity. We respond to it,” Ottawa head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said. “They [Carleton] made a couple of plays, went ahead and then our offence came back on the field and responded to it.”

It was the Ravens who struggled to respond on offence after taking the 81-yard punch from Ottawa as all three Carleton drives in the second quarter finished with two and outs and not a single first down. For Raven’s head coach Corey Grant, a lot of the damage on the afternoon ended up being self-inflicted.

“When you play a really good football team, and you make those mistakes, or you let them get going, they start to run away with things,” Grant said.

The Raven defence stood in, though, as Talik Ehouman forced a J-P Cimankinda fumble, and Sandor Mod blocked a Campbell Fair field goal attempt. Fair did get one through the uprights to push the Gee-Gees to a 10-7 lead at halftime. 

By the halftime mark, Nicholas Gendron had clocked in 151 yards for the Gee-Gees and the product of nearby Gatineau, Que. finished with 211 yards on the afternoon, good for fourth all-time in the Gee-Gees single-game record book. An afternoon like Panda is just a testament to Gendron’s growth in his coach’s mind.

“He’s developed and some, last year he became more of a reliable receiver, this year he’s more of a big play receiver,” Bellefeuille said.

Into the second half, Ottawa quarterback Ben Maracle – who had a sharpshooting day going 20-23 for 354 yards -, started to look to other options for his offence and found success.

Tim Austen

Early in the third, Maracle found Willy-Pierre Dimbongi for a 14-yard pass to push the lead to 17-7. Each touchdown just served to push the Gee-Gees on further. 

“It definitely gives you a boost of energy; it just makes you want to go score another one and have that boost again,” Maracle said.

On the other side, the Ravens’ offence finally ground to a halt. They executed one drive in the third quarter that lasted 7:05, ran for 13 plays – including eight straight runs to start – and ended with Brandon Forcier knocking a field goal attempt off the uprights. Meanwhile, Ottawa rode their final drive of the third into the fourth quarter, where seven seconds in, Campbell Fair hit from 40 yards out to push the lead to 20-7. 

In the fourth quarter, the wheels fell off for Carleton. Their first drive of the quarter saw them turnover on downs at the Ottawa 34, and they followed up with their sixth two-and-out of the game. 

“Just too many mistakes; they [Ottawa] did a really good job. They had a really good gameplan coming in, they executed better than us, and things just got out of hand at the end,” Grant said.

Campbell Fair made it 23-7 with his third connection of the afternoon with just over eight minutes left before J-P Cimankinda rushed in his first TD of the afternoon to make it 30-7 for Ottawa with 3:32 to go, which saw those on the south side go crazy and those on the north side head for the exits. 

Those that left did not miss much they would have been happy about as Tanner DeJong tossed his first interception of the game to Emmanuel Aboagye-Gyan. It was an underwhelming afternoon for DeJong, who threw for 125 yards on just 14 attempts. 

By the time J-P Cimankinda punched in his second TD of the afternoon with ten seconds left, it was bedlam on the southside of TD Place as fans stormed the field, forgetting there was still time on the clock actually, but the collective decision was to end it and award the Gee-Gees Pedro the Panda for the fourth consecutive year. 

With a bye week before a trip to Toronto to play the York Lions, the Gee-Gees get the opportunity to bask a little in the glory that comes with once again winning one of the premier events in the Canadian university calendar. Asking them, they honestly probably would have cared the same if it was a regular afternoon rather than a matchup in front of 24,000 fans with over fifty years of history. 

“It means everything to everybody else,” coach Bellefeuille said. 

Tim Austen

The afternoon marked J-P Cimankinda’s second Panda game after last year’s come-from-behind win, but even after 166 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, the only thing Cimankinda was looking for is how to keep more forward.

“We can’t go too high; we can’t go low; we just gotta stay neutral and just keep on building from here.” 

Cover Photo: Tim Austen

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